Join the Revolution

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

In praise of community gardens

In our current state of continual environmental degradation, it is important for people to reconnect with the natural world so that our interest in protecting vital resources becomes an essential part of our lives.

I had never taken much interest in growing vegetable fruit and herbs, worm farming or bee keeping and certainly not creating compost. Having grown up in the concrete jungles of our planet’s major cities, my infinity with nature was never firmly cemented until I went travelling in my late teens. I’m not alone in this; I have met many people who fit the same trend. It is a simple fact of industrialised society that most people buy their food from a company; usually a supermarket chain. But why? Why do we not encourage our city dwelling youngsters an appreciation of the natural world? and perhaps more importantly; Why do we not teach them how to cultivate food?

I recently took a keen interest in my local community garden. It was set up three years ago as part of a global movement of people who want to grow organic food within their communities around the world. Its main purpose is that of a showcase garden. Where people can come to learn the skills they need to grow food on their own land. There is a large communal planting area, worm farms, beehives, a chicken coup, a communal kitchen, a woodfire pizza oven, a green house, a rotating compost system and various other ventures. The rule of thumb is that whoever is working at the time can take ripe produce home. So you do a couple hours gardening and leave with a basket of food. A few cucumbers, a lettuce, a punnet of strawberries, some honey and half a dozen eggs would be about the amount of food one could expect to take home after a summer Sunday in a flourishing garden.

I’ve found one of the most incredible facets of community gardens is they way that they generate cooperation. By their very nature, community gardens foster a sense of empowerment within a community. People are obliged to share basic common resources, specifically land, water, tools, plants, food, meals, knowledge etc. Community gardens save families money on food and for the majority of people who do not own property, or have access to gardening space, it makes a significant financial difference not to mention it provides a healthy and safe environment for recreation, exercise, social engagement and community spirit.

In our current state of continual environmental degradation, it is important for people to reconnect with the natural world so that our interest in protecting vital resources becomes an essential part of our lives. Community gardens cannot solve all of these problems, but they can certainly increase our awareness of the natural environment around us.

Community gardens also reduce council spending. Public spaces owned by the city must be paid for and maintained by the city. Whereas community gardens are maintained by volunteers and therefore cost very little in upkeep. Gardens naturally absorb rainwater, a function that pavement is rapidly destroying. Gardens help clean our air, something especially necessary in the city. They bring people together by providing a space to share culture, knowledge, food and art. Gardens have been proven time and time again to significantly reduce crime, violent and anti-social behaviour within communities.

I took this excerpt from - A Handbook of Community Gardening p. 10, it is a good summary of how community garden fit into the human struggle for freedom and prosperity,
“Community gardening is a part of a serious struggle, the struggle to redistribute basic resources to people who will use them wisely and with respect for the general good. Community gardening is a small but serious challenge to many current policies and practices. It challenges the economically and ecologically destructive policies of agribusiness and local politics, which put profit before human needs—greenery, open space, fresh food. Community gardening challenges the social and economic structures that keep a vast number of urban and rural people from owning land and from gaining a small measure of control over their lives.”
Organic food grown in a community garden is also much higher quality than you can buy at a supermarket. Farmers today can grow two to three times as much grain, fruit, and vegetables on a plot of land as they could 50 years ago, but the nutritional quality of many crops has declined. Author and food expert Brian Halweil states: “Less nutrition per calorie consumed affects consumers in much in the same way as monetary inflation; that is, we have more food, but it’s worth less in terms of nutritional value.”

According to the report, Still No Free Lunch, food scientists have compared the nutritional levels of modern crops with historic, and generally lower-yielding, ones. Today’s food produces 10 to 25 percent less iron, zinc, protein, calcium, vitamin C, and other nutrients. Researchers from Washington State University who analyzed 63 spring wheat cultivars grown between 1842 and 2003 found an 11 percent decline in iron content, a 16 percent decline in copper, a 25 percent decline in zinc, and a 50 percent decline in selenium.

Improving the nutritional quality of food on a per-serving basis is an important step in addressing worldwide health problems, the report notes. “Less nutrient-dense foods, coupled with poor food choices, go a long way toward explaining today’s epidemics of obesity and diabetes,” says The Organic Center’s chief scientist, Charles Benbrook.

Plants cultivated to produce higher yields tend to have less energy for other activities like growing deep roots, generating phytochemicals - health-promoting compounds like antioxidants - the report explains. Conventional farming methods, such as close plant spacing and the application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, often cause crops to absorb fewer nutrients and have unhealthy root systems and less flavour, and sometimes make them more vulnerable to pests.

Organic farming methods, on the other hand, use manure or cover crops to provide nutrition to crops, have more balanced mixtures of nutrients, and tend to release the nutrients more slowly, the report explains. This means plants develop more robust root systems that more aggressively absorb nutrients from the soil profile, and produce crops with higher concentrations of valuable nutrients and phytochemicals. Organic food may have as much as 20 percent higher nutritional content for some minerals, and 30 percent more antioxidants on average.

Now that sounds like value for money! Or more accurately value for time. Anyone who wants to create a better world (a world where your kids won’t have to worry about the extinction of their species) needs to get involved in their local community garden. All revolutionaries should grow and teach others to grow food. It will increase the striking power of our poorest workers and unify our communities.

Read more @ Grow Together

Shane M., SA

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