What Role Do Community Gardens Play in a Sustainable Future?

Conversations centered on the topics of sustainability, food security, conservation, and organic farming by people in groups, industries, or even coffee shop conversations often center on a large global scale.

How can we change the entire world? or our entire system or way of life? What can we do as an entire city, state, country, or global village? Large ideas that can be easy to discuss but seem impossible to implement.

Organizations like the UN try to make some these large scale ideas a reality. Goals of trying to change the entire face of agriculture, end poverty, or mitigate global warming are always on the agenda.  There have been successes over the years and there are quality programs in place but the change has always been at a snails pace.

The UN has been praised for improving education and healthcare for millions but since it’s inception over 70 years ago it has turned into a bloated bureaucracy with dozens of departments now employing over 40,000 people. And we are still facing the same issues we faced decades ago with the environment, agriculture, and sustainability without much real change.

We don’t have the luxury of waiting for organizations like this to step up and make the changes we need to see happen.

But in tiny unused spaces, derelict city spaces, donated public spaces, and even converted lawns across the country a movement has taken place and is gaining in momentum, that of the community garden. A concept and movement that has the capability to affect real change in the spaces of sustainability, the environment, and human physical and mental health.

The first community gardens appeared in Detroit in the 1890’s with the goal of supplementing the domestic food supply. They experienced a sharp rise during World War 1 continuing through World War 2 and were seen as a patriotic duty so resources could be concentrated on the war effort. With the advent of large industrial scale agriculture the movement lost much of it’s energy and feeling of necessity until it started to gain traction again in the 1970’s.

Since then it has been gaining popularity again as people search for a connection with nature, agriculture, community, and an increased awareness of the downfalls of industrial agriculture.

So what is a community garden anyway and what makes it such a catchall to address all these issues?

It’s simply a piece of land or property collectively gardened by a group of people. It can be described as a small microcosm of what a village used to be. The idea of people in close proximity to one another working together to work the land is nothing new. It’s where we came from not so long ago before industrialization grabbed us all by our necks and yanked us into 150 years of the most rapid growth we as a species has ever known.

But now that movement is coming back in a big way and has great potential to be a small scale savior for us all. The simple act of taking a piece of unused land and using it to grow food for yourself, family, friends, the less fortunate, and even simple  passersby is simply beautiful.

As we look at our future and all the issues that we still need to address it can become disheartening. Governments move slowly and regulation can take years if not decades to be implemented and make a real difference. Non governmental organizations and international organizations can be held up simply because there are so many inputs, opinions, and bureaucratic hurdles that have to be heard, considered, and added to any potential action.

A community garden can literally be started overnight, and within days or weeks a sizable group of people can help to affect a real positive change. Growing food organically, adding essential green space to suburban sprawls or concrete jungles, creating habitat for increasingly endangered pollinators, educating the public on how food is actually grown, and bringing people together are just some of the things that can be achieved.

This is something that we have lost in many parts of the United States and the world, we separate ourselves from each other and become increasingly dependent on entities that many don’t understand or feel a sense of disconnection from. This shift has been pushed mainly by massive food conglomerates, industrial agriculture, and short sighted governmental policy.

We can still work to transform these large entities into something more beneficial for all, the debate and discussion surrounding them will continue and positive changes have already started to happen. But it may take years or decades to actually feel those changes. Local community action has the ability to make a positive difference right away.

This is the most important aspect of the community garden movement because to have any kind of real change in the world we have to be able to make that change on a local level first before it can happen on a larger scale. Waiting for someone else to do something or a group of people or organization hundreds of miles away with no connection to day to day reality is not the way to do it.

Community gardens have proven capabilities and even more potential to transform the landscape of our cities and communities into productive, inclusive, and beautiful spaces for the benefit of everyone while also tackling these issues we will face for many years to come.

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