Friday, May 8, 2009

Community Gardens

I don’t consider most of what gets posted to Garden Rant to be wacky enough to be certifiable as actual “rant”, but guest write Ed Bruske yesterday contributed a post that may qualify. The opinion piece asks “is it time to re-imagine the community garden?” The gist of the piece is that community gardeners are an inherently disorganized and individualistic lot, and that if we (“we” being the collective of gardeners who find something disagreeable about agribusiness) are serious about the nation’s food supply, that we ought to put the “community” back into community gardening.

Bruske argues that community gardening plots ought to be gathered up and run collectively, more like a socialist farm. If you want to garden, you show up and plant what you are told to plant, and where.

I cringe to describe them in such language, because such programs already exist, and they aren’t necessarily the soulless experience that such wording conjures up. For example, here in the Boston area we have the Food Project. Produce from the Food Project is both sold through CSA shares and donated to food banks, and the farm is largely run by volunteers, with a particular focus on involving inner-city kids. Chris and I have volunteered for them a few times, along with others from our company, and we found the experience to be very community-oriented in a good way.

These sorts of organized community farms can produce food and bring people together. Nevertheless, Bruske’s proposal raises my hackles, because he seems to be proposing that all individual “community” plots be handed over to some central organization. The Food Project works in large part because it is just one of many options available to Boston residents. If there were one, and only one option when it came to gardening, wouldn’t that be a bit like replacing one agribusiness with another? I'm not sure I would participate in such a monolith, because I would find it to be depressing. Would I need to submit an application form to grow a flower for the purpose of lifting my spirits?

The commentary following Bruske’s article has been largely damning of his idea, but I think the kicker is a comment by “Marie”:

“I lived in the soviet Union in the days of "collective farming" -- the local soviet controlled what was planted, where, who did what kind of work, how it was run. The residents did the work as directed, and the production was sent to the central unit for shipment to Moscow or wherever.

“The people had little personal plots which they were free to work in their spare time. The small personal plots out-produced the whole collective farm in every case, because the people had motivation. Besides feeding their families, almost everything available in the markets of Moscow in those days came from the personal plots.”

Bruske has overlooked that people put their efforts into what they feel to be their own, and that gardening is for the soul as well as the stomach. Cities need to make more land available for gardening - period.

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