Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Bloom to Grow: Community Gardening Provides Education, Enrichment and Eggplants All in One Plot

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Bloom to Grow: Community Gardening Provides Education, Enrichment and Eggplants All in One Plot

Article excerpt

In Evanston, Ill., Tom Richardson grows tomatoes in the 20 foot by 20 foot plot he has tended for more than 30 years in James Park. In Portland, Ore., Marilee Dea savors sweet peas she picked from her Reed College Community Garden. And, in Burlington, Vt., K.K. Wilder harvests produce from an accessible plot at the Ethan Allan Homestead.

What these three gardeners have in common with each other, and with tens of thousands of other gardeners around North America is the extraordinary experience of gardening in community on land made available through the auspices of their local park and recreation programs.

They are community gardeners, who garden with others, either in assigned "allotment" plots or in common public gardens. Their gardening experience enhances their own quality of life and that of the communities in which they garden. They "give back" to their communities by growing fresh food and abundant blossoms, by helping maintain the land, and by interacting with fellow citizens.

North America has a long history of community gardening. You may recall in the 1940s, World War II Victory Gardens in which civic duty brought gardeners together to grow food for the war effort. The mid- 1970s heralded a revitalized community gardening movement led by urban economic and environmental activists in New York, Chicago, Seattle, Toronto and Philadelphia, among others. The U.S. Department of Agriculture promoted its Urban Gardening Program, and the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA), North America's premier community gardening organization, was founded. Park and recreation programs joined the movement, dispersed grants and municipal funds, helped organize community gardeners, and provided land to till.

Today, park and recreation programs in large cities and small towns continue to promote community gardens for their residents. They support community gardening because they see it as a broad-reaching, educational, environment-enriching, community enhancing and cost-effective activity.

The Burlington, Vt., City Council in 2002 passed a resolution supporting the long-term maintenance and expansion of the Burlington Area Community Gardens (BACG) program. Then and now, BACG is the city's most popular recreation program. Lisa Coven, land steward of Burlington Parks and Recreation Department, and Jim Flint, executive director of the Friends of Burlington Gardens are partners in one of North America's pioneer community gardening programs.

Community gardening began in Burlington in 1972 with a partnership between the Burlington Parks Department and the non-profit Gardens for All, which became the National Gardening Association. Subsequently, the Burlington community garden program became a separate non-profit, Burlington Area Community Gardens (BACG).

By 1996, Friends of Burlington Gardens (FBG), a grassroots nonprofit volunteer organization, formed to support BACG. It promotes community-based gardening throughout Vermont and is spearheading the growth of the Vermont Community Garden Network.

Burlington's program is notable for its sustainability and the extensive support it enjoys. It's also noteworthy that the program, which serves more than 2,000 people, succeeds largely because of the commitment from an extensive network of gardeners, volunteers, institutions and private entities. It thrives because this partnership faces challenges and welcomes support together.

Coven and Flint report, "Community gardens provide many benefits including health and well-being, intergenerational recreation, enhanced food security and nutrition, opportunities for education and social development, youth civic engagement, and reduction of neighborhood crime and vandalism?'

By contrast to Burlington's historic BACG, Sacramento, Calif., only two years ago established a new community gardening program, seeing this" ... as a way to build community, bring the neighbors together and beautify the neighborhood at the same time. …

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