photo: Kettins Community Garden, Oliver Dixon
For the most part, community gardens are an answer to urbanization. However, the increasing recognition of the social and learning benefits that stem from community gardens has led to a wide array of small-scale horticulture projects. Check out the links below to be truly inspired by community knowledge and energy.
1. Want a garden with history?
The UK is known for its long history of allotment gardens. The oldest is located in Nottingham, England. The community has maintained St Ann’s Allotments for 600 years. Currently, the site is home to 670 plots, although their activities go beyond simple allotment gardening. Given its age, St Ann’s allotment is also home to over 2000 varieties of apples and pears, making this site heavenly for those interested in heritage crops.
Check out The Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King Jr Public School (Berkley) to find out more about a one-acre garden initiated by Alice Waters (considered a founder of the Edible Schoolyard movement). The website includes information about how the garden is incorporated into all aspects of the curriculum.
3. Ecology parks
These parks provide incredible opportunities to learn about gardening as a spectator, or a hands-on volunteer. They also provide beautiful green spaces in our communities. My first experience with such a place was spending a summer volunteering at the Peterborough Ecology Park. The park has been a place for people to freely share knowledge, skills and space for twenty years. It originally began as an organic food and demonstration garden, but has expanded to be a site for a wide range of learning. A few years later, inspired by my experience at the Peterborough Ecology Park, and with an itch to travel, I spent several months volunteering with a reforestation project in Costa Rica. This project is now part of the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, managed by the Asociacion Conservacionista de Monteverde.
4. On government grounds
Looking around for a spot for a city garden? Why not use the grounds of your local government buildings? Check out the Vancouver City Hall Community Garden.
5. Improving food security in South Africa
Capetown-based Abalimi Bezekhaya works to help build community gardens in settlements (‘townships’) near Cape Town. They have successfully initiated more than five gardens in previously unproductive areas. They regularly publish newsletters that contain a wealth of interesting articles on everything from gender issues in the gardens, to basic training in agriculture.
6. Sharing our yards
Starting a large-scale community garden can be a daunting process. A simpler idea has begun to spread based on the idea of sharing our existing resources. Several programs have recently sprung up that match urban dwellers seeking garden space with neighbours who have yard space sitting idle. For example, check out Urban Garden Share (Seattle), Yardsharing (Portland), and Sharing Backyards. Landshare (UK) goes beyond backyards, and helps new farmers find land.
7. Beyond plants
Gardens need not be all about plants and ecology. Many people have creatively used the garden as a venue to communicate information about other parts of their worlds. For example, the Toronto Zoo hosts a First Nations Art Garden that shares a part of the worldview of some of Canada’s First Nations peoples. Windmill Primary School in Oxford, England recently opened a storytelling garden. It is “…a unique environment where children can walk along different paths and use question posts and other outdoor learning materials, like sentence builders, character blocks and drawing walls, to help develop their ideas[…] The entrance fence is particularly enchanting as it represents a book shelf of the children’s favourite and in some cases, imaginary, book titles.”
Some gardens are made in extremely difficult circumstances, such as behind the front lines of a war or in internment camps. Kenneth Helphand has written a fascinating book on the history of these defiant community gardens. The Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) took inspiration from Helphand and created a current-day Defiant Gardening Project. This program plants gardens in containers and in the ground on military bases, in communities with military families, and sends containers to soldiers in Afghanistan.
9. Public produce
Community, or allotment gardens, are often controlled and harvested by a limited number of people. A different approach is to encourage the growing and use of produce that already exists on public lands. Juliete Anich has launched an initiative in Australia to make this easier. Urban Food Maps provides a platform that encourages individuals to respectfully share the locations of food grown on public lands. Here are also a number of projects that encourage the use and stewardship of public fruit such as: fallen fruit, city fruit, and lifecycles. Also see Darin Nordahl’s book Public Produce.
10. Gardening in the Arctic
Think that you do not have the right climate for gardening? Check out Inuvik’s community greenhouse. Inuvik is located in northern Canada, north of the Arctic Circle, almost a stone’s throw from the Arctic Ocean, just south of the end of tree line.
11. University gardens
With cultural ecology at the heart of its mission, College of the Atlantic provides one of the most interesting examples of community farming and gardening that is linked to a university. The university operates five gardens, including a community garden, as well as a farm. These projects feed the bellies of students and local community members, and the minds and skills-sets of creative, energetic young farmers like graduates Alex Fletcher and Virginie Lavallee-Picard of Wind Whipped Farm.
12. High Rise
Even in cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong, where green space is at a premium, productive gardens are popping up. In Hong Kong, the government recently launched a community garden program. Arthur Van Lanenberg is a well-known Hong Kong gardener who has published several books, including a journal on urban gardening. Community in Bloom facilitates many of the community gardens in Singapore. Wilson Wong has also been active in promoting gardening and the sharing of gardening knowledge in Singapore.
To be connected with even more inspiration, check out Growing Community III: 11 more ways to get inspired. This post includes gardens in corporate work places, First Peoples gardens, therapeutic gardens, gardens for food banks, seniors’ gardens, accessible gardens, beautiful gardens, partnerships with parks, rooftop gardens, museum gardens and mobile gardens.