When living in a city, or in our case, amidst vast urban sprawl, it can be hard to imagine the possibility of a local food system. However, urban agriculture, and community gardens in particular, have had a large presence throughout history with significantly positive impacts on fostering a local means for food production.
In parts of the United States that aren’t quite urban but not rural enough for farming, “Victory Gardens” were advertised by the government during World War II as a mechanism for families to alleviate fears of food security. In fact, during World War II, most of Armstrong Quad was an edible garden, and victory gardens nation-wide were producing a highly significant amount of produce.
Today, Michele Obama is making gardens popular again with her Whitehouse Kitchen garden. The first lady, along with many other avid gardeners, is bringing the spotlight back to gardens from a grassroots level in an effort to foster a local food movement, as well as for more specific reasons such as getting people outside more, bringing people together, and “greening” cities.
So far, community gardens have been a successful mechanism for accomplishing these goals. Gardens need these grassroots efforts to get started, but as they grow, gardeners, communities, and cities can reap numerous benefits from these garden utopias. From providing fresher food to gardeners, to inspiring gardening as an outdoor hobby, gardens can be one step towards alleviating issues of food accessibility. In addition, community gardens have been known to foster community growth by bringing people from all different backgrounds together. When all politics are left at the gate, gardens have been known to bring communities together simply around food.
Most interestingly, beyond the plants and food, many cities are finding that the presence of community gardens has helped “green” blighted and vacant lots, which has both helped foster community and reduce crime. When part of a former abandoned park is turned into a garden with members constantly working the soil and watering their precious tomatoes, many cities have found that this increased “surveillance” has, in turn, reduced crime in the vicinity.
While Colorado Springs is still a little behind when it comes to urban agriculture (we have about a dozen communities gardens while cities like Denver have over one hundred), the initials seed planted from these gardens have sprouted benefits throughout the city. For example, a soup kitchen garden was started a few years ago in Dorchester Park, about a mile away from campus. According to Larry Stebbins, the founder of Pikes Peak Urban Gardens, the presence of this garden has greatly contributed to reducing crime in Dorchester Park, which was formerly known as “Homeless Park.”
Manny of the societal issues we have today can be traced back to problems with our food system, especially when it comes to public health and inequality issues. While community gardens are not the sole solution to ending issues of hunger or crime, they are a great model for indicating how food is much more than what we see on the menu.
But moving towards a local food system incorporates much more than physically growing and eating food locally; it’s also about fostering community, health, and awareness. It is when these cultural shifts begin to occur that we can reap all of these other benefits of a healthy food system, from reducing crime to cleaning up vacant lots. While we still have a long way to go, community gardens are a great example of a step in the right direction.