Gardens and the very idea of gardening have undergone a rather amazing transformation over the years. No longer are people content to simply add some plants here and there to make their yards pretty. And no longer is it only farmers and a few country folks growing fruits and vegetables. Instead, people are realizing that simply being a gardener isn’t enough, and they’re becoming good stewards as well, using their passion for growing things as a way to have a positive impact on the environment and to create a better future for everyone.
I’ve touched on a couple aspects of this idea of gardening with a thought for the bigger picture in my previous blogs: helping counter the decline of bee populations and building with recycled materials. However, the increasingly popular idea of “gardening for the greater good” has numerous facets, including (but certainly not restricted to) creating pollinator habitats and rain gardens, landscaping with native plants, mulching with leaves and wood chips, planting trees, recycling, composting, and setting up community gardens.
In my humble opinion, community gardens rank right at the top of the best ideas ever. What a wonderful way to provide inexpensive, high-quality, nutritious food for a neighborhood, especially when so many people can’t afford to pay grocery store prices for fruits and veggies, or they simply aren’t very well educated in terms of good nutrition. While researching the whole “gardening for the greater good” concept, I was absolutely delighted to see just how many people are taking these ideas and running with them, and they’re doing some truly wonderful things!
One of the most inspiring organizations I came across was Project Garden Share, a nonprofit organization based in Ohio that allows people to share their harvest, land, and/or time helping others learn how to grow their own food as well as share extra produce with those in need. It is a fantastic concept and one that I hope others will try to replicate in their own towns. There are also a number of intangible rewards that come with starting or joining a community garden. How many parents today complain about their kids not wanting to go outside, that they spend too much time indoors watching TV or playing video games? Well, get your family involved in helping to maintain a garden in your neighborhood, and not only will your kids get some exercise in the sunshine and fresh air, but they’ll also have social interaction that doesn’t involve digital characters. And when there are multiple families invested in the project, you’ll usually find several generations of individuals, which provides an entirely different reward–the chance for kids to learn something new and valuable from those a lot older than them, and vice versa.
Many of you reading this may be thinking to yourself, “Hey, this isn’t really a new concept, is it? What about the Victory Gardens that sprang up all across the country during WWII?” Well, you’d be absolutely right. For those not familiar with the history of Victory Gardens (or War Gardens), they came about due to the rationing of a number of food products as well as labor and transportation shortages that made it difficult for growers to get their fruits and vegetables to markets. So, the government turned to the public and asked them to start growing their own produce, and did they ever! At their peak, there were more than 20,000,000 Victory Gardens growing across the US. Crops were planted in backyards, empty lots, window boxes, and on city rooftops. Schools even got in on the effort, planting gardens on the school grounds that provided produce for the kids’ lunches. The government printed recipe books that told people how to prepare their home-grown veggies; agricultural companies offered tips on how to make seedlings thrive in different climates; and magazines gave instructions on how to can and preserve the crops. The idea was for families to provide their own food, so the commercially canned goods could be reserved for the troops.
Victory Gardens may have been was born out of necessity, but the lessons, rewards, and long-term positive effects of such a project are just as valuable and valid today, perhaps even more so, considering the increasing world population and the heartbreaking (and inexcusable) percentage of people continuing to live with hunger, even in our own country.
One of my favorite stores, Whole Foods Market®, helps the public learn about the importance of community gardens and teach our children about good nutrition and where our food comes from. Their Whole Kids Foundation has partnered with over 1500 schools to get them growing gardens. It’s a fantastic project that involves entire communities and provides kids with a direct connection to the earth. If you’re interested in starting a community garden in your area, Dark Rye, which is Whole Foods Market’s® online magazine, shares 10 steps for doing so.
There’s a lot we as individuals can do to take care of our environment, promote healthier living, encourage a love and respect for nature, and even stamp out hunger. What will you do? You can start by researching edibles to plant for your very own garden!