Community Gardening: Getting Our Hands Dirty

childrenI’ve always believed in people going back to the basics and avoiding modern conveniences that have unexpectedly damaged our quality of life. Many of us are taught early on that the human body is a temple, or a precious gift that deserves respect and preservation. Therefore, we need to be present and prepared for anything that might come our way, to include issues involving health and wellbeing.

How many of us witness our own family members (or maybe even ourselves) suffering from sicknesses and obesity? Many in my junk-food-devouring family have mutated themselves into obese caricatures of what they would look like under healthier circumstances. Clinic visits happen more frequently than relaxing vacations. Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. Immunity links to nutrition, so people must be proactive in getting the dietary necessities for maximum health. The best way is to eat whole foods, especially fruits and veggies. We also need to consider how clean the produce we ingest is. If we load up on chemically fostered green beans and carrots, then we defeat the purpose.

Eating from backyard or community gardens would eradicate most setbacks in our diets, yet we bypass fertile land while we import food from miles away with dreadful consequences: preservatives, high costs, and carbon footprints, to mention just a few. Another problem is the abuse the land must endure. To ensure nutrient rich dirt, the soil needs to rest and rotate just like any other hardworking organism. When the land becomes damaged, these sources no longer operate. Even worse, natural disasters happen unexpectedly, threatening agricultural production. Extra food sources generate security. Moreover, farmers are a dying breed, and with so few to handle agricultural needs, backyard and community gardens fill a vital need.

Recently, many have been taking notice that Colorado Springs, too, lacks adequate production and distribution of fresh local food. For instance, in her article “Growing Sustainability,” Lindsay Deen mentions the ½ mile gap in Colorado Springs between many consumers and their nearest grocery stores. These voids, called “food deserts,” are common in towns and cities throughout the country. As a result, people choose to eat from nearby gas stations and fast food joints, becoming sicker and fatter, not to mention poorer. This means we must spread the knowledge of horticulture to make efficient use of accessible, nutritious cultivation.

Because of greater public cooperation, community and backyard gardens are beginning to offer hope. Government grants for sustainability projects such as these help; however, for long term feasibility, action from individuals demands labor and time. In 2010, Colorado Springs had three established community gardens. By 2013, only six more had been added to the list. The summer of 2014 offers an even broader base of interested citizens the opportunity to actualize their gardening potential. This movement brings vitality to the human essence and a thriving foundation for everyday living. In the community gardens, adults and children alike get their hands dirty and reap what they sow.

Slowly but surely, the Colorado Springs garden movement is beginning to flourish. Non-profit organizations like Pikes Peak Urban Gardens (PPUG) and Pikes Peak Community Foundation have been heeding the call to revolutionize with slogans like “The Greater Good.”  Both of these groups offer resources and classes on gardening skills, while PPUG specializes in helping anyone who would like to start a community garden. They even have a “Backyard Vegetable Gardening Guide” kit, sold for a very reasonable $10. As for local farms, The Dorchester Park Community Garden helps needy families grow their own food, and the Westside Community Garden helps both the elderly and handicapped get healthy foods.

Of equal significance, schools have started their own gardens, successfully stocking their cafeterias with fresh fruits and veggies, and this participation has much to do with the overwhelming number of students on the “free/reduced lunch programs.” District 11 runs the Galileo Greenhouse Project, growing organic fruits and vegetables for students. Daycares, too, ought to consider setting up small backyard gardens, as UCCS has done at their family development center.

New restaurants have their own spin-offs contribute to the health kick. Seeds Community Café offers an exceptional idea to promote well-being and charity. They sell gourmet, organic, and local food from the Venetucci farm. The hook? The price is all donation-based. Customers pay what they can, and if they have nothing, they offer their time as volunteers in the restaurant. All sorts of people come in to eat and help out. As a result, the business is sailing along. People love the atmosphere while enjoying the sense of community and helping people eat right. Also, fairly new to the city is the renovated Ivywild School, recycled into a shopping center. Each store mutually benefits from the synergy of the complex’s success. For example, the brewery’s excess water drains off to water the rooftop garden. The garden provides fruits and veggies for the sandwich shop. The sandwich shop uses its bread from the bakery across the hall. The Hunt or Gather store provides regionally raised produce, meats, and dairy products and holds classes about community gardens, too. These companies, launched in the summer of 2013, show great promise.

With so many people interested in going green (living healthier through proper nutrition), an abundance of gardens and greenhouses might end up supplying food for surrounding communities. Some organizations, like the Homeless Garden Project out of California, started donating part of their harvest to homeless shelters. Colorado Springs’ homeless population overruns the community. Imagine gardens that the homeless could volunteer to work in. The could even use their crops for selling as well as sustenance.

garden 2Growing and eating our own crops engenders a happier state of mind and greater energy. Gardening can give people new insight into themselves and the world around them. It is therapeutic as a sedative or meditation technique, too, and can instill a sense of self-worth. Perhaps of greatest significance, getting children acquainted with the earth teaches them responsibility and loyalty to the ground they walk on from a young age. All people can experience the magnificence of nature while acknowledging the effects of hard work. The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. According to the EPA, one farmer produces food for 130 others. Community gardens revitalize our prosperity, health, and happiness by maintaining whole food supplies for everyone, which means everyone should support this growing environmental trend.