In the Garden:
At the Vermont Hills Community Garden in the Hayhurst neighborhood of Portland, vegetables and herbs are grown in abundance, surrounded by a rainbow of flowers for cutting.
Depth and Diversity in a Neighborhood Garden
If you love getting dirt under your fingernails but don't have a place to garden, participating in a community garden might just be the perfect solution. Community gardens are popping up everywhere, from empty lots in urban areas to designated sites within city and county parks. According to recent surveys, there are an estimated 10,000 community gardens throughout the United States, which makes it likely you'll be able to find one near your home.
Community gardens have been a part of American culture for decades. The U.S. government encouraged people to grow their own food in "Liberty Gardens" during World War I because it was one way that every American could contribute to the war effort. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, "Relief Gardens" were promoted to improve people's spirits and enable them to produce their own fresh food. During the Second World War, growing food in a "Victory Garden" was again considered a contribution to the war effort.
In the 1960s and 1970s community gardens regained popularity, both as a way to get back in touch with nature, and to address the growing concerns about the amount of pesticides used in the production of fruits and vegetables. As we continue to become more aware of the importance of treading softly upon the earth, the spirit of community gardening continues to grow.
Mechanics of a Community Garden
Community gardening is about growing -- growing flowers, growing vegetables and fruits, and growing a community of people who can share their love of gardening while taking good care of the earth. Community gardens provide a place to meet new friends and to share gardening experiences. In fact, many community gardens offer workshops to help gardeners learn about seeds, crop rotation, companion planting, and organic pest control solutions to help keep the soil and their plants healthy.
Sometimes gardeners have their own plot, and sometimes the work and the harvest are shared by all the gardeners. Some community gardens encourage gardeners to grow a row for local food banks, kitchens, or shelters. Each community garden has its own personality, its own flavor, and its own pace, but all the gardens I've participated in or visited share the same general focus. They are sites where families can produce their own food, help one another by sharing their experiences and enthusiasm for gardening, and beautify their neighborhoods in the process.
Oregon's Shining Example
I think one of the best examples of a well-organized network of community gardens is the program managed by the Portland, Oregon, Parks and Recreation Department. This community garden program has been providing gardening opportunities for the neighborhoods of Portland for nearly 30 years. There are 15 acres of neighborhood space devoted to community gardens, with a total of 29 separate gardens located throughout the city. Last year over 3,000 people tended individual plots within these gardens, raising an estimated $500,000 worth of produce.
The parks department staff oversees the management of these gardens, but volunteers provide the majority of the labor for day-to-day operations, as well as the leadership required to keep educational workshops and the children's programs current and interesting.
The Portland Community Garden program encourages organic gardening, composting, cover cropping, trials of both old and new plant varieties, and intergenerational activities.
If you live in the Portland area and you're interested in joining the Community Garden Program, contact the Parks and Recreation Department (6437 SE Division, Portland, OR 97206) at (503) 823-1612.
If you're not in the Portland area, contact your local parks and recreation department or visit the American Community Garden Association's Web site (http://www.communitygarden.org) for a list of community gardening opportunities in your neighborhood. You'll be glad you did!
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