In my English 101 class, we were given the assignment to write a mock proposal that we would send in to our city. I propose that Baltimore City create certain tracts of land throughout the city to be designated to the cultivation of gardens, both floral and vegetable, tended to and cared for by the citizens of Baltimore City at their leisure. And although the challenges of growing plants in the city include shadows from buildings and trees, hectic schedules, and small spaces; the benefits of urban gardens outweigh the problems.
Fruits, vegetables and flowers blossoming in the company of sport utility vehicles and jeeps may seem like a silly idea, but gardening in an urban development is not difficult. The gardens can range from simply a few pots, to a relatively large tract of land, depending on where you live, and the funds provided. A simple vacant lot, with the proper ingredients and several willing participants can become a beautiful and restful addition to any neighborhood. An individual can choose from numerous different types of foliage to plant and cultivate. Many types of fruits and flowers do quite well in a downtown community.
Fruits can range from apples to peaches and from strawberries to blueberries. Hearty flowers such as Azaleas, Poinsettias, and Roses make beautiful additions to any garden. Gardening as a community can have an immense impact on our city. Community gardens make an important contribution to the fight against hunger, because the produce can be shared with congregations or individuals in need. Statistics say that individuals living in urban environments have gone up from one-third to one-half in the space of only a few years. And during this time, almost all have experienced some state of extreme poverty. Many of these people wish to work, but either from lack of jobs, or from a lack of education, they cannot make enough money to provide their families with enough food needed to sustain them.
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These gardens can also provide a source of income for many unemployed people. Those without work could cultivate enough produce and flowers to start their own businesses. Some vegetables can grow quite quickly, using the right ingredients. And some flowers, too, are not that difficult to cultivate, given the right amount of care and attention. A flower or produce business may be all an individual needs to get a handhold in the working world.
Senior citizens may also benefit from an urban or community garden. People who are too old to work, yet too young to be cared for full time, can enjoy cultivating life on a small plot of land. These gardens can contribute to the health of senior citizens by providing them with an opportunity to make an important contribution to the community, as well as participation in an excellent form of physical exercise. Gardening activity calms the mind, allows the lungs to work at their full capacity, and stimulates blood flow throughout the body. This is the best medicine for any individual, old or young.
Yet, it's not only the elderly that can benefit from such gratifying labor. Getting children and teenagers involved in caring for their own flowers and vegetables can have a lasting impact on their life. Lisa Taylor, Children's Garden Director at Seattle Tilth, a non-profit community gardening organization, has a unique take on why kids should garden. "With little people, they're a lot closer to the ground; they have an intimate relationship with the earth. Anything we can do to bring that non-descript terra firma to life is good." Children love to get dirty, and gardening is a good way to teach them valuable life lessons, while still allowing them the fun of playing in the dirt. Responsibility- making sure the plants are properly taken care of. Patience- waiting for the flowers or veggies to grow. Loss- dealing with the loss of their beautiful flowers when they die at the end of the season.
Gardening can also make education fun. A teacher at an inner-city high school was able to teach his students complex mathematical equations by simply planting a garden contained in a children's wading pool. Gardening is used for therapy and rehabilitation of individuals with physical, mental or social disabilities. It's a safe and inexpensive way to teach those less fortunate some of life's necessities.
Teenagers benefit the most from gardening experience. By devoting more time to the cultivation of life, they are becoming less involved with drugs and alcohol, violent situations, and generally staying out of trouble. Community gardens positively address inner-city concerns about crime and juvenile delinquency. What is most surprising is that most teenagers actually want to be involved with community gardens. "The garden is something to do to keep you out of trouble, out of violence and everything else. So if we didn't have the garden, most of us would be in jail by now. (Nigel Watson, age 14, Brooklyn)"
Community gardens also cut down on the "urban heat island effect." The "urban heat island effect" occurs often in urbanized areas, where buildings, asphalt, and concrete absorb solar radiation and then reemit it as heat, causing the air temperature of the city to rise. It is this effect that causes so many city-dwellers to suffer during the unbearably hot summer months. And with the "greenhouse effect" still a major problem, the temperatures will only continue to rise, and remain for longer periods of time. Plants have been shown to reduce the urban heat island effect, directly by shading heat absorbing surfaces, and indirectly through evapotranspirational (ET) cooling.
Community gardens make an important contribution to the fight against hunger. Being able to cultivate one's own food can decrease the hunger factor that is plaguing our inner city environments. Produce can be shared with congregations or individuals in need. Those who are handicapped or unable to move around on their own can benefit greatly from produce that has been grown right down their street. People who are unable to attain a job can still feed themselves or their family safely.
Community gardens offer a unique forum for demonstrating ethnic pride while building respect, tolerance, cooperation and cross-cultural ties. In a community garden, it does not matter what color your skin is, what your religious beliefs are, or where your ancestors came from. A community garden is a place where neighbors can get together, share stories and experiences, teach a new generation, and learn something new at any age. It is a place where individuals from many diverse backgrounds can attain a common goal: That of cultivating life.
Green spaces promote safer neighborhoods. When residents have more vested interests in a place, their participation in community vigilance increases, and they will watch to make sure it's not being misused or damaged. The better maintained a residence or public space is, the safer it is going to be. Neighborhood watches will be set up, and strongly maintained. After all, who wants a garden, that they've worked so hard to nourish and cultivate, to be destroyed by a person or people who have no regard for such dedication and hard work?
An urban garden may seem like a lot of work and hassle, needing large amounts of money to fund the project, and many people to see it all come to fruition; but in reality, this could not be farther from the truth. Community gardening costs city government almost nothing, improves the appearance of neighborhoods, adds value to surrounding housing, brings people together, and reduces crime.
Funding such a project requires money simply for the land needed, the soil, seeds, and some general gardening tools to be used by all members of the community. This will require only minimal amounts of money, since some local businesses may be willing to donate their goods to aid their community. A gardening center may donate seeds and tools, while some farming agencies may donate topsoil or other kinds of gardening soil to the project. Vermiculture (a method of composting fruit and vegetable waste using earthworms) is proving to be an inexpensive and easy way to create high-quality organic fertilizer. It is also helping improve the local environment by ensuring that all the produce and foliage grown is completely natural and free of any artificial fertilizers.
A community garden also improves the appearance of neighborhoods and adds value to surrounding housing. This can lead to an increase of property value that will benefit the real estate companies centered in urban developments. People will benefit mentally possessing the ability to look out their window, with a view of their own community garden in plain sight.
The cultivation of an urban garden will also reduce the rate of crime in that neighborhood. With more time invested in nourishing and caring for the elements of the garden, less time will be spent participating in the illegal actions that run rampant through our city. Police officers will not be required to patrol problem areas; simply because those areas may not be such a problem any more. It may, in fact, also encourage those on the police force to become more involved in their community by contributing to the garden.
Such natural areas promote livability and vitality of communities. Recreational opportunities, good air and water quality, and scenic beauty will attract new residents, families, and tourism. Most of the city or state parks are too far a distance to be traveled by those living deep in the city. A nearby garden, having been planted with some shade or fruit trees, could provide the rest and relaxation a person might need. A chance to unwind, meditate, or contemplate one's thoughts can be found sitting on a bench in one of these gardens, while young children can play or learn how to make their own plants grow.
Generating and attaining publicity is a big boost for a garden project. It helps improve public relations and builds support from other organizations, corporations, businesses, and government bodies. Some organizations or corporations may decide to help finance the development of an urban garden in hopes of gaining some support from other businesses. Although this may sound a bit sneaky, it is beneficial for both parties. Politicians supporting an urban garden may also gain support from the members of the community during an election period; again, making the project beneficial for both parties.
But perhaps the most significant benefit of community gardening is providing a piece of land for people to call their own, at least for a season, for those who own no land. There are many individuals who own nothing. The car they drive --if they have one-- is still under a lease and being paid off. The building they live in; they must pay a rental fee. In a community garden, there can be a special tract of land that is their own. An unspoken agreement passes between the other members of the neighborhood, and that individual can finally lay a claim on something. A community garden could be one of the most important things the government of Baltimore City could do for itself. Lives could be changed for the better, living conditions improved, lessons learned, and memories made in a sanctuary where individuals share a common bond to care for and cultivate life.
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