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Doe s How

r Ga u o Y

A 10-plot community garden in this Sacramento park created a gathering place
BILL MAYNARD

for residents-and discouraged the homeless population from sleeping there.

With collaboration and sunshine water and partnerships and love.
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By Gretchen Needham or millions of Americans, finding areas of greenery in which to connect with others can demand an exhausting combination of subway tokens, parking spaces, and extended time in the car. To confront this issue, many urban park and recreation agencies have created community gardening programs that allow urbanites to interact with one another, working the soil and playing a vital role in growing the produce that graces their tables. In the process of planting and pruning, another crop is being cultivated: that of community. These city plots introduce people who are as different as string beans and squash. The definition of a community garden, according to the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA), is any piece of land gardened by a group of people. This can take the shape of vegetable plots individually tended in a small town to flowers grown from seedlings in an urban setting to fruit trees located on the fringe of an elementary-school playground. A garden tended by a community’s residents brings out the best in that community, becoming a source of physical activity, recreation, and civic pride for all who participate. Community gardens tend to foster relationships among residents, which in turn makes neighborhoods safer by reducing crime. Used as outdoor classrooms, these gardens teach children about healthy foods and how plants grow, creating young stewards who will care and respect for our future environment. Sound familiar? That’s because many of the goals of community gardens are identical to those of public park and recreation agencies: bring people together, foster healthy and active lifestyles, and conserve green spaces for all to enjoy. Community gardens and public parks are a natural fit, and local park and recreation departments can establish valuable and mutually advantageous partnerships with community garden planners. There is a long list of benefits to be reaped from community gardens—and almost as many challenges inherent in planning, promoting, and organizing these neighborhood jewels.

Location, Location, Location The primary and perhaps the most daunting decision facing those planning a community garden is where to place it. As urban sprawl intensifies in many communities, finding available green space that isn’t already set aside for building or development is the first

and citizen involvement and
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President Bill Clinton visits Portland's Woodlawn Garden in May.

Buy Local, Be Local

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ould you prefer that your food taste better, need fewer chemical preservatives, and lessen its negative impact on our environment? Then turn to locally grown fresh produce. The primary goals of the local food movement are to support nearby growers, enrich regional economies, reduce the amount of food that has to be shipped long distances (thereby lessening the amount of fossil fuels used in transportation and the pollution from their output), and favor freshness and quality in foods over large-scale and industrialized production. Joining a community garden is just one example of how you can eat locally. Here are five additional ways to up your intake of locally grown foods: • A perfectly ripe and juicy peach, the snap of a crisp, fresh green bean, a sweet and tangy heirloom tomato. This is the time of year to frequent your local farmer’s market. Make sure to ask if the bounty on display is grown locally and freshly picked; some produce may have been trucked in from a distance. • Like to get your fingers in the dirt? You can’t get more local than food grown in your backyard with your own two hands. For inspiration and how-to videos, check

out Patti Moreno, aka Garden Girl, at www.gardengirltv.com. You can also find home gardening tips at the National Gardening Association’s Web site, www. garden.org/urbangardening. • If you don’t have a green thumb, support those who do by joining a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. You prepay for a season’s worth of weekly delivery or pick-up of whatever the grower is currently harvesting, which is usually vegetables but can also include herbs, flowers, and even dairy or meat products. CSAs help small and family farms stay in business by providing a predictable income; the result is high-quality, often organic, incredibly fresh produce. Visit the National Agricultural Library online (www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/ pubs/csa/csa.shtml) for more information and to find a CSA near you. • Make it a habit to patronize restaurants that support local growers. Ask your wait staff to identify the items on the menu that were grown locally or regionally. • Request that your neighborhood supermarket carry local produce; let the store’s manager know there is a genuine interest and demand for produce grown and harvested close to home. —G.N.

hurdle faced by would-be gardeners. Leslie Pohl-Kosbau, the community garden manager for Portland, Ore.’s 31 community gardens, acknowledges the challenge of finding usable public space. “The urban growth boundary is a ring around the urban area of Portland that is meant to limit sprawl and save farmland and forests,” she says. “This puts extra pressure on land prices, and means that there are few opportunities to acquire or convert existing urban unbuilt parcels.” Park departments can become involved by purchasing land or taking over the lease for an existing community garden’s parcel, or by offering a section of a public park up for development into a community garden. The Chicago Park District sums up this natural relationship another way: “Gardeners take initiative and responsibility for the community garden and, in effect, the park as a whole.” Joshua Amaris, community gardening coordinator in Oakland, Calif., explains how the park department there became involved with community gardens in his area. “Beginning in the 1980s,” says Amaris, “Oakland’s office of parks and recreation initiated its community gardening program in response to requests from the community. [It] identified plots of land within specific parks, and volunteer groups planted and managed the plots. As the program grew and volunteers changed, it became necessary to staff the program, and [the office] hired a part-time coordinator.” Garden sites must be more than just acquirable in order for green things to grow. A garden needs enough daily sunshine (vegetables need at least six hours a day) and availability of water in order to flourish. The soil may need to be tested for possible pollutants. There must be easy access for community members, keeping in mind the needs of the elderly, children, and persons with disabilities. If located within an existing park, care should be taken that the garden site does not infringe upon enjoyment of the park’s other offerings.

LESLIE POHL-KOSBAU

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For Parks, an Integral Role Once a location is established, there should be a plan for incorporating the organization and maintenance of the site. This is where the help and guidance of a local park and recreation agency can be crucial. The skill sets of park professionals and the resources they have at hand can offer the community garden planner a wealth of information, knowledge, and support. The city of Portland provides a successful example of a community garden-parks relationship. Portland Parks and Recreation is the largest landowner in the city and, according to Pohl-Kosbau, agency staff has “the kind of expertise needed to work with people, soil, and plants.” She explains that the city council allowed Portland Parks and Recreation to enter into land-use agreements with other bureaus and private property owners as part of launching the community gardens program. The management of the program relies on community volunteers to provide much of the labor-intensive work of keeping the gardens fruitful and beautiful, yet is overseen by two botanic specialists. “Volunteer garden managers, elected by the gardeners, help track the use of plots, arrange work parties, and work with on-site social participation,” says Pohl-Kosbau, highlighting the importance of the community stepping up to the challenge of maintaining the gardens. The needs of local citizens must be foremost in any garden’s plan. The best garden design or concept foisted upon a disinterested or poorly informed community is bound to fail. Solomon Boye, community gardens program coordinator for the city of Toronto’s Parks, Forestry, and Recreation Division, says, “It is important that community gardens remain a community-driven process. There must be genuine demand and interest from the local community in order for the community garden to be successful, and community gardeners must have ownership over the garden.”

Bill Maynard, ACGA vice president and also the community gardens coordinator for Sacramento Parks and Recreation, recognizes and respects the importance of community gardens reflecting the needs of their population. “What sometimes happens,” says Maynard, “is that a city builds a community garden in an area that does not really need or want one. Community gardens are not like a ball field: Build it and they will come. This does not work for community gardens.”

Gardens and Parks: Growing Relationships With community gardens and parks, another relationship that needs to be carefully tended is that between the park department and other government agencies. In Portland, parks and recreation is one of many bureaus, each managed by a commissioner. “It is important that the gardens are well-regarded by all the bureaus,” Pohl-Kosbau notes, “not only for budget reasons, but for the partner-

Healthy Food: In When School Is Out

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ooking for ways to engage children and make your programs more accessible and enjoyable? The USDA’s child nutrition programs, including the Summer Food Service and the Child and Adult Care Food programs, can help.

Child nutrition programs, with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, complement recreation and learning opportunities and provide reliable sources of funding to the local park and recreation agencies that offer them. The Summer Food Service and Child and Adult Care Food programs help children in every state get the nutrition they need to learn, play, and grow—even when they are out of school. Children can receive free nutritious meals or snacks throughout the summer and at other times when they might otherwise go hungry. The Summer Food Service program is the single largest federal resource available to public park and recreation agencies looking to combine a feeding and summer activity program. Agencies have partnered with school districts, local businesses, hospitals, and other community organizations to deliver nutritious meals and planned activities to youngsters in low-income areas. Sponsors receive payments for serving free healthy meals and snacks to children and teens, ages 18 and younger, at approved sites. For details, visit www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/Contacts/StateDirectory.htm.

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ships that we have with the other bureaus.” In Oakland, the community gardens coordinator is employed by the city and receives support from other governmental bodies. For example, says Amaris, the city’s public works agency maintains irrigation systems, provides mulch, cares for fences, and [provides]

other maintenance tasks. He believes the responsibility for creating and sustaining a healthy working environment in which the gardens can thrive depends “primarily on the effectiveness of the program coordinator” and that person’s willingness to reach out to other groups and departments for assistance. ACGA’s Maynard suggests that gar-

den managers take every opportunity to create shared spaces for common use. For example, he says, departments other than parks and recreation should be invited to hold their meetings or training sessions in the community’s gardens. City agencies can also come together by creating compost. Maynard recommends locating compost collection bins in all of the city’s municipal offices so that lunch waste can be turned into valuable compost for the area’s community gardens. Stretching the Budget for Green Finding ways to compel local governments and private citizens to share what seem to be ever-tightening budgets with a community garden program forces organizers to think creatively and work collectively. Toronto’s park and recreation department currently oversees more than 2,500 plots in some 100 community gardens. The agency’s community gardens program, created in 1997, strives to promote three primary missions: child and youth development, lifelong health and wellness for all, and environmental stewardship. These goals cost money, of course. Boye, the program’s coordinator, reports that his department’s perennial obstacle is “adequate resources for staffing to provide the necessary outreach and capacity-building required to establish and maintain community gardens.” In Arlington, Va., the department of parks, recreation, and cultural resources manages eight community gardens. The city has enacted regulations governing the operations of the gardens, including a fee for each plot. The money collected from participants helps to offset the cost of water access and maintenance. Other expenses include repair when water lines spring the occasional leak, fence mending, and trash collection. Joanne Hutton, horticulture technician for Arlington’s community garden program, describes the gardening groups in her county as “highly organ-

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ized and politically vocal,” which she believes goes a long way toward protecting funds for the gardens. “Here, civic activism speaks. That would be the best approach to sustaining budgets, it seems to me.” Sacramento Parks and Recreation, says Maynard, has raised money for its community gardens through a winetasting event and silent auction. Other ideas for supplementing thin budgets might include donations of gardening tools by a local hardware or homeimprovement store, or the contribution of seeds or plants from a local nursery.
The needs of local residents should be foremost in any garden's plans.

Gardens Giving Back One way to increase the appeal of a community gardening program is to incorporate artwork or sculpture created by local artists and children into the garden’s design. In this way, the neighborhood’s creative potential is showcased, and the garden becomes a destination and meeting place for tourists, visitors, and the local community. Surplus produce harvested from community gardens can be a welcome boon for food pantries and soup kitchens. Fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables are a nutritious and healthful addition to the usual nonperishable goods donated to these programs. In Colorado, Denver Urban Gardens, or DUG, is exploring the long-term positive effects of community gardens through “Gardens for Growing Healthy Communities,” a three-year research project in collaboration with the University of Colorado School of Medicine and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The project’s aim is to assess the health benefits from community gardens, which will then provide important information to local leaders about the impact of community gardens on urban neighborhoods. Of course, these neighborhood gems require hard work, coordination, and thoughtful planning. But the payoff for public park and recreation agencies and the communities they serve is immeasurably valuable for everyone involved.

For parks and recreation, investment in community gardening programs is a win-win scenario, because so many park and recreation agency initiatives— reducing obesity and increasing physical activity, promoting healthy eating choices, building positive neighborhoods, enhancing and protecting open spaces—dovetail nicely with the goals

of community gardens. With public interest and awareness of green living at an all-time high, there’s never been a better time for partnerships among public parks and recreation and community gardening advocates. Green, it turns out, looks good on everyone. P&R

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BILL MAYNARD