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Sunday, November 28, 2010

What Good is Community Gardening?

What Good is Community Greening is an often cited and quoted article written by David Malakoff for the ACGA Community Greening Review in 1995. In fact it was one of the first in depth articles that looked at the benefits of community gardening and greening. I was part of the discussions by the ACGA Board of Directors at the time on whether to use the word "Gardening" or "Greening". While it may matter to some who are looking for the most accurate word to describe what folks are doing, this blog is named Community Gardening hence the title of this post. Maybe we will look at the gardening-greening debate another time.

Over the course of my work over the past few weeks, I have supervised the building of 2 rainwater harvesting structures in 2 gardens in the Bronx. How that happened and several small occurrences gave several uncommon answers to the question " What good is community gardening?"

The first installation was at the Jacquline Denise Davis Garden (JDD), a garden that I have mentioned in previous posts. This garden is one of the host gardens for the GrowNYC LearnIt Grow It Eat It Program a program I helped create that connects high school students to community gardens. The students and the community gardeners were using a shade structure with a collapsing roof to get shelter from the rain and sun. We had a design for a new structure from a landscape architecture graduate student. With that in hand the Learn It Grow It Eat It program, and two neighborhood organizations, the Morrisania Revitalization Corp. and BASICS Inc. allocated the funds for the materials. Clients from BASICS Inc. helped with the demolition of the existing structure and building the new one. A crew from the Sustainable South Bronx Best Academy assisted in the construction and the rainwater harvesting installation. Learn It Grow It Eat It student interns helped with site preparation.

This community garden was a catalyst for neighborhood organizations to work together, teenagers and adults to be part of a building process and learn construction skills in a hands on project. The men from BASICS Inc. regardless of whatever hardships they have endured in their lives were happy to be involved in something constructive. The Best crew learned some new skills and were able to see a project through to completion.

Two very interesting things happened with members of the Best Crew. One woman kept saying she was afraid of heights and was not going on the roof to attach the roofing. With some encouragement from her crew members and courage on her own part she made it onto the roof and took part in that process. When we completed the project she was interviewed by a film crew who she told several times about her accomplishment.
One of the last things we do in a Rainwater Harvesting installation is to secure the tank with rope or wire to eyebolts to make sure it doesn't tip over or shift in the wind. I usually ask if any boy scouts or girl scouts are in the crew that might know how to tie knots. I handed a 100 foot long high strength rope to several people and went off to check on the rest of the crew. When I came back they had fashioned a very elaborate but very secure tie-down. The crew member who was leading the tie-down crew had been a paratrooper and learned knots for securing equipment and supplies that had to be lowered or raised into a helicopter. He was able to use his skills in a community garden.

The Neighborhood Advisory Committee Garden was the second garden to receive a Rainwater Harvesting structure. This garden is one of the Bronx Land Trust gardens and the land trust was able to raise the funds for the materials. One of the gardeners and a crew from the Green Apple Corps assisted with the installation. The Green Apple Corps members attended top high schools and colleges in the city and elsewhere and are learning environmental restoration, green roof and water management skills. Most of them have no construction skills but were able to master the use of basic power tools and carpentry techniques.

When the benefits of community gardens are discussed growing food, habitat for wildlife and neighborhood beautification are most often mentioned. Providing hands on opportunities for job training or rehabilitation programs are rarely mentioned. I don't think anyone has ever mentioned that a community garden provided an opportunity for a former paratrooper to utilize his skills or a young woman to conquer her fear of heights. To me these moments give us a glimpse into What Good is Community Gardening.

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