Monday, February 1, 2010

How Green does your Community Garden Grow?



My good blogging friend Carole Brown, at Ecosystem Gardening, recently posted about "Gardeners Unite to Save Wildlife" and talks about how gardeners banding together in their neighborhoods can make a big difference in what we attract to our yards. She focuses on backyards and how to collectively plant for the benefit of wildlife and nature. But what about the Community Gardens? These days, it seems like they're everywhere, but how much do they really help our ecosystems? Don't get me wrong, I think community gardens are awesome for growing your own food, providing for community involvement, reclaiming unused or demolished property, and for teaching people where their food comes from. But, how "green" are they, and how much do they encourage wildlife and nature?

Community Gardens face a dilemma - they want to grow lots of food, and to teach people how growing food is better for them then buying it at the grocery store. At the same time they put up fences and other barriers to keep local wildlife and insects out. In some of them, artificial fertilizers and pesticides are accepted as a necessary part of gardening to produce the desired food people want to grow. While understandable, what does this teach our children and newly gardening adults about nature and the ecosystem and how does it encourage long term sustainability of their gardening plots?  Since organic gardening is the focus of most home gardeners today, shouldn't our community gardens focus on the same principles?

To see what guidelines are available to the average group wanting to start a community garden, I went up to look at the "American Community Gardening Association" website, the first link I found when Googling "community gardening practices". I wanted to see what they had for tips on creating community gardens while encouraging nature. What did I find? Not as much as I had hoped. In the "Best Practices Section" it has very good tips and fact sheets on how to start garden groups, get community involvement, garden with children, and other necessary information for starting a community garden. Only the tips for gardening with children brought up things like insects, no chemicals, getting dirty, and nature while a separate section on general gardening articles contained some information on composting, organics and feeding the soil.

I have to ask myself, is it better to be polite and too generalized in order to get everyone involved, or should organizations make a stand and educate participants on the long term effects of short term choices in the ecosystem? My hope would be the latter; my first reality is showing me otherwise. We all want to help people learn about growing food and gardening, but do we also have a responsibility to our "students" to make sure they are equipped with all the "right tools"? If our answer is yes, then we must teach as well as organize. Hopefully community garden organizers are doing this on a local level.  After all, what we do in our garden plot affects the ecosystem of the community at large.

Do you have a good example of a Community Garden that is nature and ecosystem friendly? I know that there must be many of them out there. Send me your links, your comments, or pictures. I would love to have you show me what is possible!

14 comments:

  1. Kudos to your for this post GA! I agree with you whole heartedly. Someday I hope we will look back on the use of pesticides and chemical (mostly petroleum based) fertilizers and think ... "How could we have been so blind?" Luckily many of us already feel this way! ;>)

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  2. I vote for education! And I'm grateful every time I see someone try to do just that. Thanks for such a wonderful article and opening up this discussion. Thanks also for the shout-out. I'm hopeful that voices like yours and Carol's above will soon be heard.

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  3. I just love this post. It is very thought provoking and will hopefully cause those who work in community gardens to think carefully about what they want to invite into their garden and make the necessary adjustments. I'm sorry, but I do not have a good example to show you, but wanted you to know that I agree with you.

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  4. Hello Kathy, i am new here who came via one of your comments somewhere. We are living in very opposite parts of the world, have 360 degrees conditions apart, as well as vegetation and culture. Despite those differences, i fully agree with you. In my case, our property has been left untended since my father died. Trees and fruit trees grown that we dont have much sunlight anymore for the annuals and vegies. However, i realized our property had now been a haven for the birds and butterflies which are very different from other neighboring properties. I am now thinking that if only i have more money i will transform the property to an educational area, with all plants labeled and a formal butterfly house to get the children's attention. However, time and money hinder these dreams. I might not be able to implement that in these lifetime.

    However, we left our ornamental garden as is, not frequently disturbed and call it a Biodiversity Garden! thanks.

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  5. I wish I could say I have been a large part of Nederland's community garden but I have not been. They do try in Ned, But I am afraid that they are more concentrated on growing pot for medication. Ha.
    Rosey

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  6. Kathy, very good food for thought. I really hadn't considered the part about what we teach our children when it comes to how to take care of the garden. We don't have a community garden where I live but there are a few school gardens I believe. I'll try to find out more about them. Knowing how it goes around here, organic gardening is probably not done.

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  7. Carol, Carole, and Noelle. Thanks so much for your support on this and many other issues. I am so glad that there's many gardeners out in the world who believe in the same things I do.

    Kathy

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  8. Welcome Andrea and thanks for visiting my blog. Your dream of an educational garden and butterfly house sounds fantastic, and I hope that you achieve it someday. The birds, butterflies and other wildlife that call your garden home are really lucky to have a steward of the land like you.

    Kathy

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  9. Rosey, the pot comment is too funny, although in Colorado probably very true.

    Jean, I hope that your schools do teach organic gardening, or at least teaching the kids that getting dirty is good, bugs are great, and watching seeds grow is wonderful. Schools in general around here try to emphasize nature and no chemicals when working with kids.

    Kathy

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  11. This is a really good point that I hadn't really thought about. There is one community garden not far from us, but I don't know too much about their practices. I would hope they teach an organic approach.

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  12. Hi Kathy, I haven't been very good about meeting all the garden bloggers out there, I guess I've been losing track since there are now so many of us! I would like to invite you to participate in my garden bloggers sustainable living project, followed by a giveaway. I hope you'll come over and share the ways that you contribute to a green lifestyle, because it's apparent from your blog that it's right up your alley! Nice to meet you;-) Jan

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  13. I think encouraging even a small amount of nature and gardening is beneficial in some capacity.

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  14. Apparently I'm an innocent when it comes to guessing what others are doing in their gardens. It hadn't even occurred to me that community gardens are not using organic practices.

    To me gardening is about working with nature and the earth, whatever you are growing, and that just requires being as eco-friendly as you know how to be. Most of the gardeners I know think this way. Maybe I just don't call them gardeners if they don't.

    I'm in my own little bubble (which you just poked at).

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