Are Community Gardens the Most Valuable Tool in the Food Access Toolkit?

IMG_0271Over the past few years there has been a surge of interest in addressing the long-standing issue of food equity. Locally many food, hunger, and agricultural organizations have worked hard to advance access to fresh, healthy, affordable food across the region.

Sustainable Long Island has conducted studies and surveys, released reports and mapping projects, and perhaps most successfully helped launch and sustain seven youth-staffed farmers’ markets throughout Nassau and Suffolk Counties, including those in Roosevelt, Bellport, Flanders, New Cassel, Wyandanch, Freeport, and Great Neck. Statistics show that these projects have done their part in:

  • Increasing how often Long Islanders eat healthy food, such as fruit and vegetables
  • Connecting residents to their community, town, or village
  • Educating the average person on nutrition, farming, and agriculture

The most exciting part about these trends is they can continue to grow in the right direction due to an initiative that is not so much new, as it is newly popular: the implementation of community gardens. Community gardens play a vital role in the local food system, increasing the availability of nutritious food to often low-income areas. When used as a tool to combat a lack of food access, these shared open spaces show just how valuable they are.

Community gardens provide opportunities for Long Islanders to unify around additional quality of life issues, including:

  • Engaging in physical activity, skill building, and creating green space
  • Beautifying neighborhoods and stimulating economic development
  • Reviving public parks and cleaning up vacant lots
  • Conserving resources and helping maintain a healthy environment
  • Strengthening social connections and promoting recreation and education

A community garden can often be looked at as a community empowerment tool. Many low-income communities link their gardens with initiatives such as youth gardening and food donation hubs, while residents continue to gain opportunities for education and job training related to urban agriculture, food production and distribution, and healthy nutrition. They become a living classroom for hundreds of neighborhood residents to learn the basics of gardens and the pleasure of eating healthy.

As these community gardens become a local resource for connecting with one another, residents can work towards improving their local social associations, philosophy, and environmentalism.

What was once a vacant plot of land can be turned into a thriving garden that feeds and nurtures all those who are involved. Community gardens grow into an oasis for the public – where they are not just growing, tending, and harvesting food, but friendships as well.

So how does one utilize this most valuable tool in the ever-growing food equity toolkit?

  1. Bring together friends, neighbors, and local organizations; pinpoint an action plan and assign responsibilities.
  2. Locate and secure a garden site in your community (coming to an agreement or lease with the land owner) and identify resources, such as supplies, tools, and equipment.
  3. Develop a plan, including the layout, boundaries, bed sizes, and placement. Pinpoint garden coordinators, leaders, and those who will maintain the garden after completion.

After you’ve prepared and followed these steps you can begin to develop and build your garden. You can decide what plants to grow and seeds to sow, all while establishing something truly beautiful and unifying for the community. For more information about community gardens, their benefits, and how to start one today, visit www.longislandcommunitygardens.org.

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