One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Repost of Community Garden

We have a community garden on our block!

My dear friend and neighbor, Stef, inspired it. Both of us—many of us on our block—garden. Stef lives on the park side of our street, and her garden sits in the back of her house, facing the park and the river. The river, right? The one that has overflowed a number of times recently and flooded the park and our block. Stef's house and land have been hit especially hard by the floods and she has virtually lost her garden. It has basically washed away.  Not good. Not good at all.


At the other end of our block, just past my house, there is a big open field. A local guy owns it. Way back when it was used as a cow pasture.  And then, I believe, it was hayed. Now, it basically sits un-used—sometimes kids play ball there, we all use it as a shortcut to get to the block behind ours, but mostly it has been a place where some people just let their dogs poop. So Stef approached the owner of the land about us using it for a community garden. He was thrilled with the idea! We asked our neighbors if they wanted to join in, two were interested, and now our four households are partners in the—

Esplanade Garden!

Stef's son and my daughter planting peas!

Over the last six weeks or so we have planned the layout of the garden, measured it, dug up sod, built a bean teepee, painted signs, shopped, planted seeds and starts, and watered the garden. The vegetables are already looking vibrant and strong. And we all—well, I think we all feel more vibrant and strong too.  It's fun to work collaboratively on such a dynamic project. It feels good to be in the dirt side by side. Each of us has a little expertise in one piece of the process (some—e'hem, like me—have less expertise than others!) and so we are learning a lot too!

Our pole bean teepee
And look!  Bean plants are beginning to grow!
Here is the other amazing (yet not so surprising) thing: we have already had a number of spontaneous and warm moments with other neighbors as a result of the garden. For example: when we were digging up the sod and had no real idea what we were doing, the neighbor across the street came over with her sod buster, a sharpener and her Master Gardener skills and she showed us how to dig up sod the right way!  She ended up staying to help, brought her dad and brother to help too, and it turned out that she and her family needed the sod to replace grass that had been destroyed in the flood. We dug it up, transported it to her house and they replanted it.  I had NEVER spent time with her before. Ever.  It was awesome. And, I don't know, it felt kind of critical too.

Community gardens are a great thing for all the reasons we already know.  They promote healthy eating and healthy relationships. They save money and save land.  And they connect us—to ourselves, to each other and to the landscape that is our home.

Our community garden made me want to understand their history. And so here is a brief overview, with some illustrations from a few of my favorite gardening picture books:

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
1.  During the 1893 depression, Detroit's mayor, Hazen Pingree, proposed a plan. He suggested using donated vacant land for gardens, which would provide temporary work for unemployed folks. Known as Pingree Potato Patches, the program offered ¼ to ½ acre sites, and also provided seeds and instructions in 3 languages. The food raised was available for sale. Based on PPP's success, similar programs were started in in New York, Chicago, Boston, and other cities.

2.  In 1891, the first school garden opened at the Putnam School in Boston. Other school gardens followed. They were most often run by teachers and supported by local organizations—women’s clubs, gardening clubs, civic clubs, etc—who provided volunteers, land, and funding. In 1914, the U.S. Bureau of Education created the Division of Home and School Gardening in an effort to promote gardens nationally.

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart
3.  The war garden campaign began when the U.S. joined World War I. American volunteers banded together to raise food for their households so that farm-raised food could be exported to Europe, where there was a severe food crisis. Huge numbers of people participated in this effort, and gardens were started in backyards, vacant lots, parks, company grounds—on any available land. In 1918, the Bureau of Education restructured the Division of Home and School Gardening into the U.S. School Garden Army. Some reports state that 5.29 million gardeners grew $525 million worth of food in 1918 alone.

4.  People turned to gardening again during the 1930s depression. Two types of gardens existed at this time: subsistence gardens, which were found at people's homes and on community property; and work-relief gardens, where folks were paid to grow food that was used in hospitals and by charities.

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith
5.  World War II brought federally guided Victory Gardens. They were part of the larger Food Fights for Freedom campaign that included rationing, recycling, canning, handicrafts, and volunteer farm work. The Victory Garden program promoted gardening for household food consumption and, in 1944, 42% of the nation's vegetables came from them.  42%!!  This was a practical movement, yes, but it was also a philosophical and emotional one. Participating in Victory Gardens was a way to express patriotism, build morale and collaborate in a fun, relaxing way.

6.  In the 1970s, interest in community gardening was rekindled. It became an expression of urban activism and a new environmental ethic. In 1976, the USDA sponsored the Urban Gardening Program, which created urban offices in 16 (and then 23) cities to promote vegetable gardening and community garden. In 1978, the American Community Gardening Association  was created as a non-profit membership organization.

The Good Garden by Katie Smith Milway
7.  Truck farms. Remember the post I did on Ian Cheney and his amazing project?  I just LOVE that truck…

Do you have any community garden stories to share?  Or books about community gardens?

Gratefully yours,

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