Community gardens: A place for growth in the Old Pueblo
Tucson gardening organization enhances community food security with neighborhood food production plots.
Saturday, September 17, 2011 - 20:57
FRESH: Desert garden plots yield fresh produce in summer and fall in Tucson. (Photo: Colleen Boodleman)
The Community Gardens of Tucson (CGT) provide an assortment of semi-arid garden plots for community enthusiasts who enjoy growing vegetables and fruits throughout the seasons. These garden settings are small areas of land set aside for the production of vegetables, for personal gardening use, for charity or for community beautification purposes. Many of the vegetables produced in these gardens are generally fresher, more flavorful and contain greater nutritional benefits than produce sold at local grocery chains.
Great tasting vegetables at a fraction of the cost coupled with growing food in a familiar location are some of the reasons why CGT members often commit to a garden plot year after year. Community gardening whether short- or long-term involves growing and harvesting plants with nutritional benefits that can be used to supplement daily meals, add unique colors and flavors to food dishes, and help offset dietary diseases such as diabetes and childhood obesity.
Food space benefits
The many benefits associated with neighborhood gardens stem from the fertile grounds and likely yields that can be managed in a small area of space without the hassles of intensive inputs linked to large-scale food production operations.
The CGT's garden spaces provide families and local neighborhoods with a place for planting, picking and producing organic food while enjoying the company of local gardeners. Most food spaces average around 20 plots per garden area and are approximately 3 x 20 feet in size. These gardens support sustainable food practices and lessen the degree of vulnerability that communities face in cases of extreme food shortages arising from climate related fluxes in global crop prices and health disparities inflicted as a consequence of genetically modified food products.
In fact, the presence and growing awareness of communal gardening spaces within the urban areas of Tucson is a surprisingly pleasant phenomenon given the historical suppression farmers and gardeners received in many cities where land ownership was in direct conflict with food autonomy projects and local groups dependent on public space for food security.
While the Tucson county government has been slow to embrace local food growing efforts or to donate community garden spaces within city wards or districts, most of the community gardening areas available to members are vacant lots that have been donated by community schools, churches and organizations. These areas provide monthly plot rates at around $15-$20 and cover related drip irrigation water fees, free vegetable/flower seeds and gardening information related to composting and plot maintenance. As such, the CGT plots are inexpensive to maintain and initial startup gardening costs for the individual are relatively low given uncertainty related to absolute plot productivity values and shifts in annual garden membership.
Gardens in low-income areas
An expansion of community gardens into Tucson's poorer neighborhoods and districts would provide further support to densely populated areas impacted by youth unemployment, poverty and rising crime rates. Community gardens in high risk areas provide locals with educational opportunities to become more food secure through advocacy, food production and desert gardening. Produce harvested from low income gardens can be donated to a nearby food bank where limited portions of vegetables and fruit items are regularly unavailable to families seeking food support. Along similar lines, gardeners with limited income and an overabundance of produce have the option to generate income by selling plot-harvested produce at the local farmers market.
See the list of current CGT garden locations — interested volunteers and members have access to local garden maps and information for getting involved in monthly garden meetings. Each garden has a team of site coordinators that provides new members with additional information on setting up garden plots and a contact list of affiliated neighborhood gardeners.
Photos: Colleen Boodleman, Gene Zonge
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