Community gardens make comeback
For her supply of fresh vegetables, Arlene Stagg goes to a plot where she can tend the land with like-minded residents of Le Sueur, Minn.
The city, population 4,276, has an attractive yet utilitarian community garden sponsored by the local Presbyterian Church.
“The water is supplied free. So are the hoses and the garden plots. And they do all the tilling. What’s not to like?” said Stagg, who, with her husband, Lowell, grows an assortment of vegetables.
Community gardens have come a long way from the modest neighborhood growing plots of a century or more ago. They now serve as classrooms, neighborhood gathering sites, urban renewal projects and low-cost fresh food alternatives for families facing record high grocery prices.
There is more demand than supply for community garden plots in downtown Sacramento, Calif., said Bill Maynard, that city’s community garden coordinator and vice president of the American Community Gardening Association. He cited food security as one of the reasons for increased public interest.
“People are into organic produce and wanting to know where their food is coming from,” Maynard said.
Money is another factor: “We used to say a standard plot measuring 20- by 20-feet in size could grow $400 worth in food but now that same food may cost $500 or more so it’s a great way to supplement the monthly food budget,” he said.
Interest in community gardening also has been climbing steadily in the St. Louis area, said Gwenne Hayes-Stewart, executive director of Gateway Greening, a nonprofit group that fights urban blight through neighborhood greening projects.
The reasons are simple enough: Fresh fruit and vegetables can be expensive and hard to find, while seniors prefer gardening in groups to being alone in their own yards.
“It is a relatively simple route to success and a cost effective solution to many inner city problems associated with abandoned land,” Hayes-Stewart said.
Like Sacramento, many of the community gardens in St. Louis have waiting lists. “But with 18,000 vacant lots, there is no issue on having enough land to adopt,” Hayes-Stewart said.
Community gardens often become the setting for informal neighbor-to-neighbor competition. Who has the best tomatoes? The fewest weeds?
“Some people are in it just for the food and the flowers. But for most, it’s the social aspect.
Community gardens in large cities are a real microcosm, said Yvonne Savio, manager of the Common Ground Garden Program in Los Angeles County. “A real collection of inter-everything. Intergenerational. Intercultural. And that’s part of the joy. Some gardens sponsor potlucks once a month. People cook and bring what they grow. People become friends by virtue of what they grow.”
And for some, it’s even a moneymaker. In Le Sueur, no rules forbid the sale of what they grow.
“A widow lady who gardens near us says she does some selling and it amounts to a lot of income over time,” Stagg said. “She takes her produce down to the farmer’s market and sells it there.”
“City Bountiful: A Century of Community Gardening in America,” by Laura J. Lawson. University of California Press. List price: $22.95
You can contact Dean Fosdick at deanfosdick(at)netscape.net.
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