Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

A San Antonio Success

by Calvin R. Finch

On what used to be a caliche parking lot in one of the toughest neighborhoods of San Antonio, 205 fourth and fifth graders now plant, care for and harvest vegetables in spring and fall at the Avenida Guadalupe Garden. Under the leadership of Master Gardeners Jerry Herrera and Joe Medellin, these youths monitor drip irrigation systems in 20 raised-bed gardens and reap harvests of broccoli, beans, greens, lettuce, onions, peppers, squash, tomatoes and other vegetables -- along with a newfound respect for the earth and for themselves.

One of the sponsors of the garden, the local TV station KSAT, regularly films gardening shows at the site -- a change from what used to be newscasts of drive-by shootings in the area. Another sponsor, NationsBank, recently contributed funds for 10 more 4'x 40' raised beds with drip irrigation.

At another inner-city site in San Antonio, 30 juvenile offenders (ages 15 to 18) constructed a large neighborhood vegetable garden and served as mentors for some 70 eight- to 13-year-olds. Before the garden became a reality a year ago, Rodriquez Park held the distinction of being the most vandalized park in the entire county. Graffiti and equipment thefts were rampant.

Now, instead of loitering at local hangouts on Saturdays and after school, at-risk youths learn about gardening, nutrition and the environment from Master Gardeners and grow and harvest their own vegetables. Pairing older kids who have gotten into trouble with younger ones who haven't may seem like an odd match, but it didn't work out that way. Vandalism is way down, and police officials are so impressed with the results that they are funding more gardens in other hard-hit neighborhoods.

What's going on here? Like any other large American city, San Antonio has its share of social malaise. Gang violence, drug use, teen pregnancies, school dropouts and vandalism are all part of the scene. But there's another force at work here, too: gardening. Thanks to the efforts of some dedicated Maer Gardeners and their partner organizations, it's making a difference.

Bexar County, which includes the city of San Antonio, is home to one of the most active Master Gardener chapters in North America. In this mild climate, gardening is a year-round activity, and 300 volunteers in Bexar County log more than 21,000 combined hours of public service a year.

The main focus of the five-year-old group is youth gardening, for good reason: Community leaders in San Antonio have discovered that gardening is an effective tool for motivating kids to learn, to stay in school, and to have pride in themselves and in their community.

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