Community gardens are good for more than fresh food
There are several community gardens in New Hampshire, including the Sycamore Community Garden in Concord. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)
In recent years, community gardens have gained popularity as alternatives to address the growing crisis of food deserts, particularly in central cities.
But community gardens offer opportunities for much more.
The personal, communal, and environmental benefits are many.
In addition to being a fresh and healthy food source, a community garden can also help close many societal divides. The first is closing the food production and nutrition knowledge gap.
Many of us don’t have a clue about how the food we eat gets from a seed to our plate. Working in a community garden can help close that gap.
What about the intricate and complex orchestration of the boundless supply that our plant ecosystem nourishes and supports? A community garden provides great opportunities to better understand the priceless value of nature’s bounty, not only the privilege of enjoying the vegetables and fruits it yields, but also our obligation to learn and practice the best methods to appreciate, protect and sustains it as we adopt healthier habits to sustain ourselves.
What a great way to better understand, first-hand, some of the issues around the impact of climate change and global warming on the production of our food supply.
The soil preparation, planting of seeds, transplanting of plants, weeding and harvesting are all opportunities to learn about many aspects of how our earth and environment work so well together to meet our nutritional needs.
These stages of the gardening process also present natural settings and circumstances for us to learn more about our neighbors, of all ages, near and far. We can escape and get beyond the physical, political, and social barriers that seem to be constant sources of tensions and divides.
For a season, a community garden can offer respite from the rancor, infighting, and negativity that seem to be overtaking us in nearly every aspect of our lives.
Also, just as gardeners take advantage of the many options to store and preserve foods from the garden to be used beyond the growing and harvesting seasons – by canning, freezing, and drying processes – the positive interactions of working together, learning more about each other, sharing commonalities, and appreciating differences can have long-term benefits.
Such experiences can help us regain and strengthen our shared humanity.
Like neighborhoods, there are many types of community gardens that come in all shapes and sizes and can be found in different locations, using different methods and styles to cultivate and flourish.
Large or small, odd or traditionally shaped, in the earth or in containers, spaces for gardening abound.
You can turn your individual garden – no matter how large or small – into a community garden by sharing what you grow irrespective of the quantity. Imagine a first step in closing a divide can be taken by sharing one tomato, a cucumber, a little lettuce, a peach or two, a cup of strawberries, whatever you have to share.
It’s the thought, building connections and camaraderie that count, and have lasting meaning.
On a personal level, I have lived in large metropolitan areas all of my adult life and throughout my career, but I have been unable to escape the farm life of my childhood and teen years. Especially when it comes to growing vegetable gardens.
I also recall and appreciate how gardens – working them and sharing the harvest – were wonderful sources of bonding, caring for neighbors, and fostering a sense of community, and a shared destiny.
Each year, I find myself planting all kinds of vegetables, and much more than I can ever use. I love preparing the soil, planting the seeds, setting out the starter plants, even weeding.
It is all so therapeutic – head-clearing, problem-solving, idea-generating, communing with nature – and fulfilling in many ways, at least for me.
But nothing gives me greater pleasure than to share the vegetables and fruits with my neighbors, my church, the telephone repairman, the lawn care team, even strangers who may stop and ask for directions.
Once the gardens are finished and prepped for the next season, I continue to share frozen and canned foods with family and friends. They in turn share with their friends whom I don’t even know.
Community gardens and our personal garden can reach and spread goodwill, near and far, in ways that we may not imagine.
The point: In this arguably divisive and hate-filled time we seem to be confronted with, let us use this season for gardening to get back to cultivating and nurturing our common humanity.
Food or sharing a meal has always been used to convene, to gather and establish a setting and environment where there could be a meeting of the minds, healthy discussion, and a time for healing.
The same can be achieved with a garden, whether organized and maintained by members of a community, or your very own.
Furthermore, community gardens need not be confined to growing food.
There are great benefits if you prefer to grow flowers.
As the adage goes, “April showers bring May flowers.” But there are many beautiful flowers, like vegetables, that grow all summer long and into the fall, providing many opportunities to learn, enjoy and share.
Whether vegetable and fruit gardens, rose gardens, wildflower gardens, sunflower gardens – large, medium, or small – let this summer be a time for personal renewal and growth as we share the experience with family members, friends, neighbors, even strangers.
It could be the basis, the beginning, or resumption of finding common ground to address some of the tougher more divisive issues and problems we face and must find solutions for in our communities, cities, states, and nation.
We need as many positive interactions with each other as we can get to help us along.
This commentary was originally published by the Missouri Independent, which like the Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.
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