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.