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Community gardens can improve humanity's well-being

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MAY 19, 2012

Does the Occupy movement stand for something positive or something negative?

It depends on the purpose and actions of those who are participating. Spring is an image of bringing new things to life. The Arab Spring has been planting seeds of democracy. Community gardens plant seeds of life. In most places, growing plants can be done year-round. Spring becomes an all-seasons event. The time to begin is now.

Is the Occupy movement directionless? Maybe. Maybe not. A positive direction will include a range of elements. Some elements will be economic. Some social. Others political. An element that is already playing a part is community gardening.

Occupying community gardens is a metaphor for the work that community gardeners perform. Community gardens are associations of individuals who garden at a common location. The gardeners can exchange ideas and the harvest of their work.

What the Occupy movement and community gardens have in common is that they empower individuals to play more productive roles in their lives. Community gardens can strengthen the Occupy movement, and the Occupy movement can in turn strengthen community gardening.

Connections to the land such as those experienced in gardening are intellectually and emotionally rewarding.  Not only does the 99 percent benefit in this way, but so does the 1 percent. Community gardens are a chance for the whole 100 percent to benefit.

Harvard’s Howard Gardener’s theory of multiple intelligences includes human beings’ connection to the natural world. This connection is necessary to the human condition. Community gardening is one way to satisfy this need.

Community gardens are not demands. They are life-enhancing alternatives that help people participate in their society in a meaningful way. Community gardens are not the only answer to developing sane and well-balanced societies. They can be one of the answers and one of the most powerful. Sustainable agriculture and gardening can promote sustainable economies that are good for the 1 percent as well as the 99 percent.

Community gardens can play an important role in the economics of how humans obtain food. There is much that agribusiness can learn from community gardens that practice the science of sustainable agriculture. This science is called agroecology. Community gardens also exemplify economies of scale that allow greater participation by people in all walks of life.

The world is faced with a difficult dilemma: Available food supply and access to this supply are out of sync. For the poorest, this is a matter of survival. For the more fortunate, it is a matter of good economics and proper approaches to land use. The right amount of food in the right location is the goal. Community gardening can be an important part of the solution.

In community gardens, people of all ages and backgrounds participate in the first step of what ecologists call a food chain that at minimum keeps humans alive and at optimum keeps humans healthy.

If the Occupy movement in your area has already started a community garden, you can participate. If your area does not have a community garden, you can start one or find someone who can.

Public versus private approaches to solving problems are often intensely debated. Community gardens are a microcosm that show that public and private approaches can work together and are not mutually exclusive.

Community gardens can be centrally located. The public shares land to cooperatively grow produce to use, exchange or give away. At the same time, each person has private proprietorship over an individual garden.

Decentralized community gardening can also work. Individuals can cultivate gardens on their own property. Produce can then be sold, exchanged or given away in the immediate neighborhood or taken to a another location in the community, such as a produce market.

Many countries have a history of community gardening. During World War II, Americans planted victory gardens. Community gardens are making inroads once again in this new century as towns and schools are developing gardens to grow food and improve mental and physical well-being as well.

French intensive gardening works well in community gardens. This method concentrates plants in a small yard in an inner city. The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco is publicizing ideas that can work in urban areas, such as use of a green roof that serves as a garden ecosystem.

Another advantage of greater concentrations of plants is the enhanced sequestering of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The science of agroecology pioneered by the University of California demonstrates that the sum productivity on small parcels of land is greater than on one large parcel.

The United Nations funds sustainable agriculture and focuses on small landholders and woman farmers who make up about 60 percent of the world’s hungry. In developed countries, people find that kitchen gardens and potagers yield a broad variety of flavorful and nutritious fruits and vegetables.

The world is struggling over ways to improve our collective well-being. Community gardens can be a simple, dependable and significant part of the solution.

Occupying community gardens provides a direction that allows individuals to become more productive while improving lives. Occupying a community garden can be done for an hour a day or an hour a week. Those who haven’t started to do this do not need to wait but can start now.

Les Kishler is a UC Berkeley graduate and co-director of Community Gardens As Appleseeds.

MAY 20, 2012

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