Uncategorized

Is it time to re-imagine the community garden?

 

The point was driven home recently when I was asked to consult on a
proposed new community garden on a one-acre parcel in my neighborhood. The parks
authority held a meeting at a nearby community center and a handful of of
would-be plot holders came out to vote on a garden plan. I proposed something a
little different: Instead of assigning individual plots, why not form a co-op
that would operate more like a farm? Food production would be so much greater, I
argued. Shares of produce could be distributed according to the work people put
in, and a portion could be assigned to the needy as
well. Pest problems could be reduced with selective planting and crop rotations.
The garden could be in production year-round. It could, in short, demonstrate
for all just how much food can be grown on a small urban parcel.
 
I was nearly run out of the room on a rail. "Sounds like the Soviet Union!"
grumbled one attendee. "Is this how they managed those gardens in World War
II?"
 
The problem with typical community gardens, as I see it, is that there is no
control over what is planted in individual plots. Plot holders operate according
to their own individual learning curves. They may be growing a great deal of
food, or very little. They may be planting things appropriate for the site, or
they may not. They may be putting in a great deal of effort, or they may not be
doing much at all, in which case the garden manager at some point is forced to
take back the plot and assign it to someone else. As far as overall production
in concerned, community gardens are a terribly inefficient use of valuable urban
property.
 
The culture of urban community gardens–the cult of individual leisure–has
some miles to go before it catches up with the realities facing our food system.
Just like the modern food movement–distinguished by designer vegetables from
boutique farms sold at often prohibitive prices at farmers markets in upscale
neighborhoods–community gardens too often deserve an elitist image. Community
gardens cannot forever remain a refuge for individual gardeners. They need to
turn themselves inside out and accept a role in providing wholesome food for the
entire of the city. Community gardens need to start reaching out.
 
Any doubts about the need?  Read the stats.

 

THE ALTERNATIVE
The system I have in mind would incorporate community gardens into a
network of urban CSAs, or Community Supported Agriculture. Most people think of
CSA as a farmer who sells you a subscription to his produce, then delivers it
weekly in a box. But there are actually many types of CSA arrangements, some involving community residents actually purchasing a plot of land, then hiring
a farmer to manage it. The CSA members make collective decisions about how the
farm should operate, and they are required to spend time working on the farm
before they share in the bounty.
 
Why couldn't such a system work in the city? Instead of assigning
individual plots, elect a steering committee that decides what will be planted
and when. Great use could be made of border fencing for growing beans and
cucumbers and grapes and kiwis and other climbing fruits and vegetables. Space
could be set aside for perennial vegetables such as asparagus and rhubarb. There
could be room for small fruit and nut trees. Instead of puttering around their
plots individually, members would receive work assignments and all pull
together. Many more people could be involved, sharing in a greater volume of
food. It would become a community garden in its truest sense.
 
GOOD EXAMPLES
We are seeing glimmers of just such a system. A model for more effective
use of urban space here in D.C. is the Common Good City Farm. It was started on donated property by two young
women who saw the garden as a way to address food security issues in an
inner-city neighborhood. Since installing raised beds and trucking in loads of
compost, they've been besieged by volunteers and started programs to involve
local residents in tending the garden and sharing in the proceeds. They sell the
produce at local farmers markets and give gardening classes to raise
funds.
 
More recently, two young gardening pioneers–Bea Tricket and Joshua
Wenz
–started what they are calling a community-supported garden and teaching
site
. They discovered that a large portion of a community garden in Northeast
Washington wasn't being used. They paid one year's rent for the entire space,
about an acre. They'll use half to grow vegetables for sale as CSG "shares." The
other half they are dividing into individual plots for students, who they hope
will pay $600 for a season's worth of gardening lessons and vegetables.
 
ON SCHOOL GROUNDS
One of the biggest property owners in the city is the school system. Is
there any reason why community gardens cannot be built on school grounds? They
could serve an invaluable dual purpose: teaching kids about gardens and healthy
food while growing produce for the surrounding community. But wouldn't you know
it? The same school that Michelle Obama tapped to share the White House
garden–Bancroft Elementary School–has already started just such a
community garden. Iris Rothman, the intrepid neighborhood volunteer who is the
dynamo behind the Bancroft program, says 25 neighbors have signed up so
far.
 
LAND FOR DEVELOPERS ONLY?
And where is the city government in all this? Keeping a very low profile, I
would say. More than 20 years ago, our city council passed a law that called on
the mayor to conduct an inventory of all the vacant land in the District and
start turning it over to food producing gardens. The legislation also called for
involving the city's youth in these gardens to teach them marketable skills.
Whoever wrote that legislation was prescient. But the mayor at the time and
mayors since have found it convenient to ignore the law. We hear lots about the
city making land available for developers, but very little about the city making
land available for food gardening. The city should be taking the lead in
creating more gardens in deserving areas. But it isn't.
 
Part of the problem may just be that we have not done enough to convince
the public–or our public officials–that gardening is more than picking
flowers, that it should be taken seriously. I can easily see a time when urban land–land suitable for
growing food–will simply be too precious to give over to idle pursuits. And
eager food gardeners will not wait. They are taking over vacant lots guerrilla-style. Or they are using the Google satellite feature to find idle properties.
Or they are pooling back yards to farm their own community gardens.
 
Americans grow up with the idea that we make our fortunes as individuals.
Perhaps it's time to let a little air into that cherished credo and put the
"community" back in community gardens.

Posted by on May 7, 2009 at 3:39 am, in the category Uncategorized.
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66 Responses to “Is it time to re-imagine the community garden?”

  1. greg draiss says:

    So now the garden nazis want to regulate community gardens and set standards?

    And to link the climate change mantra as a reason to regulate community gardens.

    You want to control what is planted in each plot?

    What happened to diversity?

    Oh no not in a community garden. We are going to tell you what to plant when to plant blah blah blah!

    People like you and the new regime in Washington are looking to control every aspect of our lives and now our gardens.

    This is insane

    The TROLL

  2. Wow, power and control. I’m with the troll on this one.

  3. I’m a hardcore liberal, but your ideas on community gardens give me the creeps. I can just imagine the petty power wielding that would go on under your scheme. Gardening, community or otherwise, is not about following marching orders. I can imagine the mantra of your community garden: “bis aufweitern Bescheid”.

  4. Well Greg and Country Gardener is that how you would feel about a public botanical garden? How dare a board decide what to plant where in the botanical garden and then assign volunteers tasks to better enhance the overall garden. In a community garden these people do not own the land. They have a choice of whether to participate or not.

    There can be more than one satisfactory way to organize a community garden for the benefit and enjoyment of the participants.

    The Troll is paranoid. That attitude is expected of him. When they tell you what to grow on your own land at your own home, then it will be time to say hell no.

  5. Katie says:

    I’m not with the Troll. I am so tired of everyone thinking only about themselves. For thousands of years, the only way people survived was by working together-to farm, hunt, build, etc. Now, people can buy their way out of whatever problem they have-or they think they can.

    It will not be that far into the future, I would predict, that people again have no choice but to do what this blog details: pull together to produce food for their neighborhood.

    The Trolls will probably be long gone by then. Or, do you guys live for 150 years? I hope so, so that you can see what your individual mindset brings to bear.

    There is a plot of land in my neighborhood that I desperately wish I could afford to buy to start a community garden exactly like the guest ranter is talking about. Right now, it is doing nothing but eroding and growing weeds, while the owner waits for someone to pay $90,000 for the vacant lot, to build a new house in a 50 year old neighborhood. Fat chance of that ever happening.

    Stop thinking only of yourselves, folks. Before it is too late.

  6. tai haku says:

    I think the issue here is what people really want from a community garden. For many vegetable growers food security isn’t so much the issue as producing specific crops well. My father for example has its own garden but if he were to use an allotment instead the result would still be the same – a lot of asparagus and a few other bits and bobs. My grandfather by comparison would have unleashed a horde of red cabbage and a squadron of runner bean wigwams on his allotment plot.

    If food security for the overall population really is the goal then I think Ed’s ideas definitely have merit (as would any number of other ideas like using fruit bearing species as street trees (which is an idea I’m quite keen on but I digress)) but I really don’t think it is a lot of people’s objective when they seek to get involved in a community garden right now.

  7. Sisyphus's gardner says:

    Sounds like the end of the summer of love in gardening-land…bring on the Weather Underground!

    Folks, try to remember that our shared love of all things earthy masks a hosts of different views that don’t always pop-up when emoting over gardening. While I admit there was a lebensraum tone to the piece, I think occasionally we do have to sheepishly accept it when one of our dirty-handed tribe shouts at us to put down our turning forks and charge the barricades. I always try to remember that some people actually care about this at another level…whatever that might be…and in response we don’t have to start waiving the Libertarian flag to actively engage in discussion …to wildly abuse Freud, sometime a cucumber is more than a cucumber.

    I have to say that as attractive as urban farming sounds from a Utilitarian perspective, and as much as I believe the school yards are often space that is underutilized, I would prefer to keep that situation tightly monitored. As a parent I would like to keep the already amazingly supply of creepy people away from one of their favorite victims (children).

  8. Dasha says:

    Can you see what this would look like carried to extremes? Or not even that far into them? So what if what I want to grow are tasty European market garden varieties, like Costoluto Genovese tomatoes. The collective says we can only grow Rutgers because of the yeilds. Boy, am I feeling the enthusiasm now. I’ll feel oh, so motivated to go out and spend time in the garden at my scheduled hours–I sure it would have to have some kind of schedule requirements. Sorry, kids, we have to cancel your art classes because Mommy has to go work at the collective.

    I’ll pass on the early stages of this slippery slope away from individualism, thanks. I came here to this country to get away from this kind of thinking.

  9. Rebecca says:

    I must live in a strange community. Or at least, we must have strange community gardens. The gardens I know of are sort of planned. This plot will be squash, this plot tomatoes, etc. The people all come and work in the garden. They get to take home some of the bounty. Maybe its because they don’t give out allotments, just tools. Maybe its also because they are smaller gardens and we live in a town that boasts a garden district (it keeps the property values high even though its right by the noisy trains).

    Of course in my parent’s town they rent a plot and can do whatever they want. That’s why they planted tomatoes almost 2 months before the last frost date. I don’t think my parents thought the climate change would be so different and the organizers don’t really care. Then again they live in the middle of nowhere western Kansas. Land is aplenty and allotments come in 15′x80′ sections. Bigger than my entire back yard.

  10. Tara Dillard says:

    Incredibly rich information and views.

    Katie has the best opportunity. Approach the owner of the lot and ask to put a vegetable garden on it until it sells. There will probably be an insurance form to sign. Then give away her produce to those in need.

    Marketing, & YouTubing, her exploits along the way. Good for her viewpoint and extra pr for the landowner.

    A win for her, the landowner, those in need and as inspiration to others.

    What is that quote about spending your last dollar on a loaf of bread or a flower?

    Never realized how American the quote is. It’s about choice.

    Again, rich information. Thanks for the post.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara Dillard

  11. zephyr says:

    Good Grief!!!!–Thank heavens Ed has no authority to enact his “Controlled Community Garden” system. What a ridiculous–overkill (emphasis on “kill”)– response to his observations that some community gardens aren’t successfully organized and utilized.

    Community gardens–just like the actual communities–thrive or suffer based on lots of factors–primarily, it seems to me, based on how the residents feel and relate to their community. In the case of a community garden, residents/participants will be engaged as far as their needs and desires enable them. Yes, leadership plays a very important role–but more as an example rather than a taskmaster/arbiter of choices and tastes.

    The most successful community gardens that I know of are sustained by a population of dedicated, enthusiastic people who are passionate about good food and a higher quality of life based on participating in growing their own food–not what Ed describes as people treating it as a “leisure sport.”

    Ed’s “control” approach is dangerous to the whole proposition of trying to engage people’s imaginations at this stage of the process of bringing people back to realizing the need and importance of community gardening.

    We need leaders, yes…but ones that inspire as they teach by example–not dictators who tell us that we will grow and cannot grow. I’m glad to hear that he was “nearly run out of the room on a rail” when he proposed his horrible idea to his neighbors. Because his idea is a prescription for failure.

  12. Norah says:

    Democracy is all about organization. It is also all about diversity. There is no one right solution for anything in this world! This post has lots of great ideas for higher yields and efficient use of land. Some people will love this, some people immediately go to the ‘nazi’ rhetoric. (A little over-the-top, perhaps) What’s important is that we all KEEP ON GROWING in whatever fashion works for us, and do not disparage what works for others!!

  13. Dan Eskelson says:

    Great food for thought on all sides of this issue.

    Ed speaks the truth not only about community gardens but also about our interaction with the land and with other humans.

    It’s very unfortunate that we cannot get over our paranoia and distrust to accept the fact that we are fragile mortals that need to live together in harmony if we’re to make any progress at all.

    I am in the early process of trying to create a community garden in my small Idaho town. The “traditional values” long entrenched here may result in knee-jerk reactions similar to comments above by Troll and others.

    Sad but true.

  14. donna says:

    I’m thinking mostly in terms of watersheds these days, and if you can’t even get people to cooperate in a community garden, how are we ever going to protect entire watersheds?

    Seriously people, what’s wrong with working together to benefit everyone even more? Those who want their individual plots could certainly still do so, but why not have part of the space be shared space where everyone works together?

    In my individual garden, I’ve developed a canopy style with fruit trees shading space for other plants that need less sun, etc. It works well. In a community space, you could have more permanent production plants like fruit trees that are both shade providers in hot months and productive use of the space even when not gardening.

    This is a great plan, really. I really like it.

  15. Samme says:

    Your post makes too much sense. Trying to press maximum efficiency standards on eclectic community gardeners will only cause trouble.

    Here’s another idea: a compromise.

    Instead of a grand high-council of gardeners who decides what is grown where when and how – consider having people with allotments submit their plans in the early spring.

    The plans could be reviewed, and if there are novice-gardener problems (as mentioned above)then the more local-savvy gardeners could offer suggestions and help. Tell them not to plant the wrong-zone plants. Suggest co-planting species that work well together. Recommend things that need to be recommended, then back off.

    You will get your more-efficient gardens, more veggies, and no lynch-mob. It won’t be perfectly efficient, but you might be surprised by the number of people trying to be more-efficient than the other plots near them once they have some directly relevant tips on how to make the garden they want.

  16. chuck b. says:

    Personally, despite the diligent efforts of many, I’m still not feeling the sense of urgency that Ed describes in his first paragraph.

    If you want to do this, community gardening sounds like a terrible name. Why not call it community farming…or, better, cooperative farming…or, even better yet, collectivist agriculture?

    I’m fortunate enough to have my own patch of land to do with as I please (as long as I’m permitted to by those who may resent my inefficient use of it).

    I would be sorry to think that the landless apartment dwellers of my community would have no choice but to surrender their individuality to the collectivist diktats of efficiency and productivity. Which in the long-term, history has shown will be neither efficient nor productive.

  17. Gloria says:

    Didn’t we get into this mess with big ag by trying to constantly increase yields.
    Working together in a community garden goes on all the time here in Chicago with many organizations helping new gardeners learn.
    But…
    Boards with power abuse power,HOA”S anyone.

  18. Pam C. says:

    I think that would just take all the fun out of community gardens… Some towns have Community Farms, that operate like you said, and I think that is fine and dandy. But the whole point of community gardens is to have more land, so individuals can experiment and grow. Not that there isn’t a place for community farms and efforts, I just don’t think land should be taken away from hobbiests to do it, especially when there are little corners of land tucked around all over, that are unused!

  19. Nat Huck says:

    There needs to be both. I can’t get rid of the uncomfortable feeling of being told what I can or can’t plant. Since this is a new garden, go ahead and make it whichever way the majority wants it. But I don’t think we should be trying to change existing community gardens into something like this.

  20. Mike says:

    check out myfarmsf.com for a better approach… all the organization, none of the bureaucracy.

  21. Gerg says:

    As a rural gardener I don’t really understand the argument. The only community gardens we have are memorial gardens. If you want veggies then there’s your backyard. But I can see how the “We tell you what to plant” can be scary for gardeners, who these days are predominately a unruly and independent lot. Imagine the horror of someone saying you can only plant Ace tomatoes. I would definately subvert that effort (no offense to the Ace tomato.)

  22. There at least one community garden here that is run by a group of people who vote on what to grow each year and how to grow it. Then they work the garden and share the results. Simple. No Nazis, no control. The group who works the plots decides. No single individual rules and if that person wants to grow an heirloom from Europe, that individual can grow it in his/her yard. I’ve seen the members of this community garden use methods I don’t use and you know what? I don’t freaking have to join if I don’t like the way they do things. Community gardens are ran by a Community. You want to be an individual and have your own individual garden? Good! I have my own yard but when I decide to join a community garden then I will abide by the community rules.

  23. Marie says:

    This is a wonderful and complex subject.

    I understand the cooperative need: organize, and produce more.

    To that end, in South Africa, early this year, I was hugely inspired by the work of the NGO Abalimi bezekhaya, where small plots of land in the shanty towns (townships) are farmed by women – who have received 3-day intensive organic training – who use the food they grow to feed their families as well as to fill weekly CSA boxes packed by an affiliate NGO, Harvest of Hope. The latter gives them a list of crops it needs in the boxes. The links are to two posts I wrote about these organizations.

    On the other paw:

    I read bemused about comments here from people with their own “backyards”…Sigh:

    As a New York City dweller, with a 66 square foot terrace of my own, I appreciate that the many who have NO space of their own in which to garden, love to have a little plot in a community garden which they can call their own; in which they can plant what.ever. they like.

    Yes, the gardens end up being idiosyncratic and patchworky, but they feed the engine that makes us tick: the soul.

    http://66squarefeet.blogspot.com/2009/01/abalimi-bezekhaya-urban-farming.html

    http://66squarefeet.blogspot.com/2009/01/weekly-food-box-harvest-of-hope.html

    Soon I will be designing a small park/garden for the city of New York. And these are the conversations buzzing in my head. Beauty? Pleasure? Utility?

    I think it may turn into a foraging garden inspired by Mr Euell Gibbons :-)

    I like beauty that is edible.

  24. Rosella says:

    I lived in the soviet Union in the days of “collective farming” — the local soviet controlled what was planted, where, who did what kind of work, how it was run. The residents did the work as directed, and the production was sent to the central unit for shipment to Moscow or wherever.

    The people had little personal plots which they were free to work in their spare time. The small personal plots out-produced the whole collective farm in every case, because the people had motivation. Besides feeding their families, almost everything available in the markets of Moscow in those days came from the personal plots.

    Life was hard for Russian in those days, and I am not sure there was much consideration of personal satisfaction, but simply of the tough economic reality of survival — a place to which we have not been for many many years. I can understand the urge to co-operate, to work for the good of the community, but I understand more the impulse to provide for one’s own.

    I’m selfish. I want my very own Costuluto Genoveses, and not some generic tomato chosen by committee.

  25. suzq says:

    Ed, if you turn all the vacant lots into food production, don’t expect the city to be able to afford all the parks and recreation and cooperative extension service staff you’d like to see. Because they’ll be short on potential property taxes. In the real world, there’s an economic trade-off.

    I agree that we should probably use the public land available more efficiently–but how do you mobilize people to do that?

    How do you propose to promulgate and educate ordinary folks about your enlightened approach to community garden? Who will mobilize the schools (that Superintendent Rhee hasn’t already laid off?) Who will help enforce an honest assessment of what vacant land can’t possibly be sold and should be converted to a garden?

    If you want to make a push for productive gardening in the urban areas that need it most, then I suggest toning down the flippant attitude about the government officials whom you will need to make it happen. Revenues are down this year. The city has had to furlough and cut back staff. They’re not ignoring you, Ed. They probably aren’t there at all.

  26. If it ain’t broke, why fix it. Community gardens based on the individual plot holder model, such as the allotment system in the UK, work fine. There’s lots of communality, shared tips, plants and meals between plot holders, yet individuals still have the freedom to grow what they’re interested in.Like mangelwurzel? You’re free to grow it and share the excess with the plot holder next door. Sounds like a decent balance to me.

  27. Ed Bruske says:

    Thanks, everyone, for all of these thoughtful responses. I’m sorry so many people see this as a control issue. Remember, virtually all community gardens are on public property. If you have a plot there, you are already benefiting from the collective system that we know as tax and govern. (Funny, commune, communist, community–they all have the same root.) To go along with our democratic and individualistic heritage, we also have deep feelings in this country about egalitarianism. The urgency I see with regard to food production is not just the unsustainable nature of our current agriculture, but the vastly unequal nature of the food system that we see developing. In my view, everyone–every citizen, every child–should be entitled to the same sort of fresh, healthful food that our emerging food movement is advocating. To me, that means putting every available local food growing resource to work, including the land around us. Most of all, I think it is incumbent on those who believe in community gardens and who benefit from community gardens to reach out to the greater community and make food growing something that is within reach of all. That may mean gardens in school yards, or around housing projects, or on vacant land. It mean tax incentives to businesses to make their open lands available for gardening, or their roofs. It may mean set-asides and land trusts. I’m suggesting that we all have a role to play, and that we can be much more creative when it comes to growing local food.

  28. What you all said.

    Ed Bruske jumps the gun, leaps for the lion, chases that whale.

    Gardening is more than producing food. Some people are way more talented and/or interested in growing food more productively.

    Collectives are cool. I would like to see us create a collective, patchwork landscape of gardens. But never force someone who has no interest to do it. We are free, no?

    Collective Farms on lots of land. Yep. Sounds good, already a growing trend. Many of us need to join collectively to AFFORD land to grow or even live.

    Isn’t this really the thing we’re abating with collectivity. Pooling our resources in an economy that says NO! to an individual unlucky enough to have a lot of dough in the city.

  29. I should say, unlucky enough to have little dough in the city.

  30. grcg says:

    I think there is a role for this kind of organized community garden, but we still need the availability of public garden plots that a person can ‘check out’ or lease for a season.

    How else are people going to learn? Learn how to garden and have the opprotunity to reflect on how their gardening contributes to the food they eat and their quality of life.

    Sure, a lot of people are not maximizing the yield on these plots, but that is not the entire point. The experience and education is a lot of the point too.

    To promote one community garden concept at the expense of the other is folly.

  31. Rick Brown says:

    Community gardens are about community. Food is a bonus when it happens. What percent of community or home gardens these days are actually are cost effective? Gardening is more important in growing the community and the family and as a hobby and exercise these days than growing food. This is America, 2009.

  32. Mark says:

    Here is something everybody can get behind: composting. It reduces landfills and pollution, provides rich, organic worm castings, and is very easy to get started. I compost year round and feel good doing it. http://www.red-worm-composting.com/

  33. Sisyphus's gardner says:

    Folks! Log off and go to bed. I have never heard so much to do about nothing. We are talking like we just were invaded by former Marxists. Ed Burke is ranting about growing food in vacant lots…Do you suppose this is all part of a world-hegemony plot and this is the first domino to topple? I don’t care if you do it this way or that but try listening without going nuts. I am personally so bored with this type of discussion I want to hide under my bed (with my gun in my cold clammy hands).

  34. 7:47 too early for bed. Just getting started.

  35. freakin california time!

  36. greg draiss says:

    Christopher NC:

    Under the Bruske plan you would still have to pay for the right to give your food away,
    If you want to start a commune go ahead I am not against that. But if I pay for the right to grow right to grow basil in a small plot I want to grow basil.

    The scary part is that so many autotons here think his idea is a good one.

    The march og the lemmings has begun. The only good thing is you will walk off the cliff together into the sea in the name of unity.

    The TROLL

  37. Ed Bruske says:

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I’m sorry some of you thought this was mostly about a control issue or going communist. (Funny, commune, communist, community–they all have the same root.) But virtually all community gardens are on public property. So if you have a plot in one, you are already benefitting from our collective system of government. And being public property, they really are subject to an analysis of how best to serve the greater community good, rather than just a few lucky individuals. Most important, what I am suggesting is that community garden advocates–and the food gardening community as a whole–needs to reach out to the broader community with the benefits of locally grown food, especially in urban areas where land may be scarce. I do have a sense of urgency where we see a bifurcated food system emerging, where a few have access to and enjoy healthful local foods and many do not, where some people are enjoying the health benefits of a local food system and many are not. It strikes me that in an otherwise egalitarian society this is a growing inequity that urgently needs to be addressed. Whether it is on school grounds, or vacant lots or on rooftops, whether with tax incentives to businesses or individual property owners, set-asides, easements or land trusts, we simply need to make more land available for urban food gardening and teach more people how to do it. This is something we can and should spread to every corner of our cities.

  38. greg draiss says:

    Then go ahead and do it…………
    Do not insist that the entire concept of Community Gardens needs to come under the control of the micro managed zoning board.

    If folks want to form a commune go ahead just leave those of is alone who wish to grow what we want in our yards or community gardens.

    The TROLL

  39. Barbara says:

    Community garden?
    A commune garden?
    A farm “business” in a city.

    Pick one.

    To have one’s one little plot – to grow what you want, pick out the perfect seeds, sow, and nurture – then eat your “own” is so cool! City gardening is so unique!

    A real community garden ROCKS! I will (give me a few weeks; once all seeds are in) upload my chapter on community gardening from my book, Garden Your City.

  40. commonweeder says:

    i agree with Ed on the point of their not being enough attention to the need and benefit of community gardens, but I think the community is the interaction between the people who garden together/alongside each other, learning, swapping lies, and making friends. A community garden is not about anyone’s particular brand of aesthetics. I just wish towns and cities made more space available.

  41. Peter Hoh says:

    I have a feeling that if we were to propose something like the federal highway system today, it would be greeted with accusations of communism. You mean I have to pay taxes so people can drive from Boise to Billings? But I never drive from Boise to Billings. And who’s going to determine where the highway goes? Some bureaucrat in Washington? And they get to use eminent domain to seize private property that’s in the way? Sure sounds like communism to me.

    /sarcastic rant off

    Seems to me that a city shouldn’t have to lock itself into one model of community garden. Make several plots of land available, and accept proposals from groups and individuals. Let people experiment and see what works.

  42. Michele Owens says:

    Yes, I’m with Peter. Detroit, which is a city with at LOT of vacant land, has both styles of community gardens.

  43. Jay Fleishman says:

    All good comments. I propose that an organized effort to garden can coexist with individual gardens, individual gardeners with individual preferences. If a guy wants to grow herbs, let him. If somebody wants to grow only okra, let him. The important thing is that more people are gardening. What is produced will average out locally.

  44. Stacy says:

    Generally it works better in the U.S. to give people an opportunity to make money or not in an endeavor and the market rules help take care of the rest.

    Perhaps the incentive of an assured buyer of excess produce would encourage people to use their plots more efficiently, without taking away the freedom to grow what they want.

    If a garden market were put in place or some other voluntary way of making money from the garden plot, this would surely encourage some of the plot holders to grow more efficiently and would probably also attract new participants.

  45. Nina says:

    I’m a apt dweller & community gardener in Los Angeles. Based on my 18 years there, I’m not sure a collective garden would work. Our community,in theory, shares care of & harvests of our fruit orchard. The reality…. nobody benefits much. We do have to put in so many community hours (general garden maintenance of common areas)based on the number of plots we hold, but folks resent time taken away from care of their individual plots. I, for one, relish starting my own seed of heirlooms & European varieties (it’s the creativity!) & do not want to maintain someone’s boring old Celebrity tomatoes. We do have a community in that growing tips,harvests,recipes & sunset watching are shared. My plots are where I get away from “politics” and the stresses of the world. Make it a collective & tending a garden just becomes another chore, not deep, soul-satisfying pleasure of hands in the dirt.

  46. FoodRenegade says:

    Ed — Wow, you managed to generate a lot of controversy here!

    Thanks for submitting this to Fight Back Fridays. I think it was a very provocative and engaging post.

    Cheers,
    KristenM
    (AKA FoodRenegade)

  47. Marie says:

    I second Suzq’s point: The only way I got to use vacant but city-owned land in NYC was to talk to the city officials in charge: once I had, it was remarkably smooth-sailing. It helped that company I work for will fund the planting. And I still don’t see the creation of a park as an “idle pursuit”, per Ed’s take on it.

  48. Michelle says:

    My response was rather long, so I have posted it here: http://thecluelessgardeners.blogspot.com/ Cheers!

  49. alia says:

    I’m in Queens, NYC, and have a 100 square foot plot in our community garden. This year, the garden turned a communal area into a community plot, much like Ed describes.

    at this point, results are mixed. the community plot is working great at giving people who don’t have their own plots a way to work in the dirt, which was part of their/our mandate.

    so far, people who do have plots (and who didn’t get to help design the space… ie, non-committee members) have little interest in participating.

    i am hopeful that if we are given enough time, we can get the balance right. (since we were told in March that the parks dept wants the entire garden back for grass next year, my hope may be shortlived.)

  50. Rick Brown says:

    I would like to hear the whole story about Nina’s situation from different perspectives if anyone has more to offer or similar first hand comments about this or similar community gardens.

  51. I participated in a community garden in Madison, Maine. It seemed a little absurd because almost everyone had a yard (except me). Simply as a matter of fact, almost none of the plot holders were effective, attentive vegetable gardeners. Why? I do not know. I was, however, and all my bounty was donated to the food pantry. Why? Because growing is about the activity for me, the process, it is fun where others see work. I like the produce, but how much did I need?

    What I do not like about NYC community gardens that I have seen around my neighborhoods is that they appear to be closed off to newcomers. How does one get a plot in their neighborhood? Would I relinquish my plot for someone else? Probably not.

    That’s a problem with simply not enough land in a place like NYC. So as a gardener, I tend to find a way to garden. What I like seeing is that there is an increasing interest in these issues by citizens of the city and the officials. So when I contact one of several organizations about the possibility of raising vegetables and offering them at cost, plus demonstrations and so on, on public property I expect to be greeted with at least some interest. And this is NEW, this is different than the past.

    Gardeners garden. I would like to see a farm park. Yes, a farm park because in a lot of ways that is the abstraction we are dealing with in our cities. Farms are abstract conceptions, they are as wild as the woods or the prairie or any landscape designated as park. Why not a farm park?

  52. ryan says:

    Almost every community garden I’ve ever seen has been behind a chain link fence, cut off from its community. I like the idea of community gardens, but I find the current reality of them really off-putting.

    I like a lot of the ideas of the post.

  53. keri says:

    I sort of think of this about halfway between the extremes. My circle of friends (a very small number, admittedly) and I share a lot of things, gardens included.

    We share a van, 3 garden plots and are proposing sharing a CSA box to support the gardens (what we don’t want to grow).

    While I agree with Ed on many of the points addressed, I also can see the potential for trouble.

    Besides, roses are partially edible. In the US, we talk about all the valuable land, but we’re also forgetting about the interior of which there is more space without anyone than there is with.

    I think more importantly than worrying about EVERYONE is worry about our immediate community and work from there.

    If everyone fed themselves first and then passed on their extras, the world would be a much more loving place.

  54. Nina says:

    Ryan,

    Community gardens like mine, Ocean View Farms, have fences so that we not ripped off of tools, wheelbarrows & produce. Fences help prevent vandalism too.

  55. Melissa says:

    In my opinion, the POINT is that more unused space should be converted into gardening space. I don’t see why there is not enouth to go around for everyone. If someone is interested in the collective, then that is what they should sign up for. If someone is interested in the traditional garden plot for their own use, then there should be pleanty of that.

    Personally, I’m not so convinced that many people actually want or see the value in fresh veggies from the ground. I have so many friends that recoil at the thought of veggies in general. Some of my friends think I’m quite an oddity for growing my own veggies and express that they would be exasperated at how much work seems to be invloved. Not everyone loves the soil and loves to watch something grown. I think more people could get enthusiastic, but from the long lines of cars I see each day queue’d up at McDs each and every lunch hour, I’m not too optimistic.

  56. Chicagogardener, Beth Botts says:

    I just stopped by a groundbreaking for a new community garden in a Chicago park. The parks system is encouraging such gardens, but there are problems–Is it fair that precious taxpayer-owned land should be devoted to feeding just a few people? How is that scarce public resource to be allocated? Will the people who do the work see their vegetables stolen? And as with all community gardens, there’s an outpouring of support to get it started but volunteers trail off in the face of weeding and other grunt work. Keeping a community garden going is a lot harder than starting one.

  57. Jay says:

    The TROLL is my new hero.

    I have nothing against some community gardens being run in this way. However, I do not want to be a part of them. Make sure they are not all run this way. Let individuals decide which one they want to play in.

    I just can not imagine anything that would suck the fun and enjoyment out of gardening more than working in someone elses garden. Oh wait, yes I can: working in a committee’s garden.

  58. greg draiss says:

    THANK YOU JAY!
    You may now grow potatoes in your plot.
    The TROLL

  59. Mimi says:

    >And to link the climate change mantra as a reason to regulate community gardens.

    It’s a reason to regulate EVERYTHING. Notice the “mainstream” liberal dogma getting scarier and scarier–these are dangerous times, special times, and in times like these, we need to stop being selfish and come together as a community. Just let us tell you how to do everything, and it will be all better soon!

    Yes, this is the new socialism. It has arrived. And it’s making ME go swiftly hard libertarian.

    I’ll tell you something bluntly: much of the crises are either fake or manufactured. Since the prols can’t be trusted to rebel on their own, we have to give them reasons!

    Please, Ed, get your head out of your ass and do a WEE bit of historical research on what communal food production and/or lack of land ownership causes. I recommend studying EVERY example you can find, from the Middle Ages to Communist Russia to the modern Sahel. Then discover what happens to productions when individual ownership is established. Ever heard of the Agricultural Revolution?

    Yeah. That. That little thing was triggered by the collapse of communal farming and the triumph of private ownership.

    Yes, most historic societies have been at least somewhat communal in nature. They have also been extraordinarily violent (1 in 5 adult men dying from warfare would be typical–WWI and II are a JOKE compared to their NORMAL times), practiced ritualized murders of various types due to resource shortages and freakish superstitions (especially of the old and the young–not, it’s not okay to kill babies for being born twins because it’s THEIR CULTURE), were poor beyond our understanding of the word (“food insecurity” when you still have cable and buy expensive pre-prepared foods should better be named “food stupidity”–the solution is education, not handouts), and had an average lifespan of about 35.

    Yeah. You go sign up for that, Ed. Me? I like capitalism, with all its flaws. Shit, our scurvy-ridden street people are fat. Now THAT’s rich!

    The blunt fact is that it is not an economical expenditure of the time of urban professionals–that’s the people who are signing up for 95% of community gardens–to grow food. Farmers (yes, the big, evil corporate farms) can do it many times more economically. It only seems better when you count their labor as free–in which case, they should probably be volunteering to tutor some inner city kid rather than giving him a squash.

    Extra produce, grown voluntarily as a hobby, has a place in the urban food picture. That’s leisure with a side social benefit. But trying to enslave urbanites to make food for the poor because it’s the Right Thing is beyond stupid.

  60. thomask says:

    The problem with this, and certain other garden rants, is that it is largely what I would call philosophizing. Not based on experience meaning trial and error. I love gardening because it’s the antithesis of philosophizing, and rants like this have limited usefulness.

    Ed has no personal experience in what he’s promoting. That’s OK, it may be a game plan for one of his future endeavors. Based on my 14 years as a community gardener, I think his ideas will flop unless he’s able to greatly restrict who is a participant in his community garden. Would it then be a community garden? Folks, growing the plants is easy, it’s getting along with the other people that is the challenge.

    So many of the response comments are right on. Especially the ones that remind us that there are many equally valuable purposes for a community garden. For one, they are important repositories, often unintentional, for numerous species that would have no other way to survive in the nasty city. I’m continually astonished at what decides to take up residence. An intensive veggie farm doesn’t sound very diverse, but I honestly haven’t tried it.

  61. Kristin says:

    These ideas are fine and look to the future, but they are NOT a community garden and belong in a separate category and a separate place. Converting popular community gardens into a communal farm is not a good idea. People (individuals) do have a deep need to tend their “own” plots as they wish. I’m on a waiting list for a community plot and sure, I get a little pissed off to see the plots full of tulips and daffodils (WTF?) but I completely support the users in planting what they wish in the plots they use. There is a place for both ideas, however. The idea of using school fields (provided they truly are unused space) is great. But don’t plow under everyone’s garden — we’re not THAT desperate yet.

  62. Marguerite says:

    I was really astonished when I read Ed Bruske’s piece. I am fortunate to live where I have all the room I need to grow what I please, but I know what it is like not to be able to have a garden.

    A garden is not a farm. A garden is about so much more than just feeding one’s belly. Our current dysfunctional food system is based on the premise of getting maximum calories from an acre of land at minimum cost. That has given us GMO corn and soybeans, CAFO pork and chickens, feedlot beef which is fed chicken manure (since it analyzes out in lab tests like more expensive feeds and gives the CAFO chicken systems a way to get rid of the tons of chicken waste). Trying to implement similar programs in a community garden will not be beneficial to anyone.

    Gardens are places where people can express themselves and enjoy themselves. They satisfy a need many have to put that seed in the soil and enjoy the endless miracle of sprouting, growing and fruiting.

    Gardens are places where people can find refuge. When your home is chaos, your boss a total nut-job, your car needs repair, and your significant other seems to be mutating into some alien being, you can go to your garden. There, you can pull weeds or carry water or just breathe in the fragrance of your tomato plants, listen to the birds singing in the nearby trees and exchange pleasantries with other gardeners.

    What you seem to want, Ed Bruske, is a community farm. That is something entirely different. There is nothing wrong with setting up a community farm which is run by committee and which can efficiently produce food to feed the neighborhood. Don’t confuse that with community gardening.

    The appeal of a community garden for most people is having a little piece of dirt where you can plant what you want, even if it is not what other people think you should be planting. An individual gardening plot is a place to do your own individual thing, without getting criticized by people who want your community garden to become a community farm that only grows the most productive varieties of food.

  63. Astersia says:

    Community gardens are not about the food – they’re about the COMMUNITY. Maximizing food belongs in a different discussion.
    Yes, it’s that simple.

  64. Zs says:

    “Can you see what this would look like carried to extremes?”

    It would look like what we’ve already got, but on a smaller scale, and with more choice about pulling out of the abusive system. Similar to workplaces, actually. When we’re not in a recession, anyway, you can pick up and leave and find somewhere with better benefits, better payout, or a better ‘boss’ (for lack of a better word).

    I just don’t see the issue. It’s not like all gardens would immediately become this way, but it certainly would be nice to experiment and stop pretending that trying new methods will cause the end of the world when I’m already in a position where I can’t even walk to a store.

  65. Congratulations on winning a position in the Top Rants of 2009 with your interesting ideas and feed-the-hungry mindset. Love it!

    Happy 2010!

    Shawna

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