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Community Gardens on Cover of Park & Recreation Magazine

  • Subject: [cg] Community Gardens on Cover of Park & Recreation Magazine
  • From: adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Sat, 18 Mar 2006 08:32:55 -0500

The parks and rec magazine is out at least on the web...


Adam Honigman

For the attachment challenged:

Bloom to Grow

Community gardening provides education, enrichment and eggplants all in one

By Marti Ross Bjornson

In Evanston, Ill., Tom Richardson grows tomatoes in the 20-foot-by-20-foot
plot he has tended for more than 30 years in James Park. In Portland, Ore.,
Marilee Dea savors sweet peas she picked from her Reed College Community
Garden. And in Burlington, Vt., K.K. Wilder harvests produce from an
accessible plot at the Ethan Allan homestead.

What these three gardeners have in common with each other, and with tens of
thousands of other gardeners around North America, is the extraordinary
experience of gardening on community land made available through the auspices
of their local park and recreation programs.

They are community gardeners who garden with others, either in assigned
"allotment" plots or in common public gardens. Their gardening experience
enhances their own quality of life and that of the communities in which they
garden. They give back to their communities by growing fresh food and abundant
blossoms, by helping maintain the land, and by interacting with fellow

North America has a long history of community gardening. You may recall in the
1940s, World War II Victory Gardens in which civic duty brought gardeners
together to grow food for the war effort. The mid-1970s heralded a revitalized
community gardening movement led by urban economic and environmental activists
in New York, Chicago, Seattle, Toronto and Philadelphia. The U.S. Department
of Agriculture promoted its Urban Gardening Program, and the American
Community Gardening Association (ACGA), North America's premier community
gardening organization, was founded.

Park and recreation programs joined the movement, dispersed grants and
municipal funds, helped organize community gardeners,
and provided land to till.

Today, park and recreation programs in large cities and small towns continue
to promote community gardens for their residents. They support community
gardening because they see it as a broad-reaching, educational,
environment-enriching, community-enhancing and cost-effective activity.

In 2002, the Burlington City Council passed a resolution supporting the
long-term maintenance and expansion of the Burlington Area Community Gardens
program. Then and now, BACG is the city's most popular recreation program.
Lisa Coven, land steward of Burlington Parks and Recreation Department, and
Jim Flint, executive director of the Friends of Burlington Gardens, are
partners in one of North America's pioneer community gardening programs.

Community gardening began in Burlington in 1972 with a partnership between the
Burlington Parks Department and the nonprofit Gardens for All, which became
the National Gardening Association. Subsequently, the Burlington community
garden program became a separate nonprofit, BACG.

By 1996, Friends of Burlington Gardens (FBG), a grassroots nonprofit volunteer
organization, formed to support BACG. It promotes community-based gardening
throughout Vermont and is spearheading the growth of the Vermont Community
Garden Network.

Burlington's program is notable for its sustainability and the extensive
support it enjoys. It's also noteworthy that the program, which serves more
than 2,000 people, succeeds largely because of the commitment from an
extensive network of gardeners, volunteers, institutions and private entities.
It thrives because this partnership faces challenges and welcomes support

Coven and Flint report, "Community gardens provide many benefits including
health and well-being, intergenerational recreation, enhanced food security
and nutrition, opportunities for education and social development, youth civic
engagement, and reduction of neighborhood crime and vandalism."

By contrast to Burlington's historic BACG, Sacramento, Calif., only two
years ago established a new community gardening program, seeing this "as a way
to build community, bring the neighbors together and beautify the neighborhood
at the same time."

Bill Maynard, Sacramento's first community garden coordinator, explains that
although community gardens existed for many years on private land prior to the
city's formal creation of the program, residential and commercial development
sounded the death knell for many of them.

Maynard is an ACGA board member and former member of the city's park and
recreation citizens' advisory committee. He sees real benefits arising from
the opportunity to establish a new program. Primary among these is the chance
to research, review and learn from others as he develops guidelines, oversees
development and promotes the program. Perhaps most challenging is Maynard's
task to identify a nonprofit partner, as Burlington has done. The city
envisions that the nonprofit will oversee the community garden program, with
the coordinator acting as the liaison to the city.

Maynard says that Sacramento has experienced some opposition to community
gardens, largely by people who do not fully understand the fledgling program.
Some have complained about "guerilla gardens" that spring up unsponsored on
vacant land, are not maintained, and not regulated.

Others question city funding of a community garden program where
people directly benefit from the city's land. Maynard and the city reply that
city-sponsored programs address both of these objections, because gardeners
get out of their houses and, when gardens are located in parks, they keep
their "eyes on the park" and become its stewards. Most proponents of community
gardening cite examples of actual reduction in crime in and around parks once
community gardens take root, since the gardeners themselves become "eyes and
ears" for the park and the adjacent communities.

Such is the case in Seattle, where the Seattle Parks Department has explicitly
recognized gardening as a "valid recreational use" of parks department
property. The P-Patch community gardening program, which periodically faced
some opposition in neighborhoods, now is one of the most popular in the city.

Rich MacDonald, manager of the P-Patch program, in the Department of
Neighborhoods, explains that as P-Patch recognition has grown and created more
public open space in the gardens, opposition has diminished.

Although "some neighbors believe [gardens] may become unsightly, bring
strangers into the neighborhood and cause parking problems, as gardens become
more fixed in neighborhoods, they become well liked," he says.

MacDonald notes that today's challenges for gardens in parks are the same
faced by others, like ball fields, tennis or basketball courts, or off-leash
areas. People recognize these as city-wide needs, but at the neighborhood
level people may oppose these uses. "Our challenge," MacDonald explains, "is
to turn out 'wannabe' gardeners [to express their interest] during the park
planning process. In other words, community gardening is not a use that parks
[automatically] programs for; rather it responds to neighborhood interest."

MacDonald observes that education, outreach, and, especially, "developing
relationships at various public and private levels has been a major reason for
the success of our program."

Leslie Pohl-Kosbau, director of Portland [Ore.] Community Gardens, is a
long-time leader in the community gardening movement and former ACGA board
member. She knows the value of community gardening and reports that Portland
recognizes that "community gardens provide more than fresh produce-they build
friendships and pockets of green in urban neighborhoods."

She cites the Portland 2020 Plan: "We need to blur the boundaries between park
and city. Let's start thinking of Portland itself as a garden. If we invest
our city with the same care, love, attention and patience we extend to our
private gardens, Portlanders will be rewarded with stunning beauty, ecological
health and spirit of place."

Still, Portland's program, like those in other cities, confronts economic
challenges and periodically faces proposed major funding cuts. However,
Pohl-Kosbau says that gardening isn't all plants-it is really about people.
She says that the beauty of community gardening is that there are no
limitations to any segment of any community. "Whether gardens are
ADA-accessible or welcome at-risk kids, whether they focus on seniors or
school children, they offer opportunities for the physical and social benefit
to people and neighborhoods," says Pohl-

Toronto is an enthusiastic host city for a program that demonstrates the power
of community gardening to meet broader municipal needs and commitments-in
Toronto's case commitments to young people and community food security. The
Toronto Community Gardens Program "began with the idea that well-used, clean
and safe parks are essential to the health and vitality of urban living,"
according to Solomon Boyi, community gardens program coordinator and a member
of the ACGA Board of Directors.

Two key aspects of Toronto's program are partnership and commitment, which
energize and sustain it. In fact, in partnership with Food-Share and the
Toronto Food Policy Council, the Toronto program began as a youth training and
mentoring project based on horticultural education.

The program sponsors the Junior Gardener Program to teach children about
healthy nutrition and physical activity and Toronto Urban Gardening Youth,
which uses gardening to build youth entrepreneurial, leadership and
"invaluable life skills." The program also encourages its gardeners to grow
food for themselves and the community, providing more than 3,000 Toronto
residents their own rows to hoe.

Toronto demonstrates a city-wide commitment to community food security, a
phrase that describes a community's access to healthy, reasonably priced good
food.When communities or neighborhoods within them cannot provide this access,
community gardens
can help.

Shared produce grown in community gardens is one real benefit that
communities understand. In addition to providing food for gardeners, their
families and friends, many community gardens contribute produce to food
pantries, soup kitchens and institutions. Numerous programs support gardens in
low-income communities, especially those where local stores and or farmers
markets are not available or convenient.

"[Community gardening] involves gardeners in their own food security and helps
them to understand the importance of our food networks," says H. Michael
Simmons, adult program specialist for Bloomington (Ind.) Parks and

Bloomington Parks and Recreation's program, though not large, offers
opportunities for gardeners at two sites. The program recognizes social,
recreational and health benefits of community gardening, as well as
beautification of parks, increased park usage, reduction of vandalism, and the
sharing of food with hungry people through the Plant a Row for the Hungry
Project, a food sharing program sponsored by the Garden Writers Association.

Simmons says, "Probably our most significant challenge is [to provide]
services for gardeners without [charging or raising plot rental fees]. In
order to accomplish this, we rely on an active volunteer recruitment program
to obtain volunteers to assist the garden supervisor with maintenance tasks,
[to solicit] in-kind donations from community businesses and individuals, and
[to obtain] grants."

Budgets vary widely among programs, largely because of the wide diversity of
program models. While some programs include all costs of service in their
community garden budgets, others identify only those unique to the program,
such as coordinator salary and direct expenses, such as tilling, if it is
offered. Most programs charge a nominal rental fee to obtain a plot, and
expect garden plot rental fees to defray the costs of the program.

While Burlington estimates its annual total cost, including overhead, at
$40,000, the BACG program raises about $17,000 in revenues each year through
plot fees, sales of mulch hay and contributions, with additional funds coming
from grants. The city provides administrative, office and staff support and
in-kind contributions of equipment and services.

FBG, the nonprofit partner, supports the program with a full-time
executive director, part-time seasonal staff, and volunteers. In 2005, it
generated $42,000 in revenues through grants, contributions and special

From Sacramento, Maynard notes another point: After the initial
cost of construction, community gardens are operated and maintained by the
gardeners, unlike standard parks that can cost tens or hundreds of thousands
to maintain annually.

Community gardening, though widespread and well-loved throughout
North America, still surprises many people, according to Teva Dawson, the
horticulture inspector of Des Moines [Iowa] Park and Recreation Department.
The seven-year-old Des Moines Community Gardening Coalition supports
grass-roots community greening projects, some of which can be found on street
corners, community centers, on boulevards and even in vacant lots.

Dawson says, "When I'm out in the community, people are always surprised to
learn that this program is run by the city of Des Moines. They can't believe
we have a progressive, neighborhood-based program to support their work. What
we do does not fit their image of city government."

The greatest benefit to towns from community gardening is that it engages
people in community activity from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, cultures
and abilities, including older adults, children, and youth, and longtime
residents as well as new immigrants. It is unique in providing access for
citizens to interact with the community and its leaders.

According to Simmons, "It is a community-building enterprise that contributes
to the social cohesion of the community." All this, and beautiful flowers and
fresh vegetables, too.

Marti Ross Bjornson is a freelance writer, editor and educator whose work
focuses on urban community gardening, community greening, community food
security and on the people who do this valuable work.

Editor's note: Betsy Johnson, executive director of the American Community
Gardening Association, and Bill Maynard contributed to this article.

The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org

To post an e-mail to the list:  community_garden@mallorn.com

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