An Oasis in the Desert

The rise of community gardens and their potential impacts

In a quiet, peaceful corner, I navigate around garden beds growing everything from snap peas, to heads of lettuce, to sunflowers. In the shade of a large tree sits a picnic table and several lounge chairs, inviting me to sit down and relax and enjoy the tranquility of the garden. All of a sudden, I hear the rumble of a train in the distance getting closer and closer until it rushes by, and I am reminded that despite all appearances, I am still in New York City. The small section of green that lies in the midst of concrete is the La Finca del Sur community garden in the South Bronx, an urban farmer cooperative led by Latina and Black women.

There are over 600 scenes like this in New York City – ranging from little plots of land built on previously vacant lots, to rooftops looking over hundreds of apartment buildings, to extensive gardens tucked away in one of the city’s parks. Over the last twenty years, community gardens have flourished in New York, providing one solution to the lack of fresh, healthy, food in low-income areas in New York City. According to the New York City Department of Recreation, community gardens currently make up over 32 acres of land in the city . The gardens occupy areas of the city that would otherwise become areas of filth, litter, and urban decay.  (http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_about/parks_history/gardens/community.html)

Many areas of the region are food deserts, areas where it is impossible to find fresh, healthy food at affordable prices. “There are many places in NYC where you can buy a whole meal at McDonald’s for less than the price of 3 apples” says Adi Segal, author of “Food Deserts: A Global Crisis in New York City”. “Therefore, especially in poor communities and neighborhoods, this leads to very bad diets.” Poor diets lead to many serious health problems, including high rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Community gardens not only offer a solution to this problem, but also allow urban citizens to become connected to their food in a way that, today, most people are not. When ordinary consumers are able to literally get their hands dirty and grow their own food, they develop a connection with the food they are eating. Julia Caine, a member of a community garden in Boston, Massachusetts says, “When I am brushing the dirt off the leaves of the plant that I myself have planted, I feel closer to the food that I eat.” People learn to appreciate the long and tiring process that farmers and gardeners partake in order to provide people with food. Community gardens, and especially school gardens, offer New Yorkers ways to be involved in the production and consumption of their food. In the coming weeks, this blog will explore school gardens in New York City, and examine the ways in which they educate students about food, sustainability, and nutrition.

8 thoughts on “An Oasis in the Desert

  1. Dana

    This was a great article and I cant wait for the next one! I was just discussing how expensive fruits and vegetables are in New York City with my family, and I think its wonderful that community gardens allow for the dual opportunity of becoming involved in nature and improving one’s diet.

  2. Hannah

    Community Gardens have also become very popular in conjunction with schools. Its a great way to provide students with healthier options in the cafeteria, teach them science, and help then realize where the food comes from. There is a chapter about this in the book “Chew on This” by Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson.

  3. Francis Ganong

    While you can’t feed all the people, all the time, on urban gardens, if you can feed some of the people, some of the time, food which makes them feel connected, then you’re getting somewhere.

  4. Annie

    While we’re talking about french fries… this book (Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire) talks a lot about how McDonalds patented a potato that is *perfect* for making into fries. It definitely takes more than 32 acres to make those fries…

  5. Peter Ganong

    You think that this is a solution to food deserts? 32 acres — this could probably feed about 32 Irish families, if you could also find a place for their 32 cows to graze. If you turned all of Manhattan’s 15,000 acres into farmland, you still could only feed a tiny fraction of its population. We need a lot of farms to feed Manhattan… 32 acres won’t cut it. I tried to calculate the number of French fry servings that 32 acres would generate, but failed. Anyway, with 83 McDonald’s in Manhattan, I bet that they use more than 32 acres to serve an hour’s worth of French fries.

  6. Merav

    Love the article! I totally agree with you. I’ve always wanted a garden because it makes me closer to the food I eat.

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