Gardening’s Saving Grace

Anyone who has stuck a seed in the ground has felt the magic of
gardening — that sense of connection with the earth and the
rewards of stewardship. Now gardening activists have taken this
therapeutic relationship to new levels by using gardens to
transform the lives of marginalized groups — the homeless,
prisoners, alienated teens — and are strengthening community and
redefining food policy in the process.

Here are some examples:

  • Homeless people tending a vegetable and flower garden in Santa
    Cruz, California, gain skills, cash, and as its formerly homeless
    director Ray McMinn says, ‘my peace and joy.’ This ‘Community
    Supported Agriculture (CSA) project is one of some 500 CSAs
    nationwide,’ reports Safe Food News (Summer 1995),
    in which consumers pay a yearly amount to farmers who supply them
    with fresh produce, herbs, and flowers.
  • Frequent and fanciful festivals symbolize the goals of Earth
    Celebrations, a community effort that’s yielded 50 thriving gardens
    in former abandoned lots in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Creating
    the gardens — and fending them off from urbanization — has
    encouraged participants to take on other issues, notes founder
    Felicia Young in Earth Celebrations’ Homepage. And
    the parties, with incredible costuming, puppets, multicultural
    dance, theater, music, and ritual, are proof that community
    empowerment is enhanced by artful joy, notes High
    Performance
    (Fall 1994).
  • Teens vie for jobs at garden plots in San Francisco’s public
    housing developments, and some pursue college credit in
    horticulture classes taught by the project co-sponsor, San
    Francisco League of Urban Gardeners (SLUG). Gardening is also a
    sought-after work-release activity for some San Francisco
    prisoners.
  • Blossoming community gardens and farmers markets in low-income
    neighborhoods make cheap, often organic produce easily available to
    those who normally can’t afford it. In Philadelphia, 500 community
    gardens produced almost $2 million in fruits and vegetables last
    year, notes the

    Community Garden Site
    . As Barbara Ruben reports in
    Environmental Action (Summer 1995), these
    community gardens not only feed the hungry; they subvert
    destructive agricultural practices such as pesticide use and
    long-distance transport of food. They’re part of a growing movement
    to link farmers, gardeners, environmentalists, and anti-hunger
    activists to create and legislate ‘community food
    security.
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