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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Post Community Gardening Conference Thoughts

Attending the community gardening conference last month in New York City, gave me the opportunity to share ideas and make connections with other community gardeners. It also provoked some thoughts and ideas. From the large proportion of sessions devoted to research it became clear that the glaring omission was the lack of a national survey and census of community gardens. In fact I spent a little time at the conference talking to folks about what that might look like and how it might be done. I plan to spend some time in the coming months working on that project. such a survey could pinpoint where there are opportunities for more community gardens.
                                           On a Tour at the Conference

The overwhelming interest in community gardening from around this country and the world makes one think about the big picture. Shouldn't cities plan in advance for community garden or urban agriculture spaces? Particularly cities that have vacant land because population has declined but also cities that are growing that have the opportunity to set aside space for community gardens before that space is is built upon. Both types of cities can develop policies to encourage and promote community gardens.
                                      A narrow lane in a village in Sicily

A recent New York Times article  focused on Cleveland as an example of a city with available land and shrinking population. While the article focuses on a study of the benefits of a vacant lot in terms of habitat and biodiversity,  my interest piqued when the article mentioned the opportunity for cities to do something positive with the land. While at this time cities like Cleveland and other Northeast (Philadelphia) and Midwest (Youngstown, OH) cities are losing population to the Southeast and Southwest, there may come a time when the Southern cities will have reached their limits to growth particularly because of lack of drinking water. With the ongoing drought conditions in these regions that time may be very soon. And that will be a time when the Northern cities could increase their populations in a well planned manner that includes adequate open space and room for community gardens and urban agriculture.
                           Melons being sold off the back of a truck in Sicily

I can see redevelopment of neighborhoods in a sustainable way that takes into account transportation, commerce, agriculture and recreation in addition to housing. These neighborhoods could and should have as small a carbon footprint as possible. I just returned from a vacation in Sicily and I was struck by 3 things. One was the incredible beauty of the land. Second was how tasteful the food was. Not just the cooked food but even the raw ingredients. Peaches and Melons were in season and the flavor of the fruit was much stronger and fresher than the same fruit in season here. Was it that it was local? Third was that all of the towns were densely built with narrow roads and attached buildings everywhere. Of course the Sicilians love their (mostly very small) cars so there was traffic even in these small towns. But there was also alternative transportation. As much of the land was hilly, I rode in cable cars called Funuvia on 2 occasions. Olive trees and Grapes grew everywhere and particularly just outside of the towns were small farms. Could these small towns be models for what these new neighborhoods could be?