Starting Local: The Power of Community Gardens

July 15, 2018

 

In the last months of being MIA from Folklaur, I’ve dug (kitschy, I know) my hands into something that is rather outside of my wheelhouse - gardening. This post is mainly a way of sharing the stories of the people that I encountered in my time spent at local community gardens. Some are heartfelt, some are funny, and some are chock full of gardening tips from people who really know what they’re doing! I also have taken the liberty of sharing some of the background as to why these gardens are an integral part of the Fort Worth area. I have tried to make the explanation as concise as possible, but if you would rather just read the stories then you will want to scroll past the next couple of paragraphs! Whatever you decide, I hope you take something away from this, even if it be just a sweet little story to brighten your day!

 

 

This spring I enrolled in a class at TCU called “Food Justice”, (which I must admit at first sounds a bit comical), where on my first day in class I quickly learned that this was a class that encompassed many of the major issues impacting people's everyday lives. Led by Dave Aftandilian, our curriculum covered topics such as food insecurity, food sovereignty, marginalization of minority populations, exposure to pesticides, genetically modified foods, health issues caused by food (such as diabetes, obesity, and heart failure), amongst many other food related concerns.

 

As you can imagine, we spent many classes discussing these problems, how they started, and how they are continuing to fester. Be that as it may, there was also a large emphasis placed on solutions in this class - not just talking about it, but doing it. Each member of the class was assigned to choose a local organization to collaborate with, where together we would help create solutions to the problems at hand. In choosing to collaborate with the Tarrant Area Food Bank and their garden program, I was dealing mainly with the concept of food sovereignty.

 

Now before Food Justice, I had never heard of this term and when bringing it up in conversation even today, I have yet to find another soul who can define it clearly. Simply put, food sovereignty is the idea that everyone should have equal access to healthy and culturally appropriate food. However, this is a lot easier said than done in today's world, where food deserts are far more common than most would think. As this was a class where we spent an entire semester discussing food deserts everyday in some capacity, I've found the 10 facts below that can give a quick insight to what they're all about.

 

  1. “Food deserts” are geographic areas where access to affordable, healthy food options (aka fresh fruits and veggies) is limited or nonexistent because grocery stores are too far away.

  2. About 23.5 million people live in food deserts. Nearly half of them are also low-income.

  3. Approximately 2.3 million people (2.2% of all US households) live in low-income, rural areas that are more than 10 miles from a supermarket.

  4. Low-income census tracts have half as many supermarkets as wealthy tracts.

  5. 8 percent of African Americans live in a census tract with a supermarket, compared to 31 percent of whites.

  6. Low-income zip codes have 30 percent more convenience stores, which tend to lack healthy items, than middle-income zip codes.

  7. Residents in 20 percent of rural counties live more than 10 miles from a supermarket.

  8. People living in the poorest SES (social-economic status) areas have 2.5 times the exposure to fast-food restaurants as those living in the wealthiest areas.

  9. Food deserts may be underreported because the North American Industry Classification System places small corner grocery stores (which often primarily sell packaged food) in the same category as grocery stores like Safeway and Whole Foods.

  10. Food insecurity has a high correlation with increased diabetes rates. In Chicago, the death rate from diabetes in a food desert is twice that of areas with access to grocery stores.

 

By now I’m sure you’re probably thinking, “How does gardening play into all of this”, Laur? Well, because gardening is the solution. Or if it’s not the solution, it is one of the first steps to getting there. In the last century, many great food justice advocates such as Mark Winne and Anupama Joshi, (as well as many, many others), have found that attacking these problems of food sovereignty on a larger scale doesn't work out so well. Instead, they have turned to a classic American proverb by “beginning at home”, or gardening locally. Essentially, community gardens allow another source of healthy food to reach a community that would otherwise not have access to fresh food.

 

In my own work with this class, I collaborated with the Tarrant Area Food Bank (TAFB), to share the stories of community gardens in the Fort Worth and surrounding areas in a local newsletter. Each week I went to several gardens and met with their founders, as well as local gardeners to collect quotes or stories of their experiences planting in the garden. As you can imagine, each garden was a different experience from the previous one. However, I had not expected the variety of gardens that Tarrant county had to offer. In one instance, I went to a garden that brought in volunteers from the across the country, as well as people serving court appointed hours to plant in the garden. Another garden was entirely tended by Bhutanese refugees in the Fort Worth area who were looking to grow foods from their home country. Other times, I went to school community gardens where children were growing fruits and vegetables they hadn’t even heard of before. Every week it was someone or something different. So, as they say in the classic opening of Law and Order, these are their stories.

 

 

“Look at your grocery store veggies like the NFL – only the small percentage get in. Here at Harvesting Hope, we appreciate and encourage the diversity that growing your own food brings.”

 

- Willie (Harvesting Hope - Arlington, TX)

 

 

At Harvesting Hope Community Garden in Arlington, Willie and Nancy Redmon have volunteers from all over the country. These volunteers vary from members of the Girlscouts and Boyscouts, school and mission groups, to required service hours from honors societies, all help plant in the garden weekly. Willie explains, “Some kids are forced to serve out there hours here, but that doesn’t mean they cannot have fun!” People are also able to serve court appointed hours at the garden. “There was a young lady from Grapevine who came out here for court appointed service hours. She was gardening here for 5 years, and on her last week she said, ‘This weekend I have to be here, but next weekend I get to be here’”.

 

 

“One of the best things to see is when you have a new gardener one year, and the next they decide to garden at home because they learned how to garden here. That’s when we know we’re doing something right.”

 

- Janet (Jubilee Garden - Fort Worth TX)

 

 

Every week at the Jubilee Community Garden, John comes to work on his garden plot and brings along his dog, Annie. “It’s nice to have a friend out here in your garden. It makes a huge difference. It’s just therapeutic that way”, he says. As Annie peered into the garden beds, John showed us what he was growing. “What I really like to grow is corn. I started growing it out here because I wanted to teach kids where it came from. It germinates itself, which is very unusual for plants. The tassels blow in the wind and pollinate each other.” John was raised on a farm, so being outdoors with animals and plants is second nature to him. With his childhood experience growing crops, and gardening experience at Jubilee, he can grow just about anything. He admits, “I love gardening, but what I really want to see is urban farming in addition to urban gardening. If it’s ever going to happen, it’s going to happen in Texas. I’m waiting for that day.”

 

 

“The nice thing about being out here is that you’re not isolated, like at home”

 

– Sandy (Jubilee Community Garden)

 

 

The Welman Project is a Fort Worth nonprofit whose mission is to teach middle schoolers how to garden through after school programs. In visiting Jean McClung Middle in Fort Worth, you’ll find Steven Alford teaching this after school program, where the students take part in anything from composting to planting. Each student brings a fresh perspective and contribution to the garden. A sixth grader, Juan, described how he had grown tomatoes in Columbia when he was younger. Another student, Gael, clipped some mint that had been planted in September. “This is what I brought from home to plant here. I want to make mint hot chocolate with it!”, he said. Meanwhile, a student explained why he liked the afterschool program. “It’s not just the gardening that makes it fun – it’s Mr. Steve too.”

 

 

“Community Gardens can grow food and a stronger community. Those who have lost family, relatives, friends, a job, they come out here and working the soil allows them to no longer focus on these other things. It’s a therapy.”

 

-John (Growing Place- Fort Worth, TX)

 

 

In Hurst, the Growing Place Garden has become a landscape for new budding friendships. At a garden meeting on a Tuesday night in St. Philip Presbyterian Church, the 17 plot owners came together to discuss their progress in the garden, their upcoming donations to NEED food pantry, and the happenings they’ve had thus far. Jessica, one of the gardeners shared her own experience stating, “I really am so beginner with all of this. I’ve started asking my friends all of the questions I have that I’m too embarrassed to as to the other gardeners. Then it made me think, why not have them help me? This has been such a good way to bond with my girlfriends. I share a plot with four of them now, and we get to spend time together while helping out the community!”  



Just a little way down the road, off of South Hulen Street, a community garden called Neighborhood Needs is hidden away by big trees and bushes. It was started about 8 years ago by DeWitt Mahaney and is quite unique for the Fort Worth community garden scene - this garden is home to 28 gardening beds where Bhutanese refugees grow plants that are native to their home country. Narayan, one of the leaders of garden explained that, “This garden is able to reduce stress for refugees. Most of them are used to planting fruits and vegetables back home, so here they are able to better access their culture and reconnect to Nepal.” Not only does this garden allow them to connect with home, but it also with one another. Narayan commented, “Families are able to meet one another here. This is a center for them to talk and not feel alone.”

 

 

United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. “Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences.” United States Department of Agriculture, 2009. Web Accessed February 23, 2015

 

United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. “Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences.” United States Department of Agriculture, 2009. Web Accessed February 23, 2015.

 

North American Industrial Classifications System. "2007 NAICS Definition: 445110 Supermarkets and Other Grocery (except Convenience) Stores." US Census Bureau, 2007. Web Accessed February 23, 2015.

 

Yeh, Ming-Chen and David L. Katz. "Food, Nutrition, and the Health of Urban Populations." In Cities and the Health of the Public, 2006. Web Accessed May 8, 2015.

 

Curry, Andrew. “Bringing Healthy Fare to Big-City ‘Food Deserts.'” Diabetes Forecast, 2009. Web Accessed February 23, 2015.


 

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