On March 19, 2009, the New York Times reported that First Lady Obama was preparing the ground for the first vegetable garden at the White House since the time of Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden, during World War II. The garden was to be organic, and would provide fresh-grown vegetables for the White House dinner table. Children from a nearby school would help her prepare and plant the garden, and the garden was to be used as a teaching tool – to educate children about healthful, locally grown fruit and vegetables at a time when obesity and diabetes have become a national concern. Mrs. Obama told the reporters that it was her hope that the children would then begin to educate their families “and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities.”
The White House Garden was not the first of its kind, of course. Many schools and even communities have had established vegetable gardens for several years.
If you would like to start a community garden, there is, of course, a website chock-full of information on how to do so, called communitygarden.org. It’s the website of the American Community Gardening Association.
It’s interesting to check the interactive map of the United States on their website, which shows locations of community gardens. The east and west coasts have the most activity, the Midwest states have little to none. Of course – that just reflects the number of community gardens that this organization has been told about, but it’s probably representative of the country as a whole, as well.
What are the benefits of a community garden? Communitygarden.org lists them:
• Improves the quality of life for people in the garden
• Provides a catalyst for neighborhood and community development
• Stimulates Social Interaction
• Encourages Self-Reliance
• Beautifies Neighborhoods
• Produces Nutritious Food
• Reduces Family Food Budgets
• Conserves Resources
• Creates opportunity for recreation, exercise, therapy, and education
• Reduces Crime
• Preserves Green Space
• Creates income opportunities and economic development
• Reduces city heat from streets and parking lots
• Provides opportunities for intergenerational and cross-cultural connections
If you’re going to start a school or community garden, the first thing you’ll have to do is assemble a group of volunteers who will actually work at the garden on a regular basis. The garden can’t succeed if only one or two person do the work.
Secondly, it is necessary to figure out a budget. It will be necessary to purchase soil, plants, fertilizers, garden tools, educational supplements (if it’s for a school), and miscellaneous items. Of course, it may be possible to have these items donated by a local garden center. Gardening clubs may help.
Funding can be acquired on a national level. For example, the National Gardening Association offers Youth Garden Grants to schools that wish to develop a garden. If your garden will have environmentally positive implications, you may apply for grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and/or the Department of Agriculture.
If there is a community garden in your area, get involved with it now. If there isn’t, approach your local gardening clubs or other organizations, and start one.
Photo by: Pathathai Chungyam -