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!