Feature Article - September 2022
Find a printable version here

Let It Grow

The Community Garden vs. Food Insecurity

By Dave Ramont

There's also an urban farm on Governor's Island, open to the public on weekends and offering field trips to NYC schools and summer camps. "Our Teaching Garden on Governors Island spans an acre, and it's home to fruit trees, raised beds, an aquaponics lab, solar oven and more, lovingly built and tended by GrowNYC," said Fields. "We welcome 21,000 students, active older adults and families each year to learn about food and farming."

Community garden programs don't necessarily need to be in urban settings or impoverished areas to help alleviate food access issues. In St. Charles, Ill., a middle-class suburb of Chicago, the James O. Breen Community Park hosts 209 garden plots available to rent from the park district. The plots are 20 by 30 feet—a lot of space for one family. So a program was initiated where gardeners can leave excess produce onsite in wooden bins built by Eagles Scout candidates, and the park district delivers it to the local Salvation Army food pantry.

"To coincide with the days they're open to the public, we pick up and drop off produce on Mondays and Thursdays," said Pam Otto, outreach ambassador for the St. Charles Park District. "This also works well in terms of keeping the produce fresh; many gardeners visit their plots on the weekend, and that Monday pickup means it's not sitting out for days."

The program has been popular, especially as more families found themselves struggling during the pandemic. Otto described how a Salvation Army manager worked with clients to provide recipes and serving ideas for the donated produce. "There are times when I'd be met by clients in the parking lot so they could get the fresh ingredients they needed for the recipes." Additionally, any vacant plots are made available for individuals or groups interested in planting the spaces and donating the produce.

Both Simms and Benudiz agreed that they're dependent on community volunteers to accomplish their missions, with Simms telling us they had more than 600 people volunteering at Urban Growers Collective farms in 2021. "Once a month we host a large workday called First Saturdays at City Slicker Farms, where we host a craft fair, new volunteer orientation, and a workday where we tackle some large-scale projects on the farm," said Benudiz. "It helps us so much, and we're so grateful for our amazing community of volunteers."

For communities looking to initiate community garden programs, Simms advises involving the community in the planning from day one. "Provide transportation, meals, babysitting and have a diverse range of dates and times so that folks working multiple jobs have the opportunity to be heard."

Benudiz suggests starting small, seeking out similar organizations for support, applying for funding opportunities and building a following on social media to gain support. "Many urban farming nonprofits are happy to share advice, books, supply resources, etc. We all have the same goal and vision and want to see the movement grow!" RM