Community Garden = Instrument of Empowerment

by Mark Lovett on October 11, 2011

As we get older, we too often adopt the perception that we’re also wiser, and thus in a better position to positively effect the future of this planet, but if you’ve paid even the slightest bit of attention to the news lately, those of us who have been around a while are, to a large degree, the ones who are screwing thing up.

So imagine my delight in meeting someone who “gets it” when it comes to respecting this planet, and is actively engaged in developing a sustainable future.  In this guest post by Jessica Baltmanas, Global Development and Social Justice Major @ UCSD, we learn about the power of community gardens, and their abilty to change the world.

The Community Garden as an Instrument of Empowerment

by Jessica Baltmanas

I believe that community gardens have the potential to change the world.  Before we see governments readily prioritize these instruments of empowerment in land use, we are already noticing the incredible changes that community gardens are bringing about in United States’ inner-cities.

A community garden can be defined as a small plot of land used for the cultivation of vegetables, flowers, herbs, and fruit by a group of people who decide to share the land collectively.  These plots are then planted, cultivated, and harvested by the plot owners for a certain amount of time.  Community gardens differ from commercial agricultural lands by their far smaller size and management by collective ownership.

Although this post focuses on the benefits of community gardens, I hold true that sustainable agricultural development on a larger scale is a powerful a tool that ought to be utilized more for economic development, especially in impoverished areas.

There are currently more than 6,000 community gardens in 38 U.S. cities (Kearney).  These gardens vary in crops harvested, location, and philosophy of operation, but one thing is clear: they are contributing positively to the communities by providing measurable benefits of food security, income (when the produce is able to be sold), community development, and crime prevention.

Community Garden - Four Measurable Benefits

Four Measurable Benefits of a Community Garden

The four generalized categories of benefits each contain subsections of benefits.  When looking under a microscope at the category of community development, one finds that it can be manifest in the mingling of ethnic and religious groups that may normally be segregated within their community.  The community garden thus serves as a site where diversity meets in the dirt by laboring, learning, reaping, or attending programs together.  Utilizing the community garden as a central meeting place for developing communities has great potential to make change by breaking stereotypes and building personal relationships.

Each community garden has a unique history, energy, impact, and place within the greater community in which it is located.  I want to tell the story of one community farm that is local to where I live.  The New Roots Community Farm is a 2.3 acre site located beneath electrical lines by 54th Street in the neighborhood of City Heights in San Diego, CA.  City Heights has become home for many resettled refugees and immigrants, and for Somali Bantu refugees, the farm is the connection to their native culture (Building a Farm and Saving a Culture).

Transitioning from an agrarian life to an inner city can be devastatingly difficult, but the New Roots Community Farm has provided relief in the deepest of ways for refugees aiming to adjust to a new life in the city.  Farmers are also from Cambodia, Burma, Uganda, Congo, Kenya, Mexico, Vietnam and Guatemala (Refugees Plant New Roots at Community Farm).  Their diverse experiences and life histories come together in the fields in which they plant.  The Farm has 80 rented plots and is a source of food security, income from produce sold at local farmer’s markets and restaurants, community development through the partnership between farmers, and a healthy and safe pastime.

Bilali Muya - New Roots Community Farm

Bilali Muya - New Roots Community Farm - City Heights Neighborhood - San Diego

Once community gardens are planted, roots of security and community health begin to flourish. Gardens and farms that are owned and managed collectively are not only practical sources of food, income, and an alternative to crime; they also develop communities, bringing new opportunities, hope, and a connection to others and traditional life. Community gardens are a tool for empowerment, and thus, I believe they can change the world. They already are.

Community gardens break down barriers and connect us all as Global Patriots!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

LondonPlanters.co.uk March 10, 2014 at 12:07 am

Community gardens are there no only to do gardening but also to make and enjoy good neighborhood bond among neighbors. On the other hand, since effort and costs are shared by the community, it is an ideal to have garden.

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Reasonable Robinsonr October 16, 2011 at 2:40 am

I totally agree with this. My partner is the nature and conservation officer for our local community. She and her colleagues have just secured funding for a community orchard her in the UK. Her passion is Forest Gardening which is a sustainable edible garden. The idea for Forest Gardening came from Robert Hart of Much Wenlock Shropshire. It’s a permaculture approach to gardening.

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Global Patriot October 16, 2011 at 7:38 am

I’ve been hearing more about Forest Gardening lately, and a friend recently mentioned Richard Walker, a Canadian food forester who’s been developing and maintaining Food Forests for over 30 years in British Columbia. Sounds like an ideal topic for a future Global Patriot blog post!

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