American grocery stores are bursting with a wide variety of produce from all over the world. Living in a nation of convenience can easily blind us to the amount of labor and energy exhausted in providing such a variety of fruits and vegetables year-round. Few individuals seem to question or consider whether or not it is a wise idea to make oranges available in the midst of an Ohio winter. Consumer demand and the illusion of efficiency clouds the perception of buying produce. However, such convenience comes at a price. When people are collectively taught that food comes from a grocery store and not a tree, bush, or the earth, the appreciation of its’ origin is lost. With that also comes a great disconnect between man and nature.
One of my good friends who also happens to be an avid gardener recently told me about a boy who was working to harvest potatoes from her garden. The boy is in his early twenties and attending college. He expressed to her how amazing it is that potatoes grow in the ground, as this was something he was never taught. To some that may sound absurd, but this boy is no different than many Americans. Why is food cultivation no longer a part of our culture? Growing your own food is less expensive, healthier, more environmentally responsible, and certainly more rewarding than driving to the grocery store once or twice a week.
Let me point out that no one in my family is or has ever been a farmer, or maintained a garden for that matter. My interest in food cultivation has evolved from a passion for environmental responsibility and social justice. I am not a hippie (whatever that means) nor do I wear hemp clothing. I choose to garden because it makes sense to know where my food comes from. My relationship with gardening is outlined in the following.
Last fall I began exploring the concept of community gardening in relation to food security and wellness. Taking special notice to the heightened levels of diabetes in lower income individuals. I stumbled upon a great opportunity to go to the South Bronx on an immersion trip with the university, and there I was able to see the great potential urban gardens possess. Empty lots in New York are flourishing with flowers and produce of all sorts. All of which are free and inviting to anyone interested. These gardens have achieved remarkable feats in feeding the hungry and providing opportunities to know your neighbors. With that, I took up an AmeriCorps position coordinating the community gardens in my hometown.
Community gardens are an outlet for neighborhoods to come together and learn from one another. There is something very special about teaching self-sufficiency to others. I hold a firm belief that a main component to happiness is empowerment. This is, in my opinion, a major reason why Americans are statistically less happy than they were a few decades ago. It is interesting to consider that humans are the only species without one hundred percent employment. When you formulate a society where people don’t have the knowledge or tools needed to sustain themselves, life becomes a bit depressing. Community gardens help to reestablish meaning in a neighborhood and serve as a neutral ground. People come for the purpose of obtaining fresh, local produce for their families. There aren’t any negative political, social, or hierarchical situations involved. Just people, growing and learning with one another.
Isn’t that the fundamental principle of life? Often forgotten and reprioritized by deadlines and seemingly more important obligations. Humans have this innate propensity to overcomplicate everything. Ultimately, we are all people trying to fulfill our purpose. If we focus more on outlining common grounds, greater collaboration and understanding can be achieved. Community gardens to some may simply be places where plants grow, but I have chosen to exploit their potential. Maybe I am romanticizing the idea of man relating to one another and to the earth, but perhaps the message is grossly understated. Community gardening is not the answer to all our social problems, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. I love to garden because I believe that all people should have access to healthy produce. The solution doesn’t need to be complicated, and can be as simple as the willingness to get your hands a little dirty.