27 Oct 2011

Bowling Green Community Gardens Provide Organic Food, Community Bonding

Author: Rachael Murphy | Filed under: Local stories, Science, Health, Environment, Student Contributor

Miriam Hitchcock digs up the grass to plant a cover crop for winter. Photo by Rachael Murphy

by Rachael Murphy

Though many complained about the three days of continuous rain that Bowling Green saw last week, Miriam Hitchcock, a volunteer for the local community gardens, was happy with the results.

“It’s amazing how much easier this is after it’s rained for three days straight,” Hitchcock said as she dug up patches of the garden where grass had taken root.

As the volunteer coordinator for the Common Good community center’s community gardening program in Bowling Green, Ohio, Hitchcock has been arranging and attending volunteer workdays since last spring. Now, the gardeners have harvested most of their produce, including squash, cucumbers, onions, lettuce, radishes and a variety of other vegetables and herbs.

Community gardens have been gaining popularity in recent years as a means of community bonding and providing less expensive organic produce, Amanda McGuire Rzicznek, a local food columnist for the BG news, said. The community gardening program in Bowling Green is just one example of many throughout the nation.

Hitchcock said that she tries to coordinate work days when many people will be available so that those who have gardening experience will be there to help those who don’t. On work days over the summer, volunteers pulled weeds, planted seeds, and staked tomato plants.

Currently, the volunteers are winterizing the garden to ensure that it will be able to grow in the spring. The process involves digging up the grass and planting a cover crop that will prevent soil erosion and maintain the soil’s nutrients.

The volunteers use natural insect repelling methods to keep their produce organic. Marigold flowers, for example, are naturally insect-repelling. Though she’s had to kill a few squash bugs by hand, Hitchcock loves that gardening is outdoor work.

“I think we don’t get to be outside enough, as a culture. I think we don’t get to work enough,” Hitchcock said.

The gardens are open for anyone to work in and for anyone to take from. Ideally, anyone who wants to take from the garden will also put some work into it. Some of the produce is donated to the Common Good community center for their open community meals every Monday, Thursday and Friday.

Lindsey Dougherty, a volunteer at the Common Good community center, helped begin the community gardening program five years ago. She first learned about the benefits of community gardening on a service learning trip to the South Bronx.

Organic community gardens in urban areas provide a safe place for people to hang out and a productive use for vacant lots that otherwise collect garbage, Dougherty said.

The Bowling Green community gardens are built on the idea of reciprocity, which Dougherty describes as “Do what you can; take what you need; leave the rest.”

The presence of a community garden in a low-income area can raise property values up to 9.5 percent within five years of the garden’s opening, according to a 2006 study. The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) estimates that there are as many as 18,000 community gardens in America and Canada, and that’s just the number of gardens that are currently registered on the ACGA’s website database. Little formal research has been done on the trend of community gardening, so it’s difficult to make an estimate of how many community gardens there actually are in the United States.

Community gardens also provide the communities they serve with free organic produce that is guaranteed to be fresh. Organic produce can cost substantially more than regular produce in grocery stores.

If there is one disadvantage in the community model of gardening, it would be trying to schedule a time for people to volunteer, Rzicznek said.

“It’s hard to rely on other people – it has to be a community that is really dedicated, and if they aren’t, the garden suffers,” Rzicznek said. “But my dream would be that we have a community garden on campus, and I feel like that’s an attainable goal.”

The Common Good community garden volunteers have worked to get the word out about the community gardens by going door-to-door in lower income neighborhoods and hosting picnics, but it’s been difficult to get volunteers to show up consistently, Hitchcock said.

“I just think it’s really valuable for people to know where their food comes from, to know that it doesn’t grow on shelves,” Hitchcock said.

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