Marin Master Gardeners
University of California
Marin Master Gardeners

Marin IJ Articles

Community gardens create food, flowers and friends

April 16, 2011
Dave Phelps


OUR TIME ON this planet is short. How then should we spend our allotment? There are arguably three main reasons to live: to experience, to create and to serve. There is a multitude of ways in which people partake in these lofty goals. Gardening is one that magically satisfies all three.

Experiencing the transformation of raw organic debris into fertile humus and then into a cornucopia of fresh nutritious food is also deeply satisfying. The rhythms of the garden — digging the soil, sowing the seed and harvesting the crops — can be a grounding and reverent practice. Meanwhile, the awe that can be inspired by the direct observation of the ineffable dance of insects, worms and other microorganisms and fungi as they interact and support — or decimate — our plants, can be a powerful experience to some, an example of the universe looking back on itself as we explore our
sentient existence.

Meanwhile, we have the need to express ourselves, to create. We take the raw elements of the earth and envision our garden with its various plant combinations and succession schemes. The products of our labor, the fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers, become our banquets and bouquets. The question of what to plant, when and where to plant it, and how to feed it and train it repeated throughout the growing season and into the
winter cover crops can keep the mind engaged, challenged and strong.

In the end, what have we done? By serving our community and the ecology that supports it, we receive the gift of what it means to be good land stewards and a productive part of our local and world community. By supporting the beneficial insects, by teaching our young healthy
lifestyles and by building the fertility of the soil, we gain the satisfaction
of leaving behind something improved for the further enjoyment of future
generations while doing our part to heal our local ecologies. This ability to
serve ourselves, our environment and our community instills in us a sense of purpose, of gratitude and of pride.

So, how can we best share these with our greater community? Enter the community garden. A community garden can be a place of refuge to escape daily drudgery or boredom, a place for meditation and grounding, as well as a place for people to grow and thrive. In addition to the positive physical, emotional and psychological benefits, there are the added benefits of social networking, getting to know the neighbors and making new friends, the bonding of the local tribe. The interactions made in the healing environment of a garden can form lifelong relationships, promoting the sharing of ideas, interests and concerns, and nourishing the soul of the community.

As we move closer to oil scarcity, the depletion of water supplies, global warming and the resultant political unrest, the close-knit community with a productive garden can form the safety net should things get difficult. A community accustomed to working together for the health of its members and the environment is one that can survive difficult situations.

How unfortunate that a community such as Marin has more than 200 people waiting to get plots in six neighborhood gardens, and other communities who want gardens are up against political walls trying to get
their garden plans approved. There are likely more people who would like a plot but don't get on a waiting list because of the possible five-year wait. Most gardens have as many people waiting for a plot as they do have plots within the garden.

In December's Marin County Community Garden Needs Assessment, six specific actions were noted that will help support the four primary needs: "secure funding, long-term management, education and skills training, and expanding garden availability to meet cultivation needs and reduce waiting lists." Along with sharing resources and collaboration, the need to revise existing ordinances that inhibit community garden development was cited. The Marin County Community Garden Conference on April 29 at 50 Canal St. in San Rafael will help build the community garden network as well as momentum toward fulfilling the actions described in the needs assessment.

The needs assessment further describes not only the need for expansion of these opportunities within the county, but also more of the tangible benefits such as better nutrition, exercise, environmental literacy and improved neighborhood aesthetics that community gardens provide.
It would seem that public support for community gardens would be a no-brainer, but there is still quite a bit of outreach and community education needed to bring better awareness and understanding.

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