Monday, March 12, 2012

Community Gardening for Survival

            It’s like a war out there! Everywhere we turn; there is an advertisement for fast food, candy, or soda smacking us in the face. Not only us, but our children are being subjected to this as well. We, as parents, try to steer our children in the right direction, but it’s hard when all they see is billboards lining the highway advertising fast food and ice cream. Commercials on the cartoon channel my son watches are ninety percent ads for candy or fast food. “On average, American children see nearly ten thousand ads for fast food, candy, or soda a year." We try to buy produce and fruit from the grocery stores, but who knows where that stuff comes from or what kind of pesticides were used on it. It is important that we get back to basics a bit. We can secure a food source for our families; at the same time have fresh fruit and vegetables by growing what we eat, and unite our neighborhoods by starting a community garden.

            It seem like I read in the newspaper every other month that food prices are going up. That’s because grocery store food prices coincide with the rising cost of fuel. “We now import considerable produce from large, multinational food conglomerates in countries like Canada, Mexico, Chile, and increasingly, New Zealand and China." Just think about how much fuel it cost to truck fruit and produce across North America, or how much it cost to have it shipped from another country half way around the world. Most grocery stores claim to have fresh, local produce, but I don’t call that fresh or local. “The average produce item in our supermarkets comes from more than 1,500 miles away." What can we do about the rising gas prices? Nothing. The government says to cut back on driving, but I have to go to work and to school. What we can do though, is eat what we grow. Start a community garden and secure a sustainable food source. This will cut your food budget and bring the community closer together while teaching our children a valuable lesson the can use for the rest of their life.

            Childhood obesity is a growing concern for America today. “In 2000, nearly twice as many kids were obese as compared to 1970."  Our children are growing up in an instant gratification society, but it is our jobs as parents to teach them that eating fast food is not a healthy option. By growing what you eat, you will be teaching your children about the right food choices to make. Get them involved. My six year old son helped me in our garden for the first time this year. He was especially excited about the watermelon plants. He watched over them like they were made of gold. Mid-August rolls around and it’s time to pick the first watermelon. Finally his hard work is about to pay off. We cut the melon open and he says “that is the sweetest smelling watermelon I ever smelled”. He helped me in the garden all summer, weeding and watering. He was so proud of everything we harvested this year because he helped. Also, he ate every vegetable we grew. It is important that our children know that fresh fruit and vegetables are very important to our good health. “Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, fiber, and other nutrients that are important for good health” (Center for Desease Control and Prevention).

            Adults can benefit from eating more fresh fruit and vegetables as well. “Compared to people who eat only small amounts of fruits and vegetables, those who eat more generous amounts — as part of a healthy diet — are likely to have a reduced risk of chronic diseases. These diseases include stroke, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and perhaps heart disease and high blood pressure” (Center for Desease Control and Prevention). Imagine walking out in your back yard on a late October day and picking a perfectly ripe apple from your own tree. Or in the middle of summer, walking out to the garden and cutting a fresh head of lettuce, picking a red, ripe tomato, and a perfect cucumber and then going in the house and having a refreshing salad for lunch. I bet your children will want some. It adds piece of mind to what you are putting into your body. You know that you didn’t use any pesticides and that your garden is organic. It’s a crap shoot at the grocery store. And what did this cost you? Nothing but a little hard work and the cost of seeds. My grandfather always said “hard work is good for you." Many of us are always concerned about gaining weight, especially as we get older. In 1980, no state had an obesity rate above fifteen percent, now all states are reporting an obesity rate of thirty four percent.  Eating fresh fruit and vegetables can also help control you weight. “Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories, so substituting them for high-calorie foods can be a calorie-reducing strategy” (Center for Desease Control and Prevention). We can get exercise, fresh fruit and vegetables to eat, and secure a food source by participating in a community garden.

            Having a community garden in a neighborhood has many benefits. It will be adding a green space to an otherwise empty space. You can add a fence and grow flowers to decorate. It may even raise the neighborhoods property values. It will bring the community closer together. You will get a chance to meet neighbors you haven’t met before. This will make it safer in the neighborhood for your children and your neighbors will watch your property for you while on vacation. While participating in the garden you will have fresh produce all growing season and anything that is left over can be donated to the local food bank. “In a tough economic time, food pantries and soup kitchens have reported major increases in the need for food." I have donated extras to the local food bank several times and they are always appreciative. A lot of needy families don’t get to have fresh fruit and vegetables.

            When planning to start a community garden, there are a few things that you need to do first before you start tilling the soil. You will want to get others that are interested in the garden together to choose a garden coordinator. “Form committees to accomplish tasks: Funding & Resource Development; Youth Activities; Construction; Communication." Next you will need to make sure your lot gets at least six hours of sun light a day. Also, get a soil sample test to determine if you need to add any nutrients to the soil. After working the soil, the committee will need to decide how the garden will need to be divided. Be aware that vandalism is possible, but a possible solution is to get kids of all ages involved. They are less likely to vandalize something they helped to create. There is a lot to starting a community garden and these steps will get you going in the right direction. After you get the foundation for the garden started, you can customize it to meet your community’s needs. 

 By participating in a community garden or gardening in your back yard, you can unite your community and provide yourself with food security by growing what you eat.

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