Friday, 5 February 2010

Growing Community

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Alternatives to a globalised food system include diverse methods of growing food suitable for those without a garden at home, or in addition to the home garden. Three which stand out as successful models in producing and distributing food are school gardens, community gardens and community-supported agriculture.

School gardens are increasing in popularity. The growing and preparation of food is easily integrated into the curriculum. Learning covered by the process of developing and maintaining a garden can include mathematics, biology, chemistry, nutrition, environmental studies, literacy, art and social sciences. But more importantly, a connection with food, nature and authentic learning offers a dimension to school education that can really make a difference to many children and their futures. Being in the garden is for all students.

There are a great number of resources for anyone wishing to start a school garden in their area including websites, books, funding, sponsorship and lots of how-to information. School gardens are a great opportunity to collaborate with other parents and members of the community, local groups and businesses.

As a home educating family, our gardens have been an important learning opportunity for much of our children’s education. I write this column because I value gardening so much, and believe passionately that all children should be involved in the process of producing some of their own food.

Community gardens are a great way to grow safe, affordable food whilst also promoting vibrant, healthy and active communities. A community garden can be somewhere to learn about gardening and share local and traditional knowledge. It can be a green oasis of sustainability in the city – a place where art, music, local events, education and celebration occur naturally.

Community gardens are recognised as increasing the physical fitness and health (mental and physical) of participants. They are most often open to local residents of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. A local shared garden is an ideal place for the whole family to spend some time at on a regular basis – an alternative to the malls, the littered playground, fast food restaurants and the busy streets. Going to the garden is a family outing that saves money!

To become involved in a local community garden, search for one of the many support associations on the internet, or contact your local council authority or community centre. To be in touch with the earth and others interested in food security, green alternatives and good fresh food will feed your mind, body and spirit.

Community-supported agriculture or community-shared agriculture (CSA) differs from the first two methods outlined because the consumer does not participate actively in the production of food. This relatively new method of re-connecting society with food is increasing in popularity as people become aware of the economic and environmental downfalls of mass-farmed food being transported long distances to be sold in large supermarkets. With a CSA the produce is local, in-season, and usually collected by the participants. It is often paid for in advance, so that the consumer in effect has directly financed the food they’re eating. The most common model is a box scheme, where one subscribes for a certain number of months, and what is available each week arrives to a central pick-up point for collection by members. The box might include fruit, vegetables, herbs, flowers, nuts, meat, milk, eggs and more. Prices can vary, depending on the contents and amount, if it’s certified organic, and whether there are added costs such as refrigeration involved.

CSAs promote small farming enterprises, less waste and fewer overheads whilst providing higher quality, better tasting produce. With such a win-win model, it is no wonder that CSAs are gaining popularity. Many schemes have a lengthy waiting list, but new ones are emerging frequently.

Any of these methods for accessing fresh local food can be utilised in addition to a small home garden, and are ideal if your home is not suitable for gardening. Growing, buying and eating locally is a huge step toward more sustainable living. We can easily reconnect ourselves and our families with the food we eat through school and community gardens or CSAs, as well as initiatives such as co-ops, herd-share and farmer’s markets. I know how I prefer to spend my weekly shopping time and food budget, and I hope I don’t need to go back to the large chain supermarkets again.

School Garden Wizard
Kitchen Garden Cooking with Kids by Stephanie Alexander (2006)
Outdoor Classrooms: A Handbook for School Gardens by Carolyn Nuttall and Janet Millington (2008)
Seed to Seed - Food Gardens in Schools by Jude Fanton and Jo Immig (2007)
Community Garden (wiki)
Community Gardens by Penny Woodward and Pam Vardy
Community Supported Agriculture (wiki)
Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen's Guide to Community Supported Agriculture by Henderson with Van En