by Les Kishler
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he world is faced with a difficult dilemma. Available food supply and access to this supply are out of synch. For the poorest, this is a matter of survival. For more fortunate people, it is a matter of good economics and proper approaches to land use.
The right amount of food in the right location is the goal. Community gardening can be an important part of the solution. In community gardens, people of all ages and backgrounds participate in the first step of what ecologists call a food chain that, at minimum, keeps humans alive and, at optimum, keeps them healthy.
Public versus private approaches to solving problems are often intensely debated. Community gardens are a microcosm that shows that public and private approaches can work together and are not mutually exclusive.
Community gardens can be centrally located. The public shares land to cooperatively grow produce to use, exchange, or give away. At the same time, each person has private proprietorship over an individual garden.
Decentralized community gardening can also work. Individuals can cultivate gardens on their own property. Produce can then be sold, exchanged or given away in the immediate neighborhood, or taken to a another location in the community such as a produce market.
Community gardens provide an alternative to large agricultural areas. British economist E. F. Schumacher promoted the concept of appropriate scale. Community gardens are on a scale that is appropriate to growing food near to where food is needed. This decreases expenses such as fossil fuels needed for transport.
Many countries have a history of community gardening. During World War II, Americans planted victory gardens. Community gardens are making inroads once again in this new century as towns and schools are developing gardens to grow food and as tools to improve mental and physical well-being.
One hallmark of community gardens is greater participation that results in improved energy efficiencies. There is less reliance on fuel-consuming machinery to sow, maintain and harvest. Growing food becomes sustainable in community gardens because there is less need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
French intensive gardening works well in community gardens. This method concentrates plants, such as in a small yard in an inner city.
The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco is publicizing ideas that can work in urban areas, such as use of a green roof that serves as a garden ecosystem.
Another advantage of greater concentrations of plants is the enhanced sequestering of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The science of agroecology pioneered by the University of California demonstrates that the sum productivity on small parcels of land is greater than on a single large parcel.
The G8 nations have called for small farm operations to have access to food markets. The United Nations funds investment in sustainable agriculture and focuses on small landholders and women farmers who make up 60 percent of the world’s hungry. In developed countries, people find that kitchen gardens and potagers yield a broad variety of flavorful and nutritious fruits and vegetables.
Connections to the land, such as that experienced in a gardening context, are intellectually and emotionally rewarding.
Community gardens may not be the whole solution in connecting food supply to where food is needed. However, as the world struggles over ways to improve our collective well-being, community gardens can be a simple, dependable, and significant part of the solution.
Les Kishler is a community gardens advocate based in California and co-director of Community Gardens As Appleseeds. See: www.CommunityGardensAsAppleseeds.info