It’s been a while since I added a piece to this website as I work my way through all 31 pieces in this show. But as I began to work on a couple of recent pieces on urban farms proper, container gardening, and rooftop farms, I discovered that I hadn’t yet posted my latest piece on community gardens.
Having run a community garden myself for the last four years, I know first hand the value of utilizing precious and often rare urban green space to build food gardens that community members can join in to grow food. I, myself, have profoundly enjoyed producing a good 1/4 to a 1/3 of my produce year-round (or preserving it for year-round use) and I only want to amp up that production more.
Gifts and challenges
In the best circumstances, community gardens do both things in their name — they provide a place for gardening, but they also build community. In this case, much depends on how much the land is valued, and how much its members value contributing to not only their own food production, but the surrounding garden as well.
In some communities, this is such an important counterpoint to to the complexities of urban life that it can palpably be felt as an oasis in a desert, or a shelter in a storm. And the food produced can quite literally be the difference between going hungry and being fed. Gardens can also form a hub around which skills are built and shared, jobs bloom, nutrition improves, and a relationship with nature nourishes the soul.
In other communities, urban community gardens may be seen as a luxury, where producing one’s own food and committing to larger participation is a big hurdle in the face of cheaply available food (even if they prefer locally grown). Privilege causes a different evaluation of priorities, and community gardens might struggle to get the support they need, even if not all potential participants are privileged.
Community gardens can even face local opposition, such as when they’re seen as an impediment to commercial growth when an otherwise empty lot is taken up with food and flowers as opposed to the ongoing revenue of a viable business. This can lead to zoning restrictions and other hurdles for organizers that can discourage projects.
At the same time, anecdotally and in some limited research there are claims that community gardens actually improve nearby property values, lower crime rates, and increase neighborhood connections for a feeling of safety, security, and belonging.
Let it bloom
I don’t know what are the most tangible statistics could support the most glowing claims of the community garden movement. Frankly, I kinda don’t care.
As an artist and a writer, as a gardener myself, I refuse to give over the whole of life to the unfeeling power of capital and its irrationally rational demands.
Instead I’ll rest easy in the empirical evidence of smiling at a bay of sunflowers against a busy street. I’ll luxuriate in a soup I made having all ingredients but one produced in my own little plot. I’ll feel gratitude when participants, volunteers, and advisors offer time and counsel to help improve the community space. I’ll feel pride when someone asks if they can use the garden for an event. And I’ll feel joy when we can share the food and the smiles and some time together in a little green space with any member of — or visitor to — our garden community.
Cause that’s what it’s all about.
— Lindsay Curren, 31 Days of Urban Agriculture