A community garden is a plot of land around which neighborhoods can come together on individual or family plots to grow food and build community. Cultures throughout the world have always depended upon individual and community gardens. In this country, the American Community Gardens Association (ACGA) estimates that from less than 20 community garden programs in the early 1970’s there are now more than 550 programs. Gardening in the US is a popular recreational activity and yet there is still hunger and poor nutrition in the US. A study done in 1991 found that 30 million Americans reported that they did not always have enough to eat. This includes 12 million children, including 246,000 children in Florida. The area of Alachua County, including Gainesville, has been rated as one of 11 counties in Florida with the worst designation of ‘Very High’ for a condition of child hunger. In addition, many Alachua County schools participate in School Breakfast and School Lunch programs. Community gardens are a first step in providing food security for families, neighborhoods and communities.
Andy Fisher of the Community Food Security Coalition in California, asserts that the average food item in a supermarket travels 1,400 miles before it reaches the consumer, requiring 10 calories of energy to deliver 1 calorie of food. Along with the environmental and economic impacts of the use of fuels and pollution caused by vehicles, the money that is paid at the supermarket leaves the local economy and goes to the economies of other regions. Large scale mono-culture, pesticide and fertilizer intensive agri-businesses have become the primary source of food production in this country, leaving most people unaware of where their food comes from. Dependence on sources of food from other parts of the country and from other countries like Mexico diminishes the food security of a community. Events in other places, including water shortages, fuel prices, and plant disease occurrences can effect the price and availability of food, affecting most severely those who have low incomes and the most vulnerable members of a community, the elderly and children.
Pesticides and fertilizers used for agriculture cause serious health problems, and their production and use contributes to significant environmental degradation world-wide. Americans use about 8.7 pounds of pesticides per person per year. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported that 79,000 children were involved in common household pesticide poisonings or exposures in 1990. Organic community gardens provide for healthy untreated food that can be eaten fresh without the preservatives that are typically added to produce that is shipped long distances.
Community gardens provide food, but as importantly, they are ‘seeding’ grounds for neighborhood revitalization, social and economic self-empowerment, micro-enterprises, social interaction, and neighborhood beautification. They are also sources of environmental awareness, especially for children, and bring the elderly and children together. Gardens provide recreation and exercise and have proven value as therapy for ill and mentally handicapped people.
Community Gardens in Florida
Florida has several community gardens programs. Tampa, St. Petersburg, Delray Beach, Orlando, Miami, Jacksonville and most recently, Sarasota, all have community gardens in lower income and blighted areas. Land is typically found through city agencies and the projects are supported by partnerships consisting of combinations of local governments, county extension services, waste authorities, private donations and volunteers, and social service organizations. The heart of any community gardens are the neighborhood activists and interested people who champion and develop the efforts and the people who want and grow the gardens. All suPCCEssful community gardens are a result of people who garden in them, their work, patience and commitment are the substitutes for machinery, fossil fuels, pesticide, and fertilizers.
The Benefits of Community Gardens
One 4’ x 16’ garden plot can provide a fresh vegetable for a family of four every day of the year. Gardens are gathering places where people can meet for relaxation and conversation and relief from the stresses of everyday life. Children can find a sanctuary, place to play, and learn about ecology and working with others.
- Build neighborliness and sense of ownership in the garden and the community
- Make productive use of urban vacant land, providing cooling, neighborhood composting and recycling of organic wastes to create soil, water filtration and absorption
- Grow flowers and ornamental vegetables that beautify the neighborhood
- Provide low-cost organic vegetables and herbs
- Create a sense of pride and accomplishment and the empowerment of food self-sufficiency
- Make a place for outdoor activities, exercise, recreation and therapy to alleviate stress
- Have long been used as an additional form of healing for people who are ill and as activities for the mentally handicapped
- Teach children about the environment and plants and about working with others
- Give older people a way to be productive, interact with, and mentor /care for children
- Provide the opportunities for everyone in a neighborhood to be able to interact and work together and learn about each other
- Save money for people growing their own food
- Help homeless people, and others in difficult situations, to regain their pride and sense of belonging to a community, learn skills and be productive for their own sake and the sake of the community.
- Community Gardens are about community-building, neighborliness, the environment, local self-sufficiency, healthy organic food, economic empowerment, and improving the urban landscape of a community.
- Porter’ Neighborhood Community Center
- The Porter’s Neighborhood Community Center is located at SW 6th Ave and SW 2nd Terrace in proximity to Porter’s Oaks housing project. The community and educational activities that take place at the center can be augmented by a community garden and other gardens on the surrounding land. Land that is owned by the United Gainesville Community Development Corporation provides secure ownership, and the building provides a source of water and an indoor gathering space. The UGCDC land immediately to the east of the Center is sunny, open and ample enough to provide one-quarter acre for 20-25 individual 10’ x 10’ plots. Residents of the housing projects and surrounding neighborhood who do not have land and who wish to grow food can make use of this garden. Children who come to the center can be given areas for them to learn environmental ideas and enjoy butterflies and other wildlife. The enhancement of community and a sense of ownership will be increased by the production of food and the satisfaction that is gained by literally seeing the fruits of one’s efforts.
Various funding sources and free seed sources can be utilized to provide the necessary inputs into the community garden at Porter’s Neighborhood Center. The involvement of children and local residents in the design of the garden is a prerequisite. The Alachua County Cooperative Extension Service is committed to making the establishment of community gardens in Gainesville a high priority and providing the technical support necessary.
Porters Community Center Garden
- To make the Porters Center Garden a place for children and adults of all ages to come together to grow vegetables, herbs, and flowers, learn about nutrition and the environment, beautify the neighborhood and build a sense of community.
- Outreach to the neighborhood to find interested gardeners and teachers to work with the children.
- Provide the necessary educational and material support to make the garden productive, fun, long-lasting, and beautiful.
- Provide networking and information sharing for mutual support and coordination of activities for this garden and others in adjacent areas.
- Document the process of establishing the garden, and its benefits, environmentally, socially, and economically over the long-term.
- Publicity as a means of gathering support from organizations and promoting awareness and change in government policy, and as a model to help other urban agriculture efforts.
- Provide activities, recreation, and career education to young people.
- Provide low-cost healthy food and empowerment through people growing their own food in proximity to their homes.