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Problems with Community Gardens

 Growing For Growing 1


           The reason I reference the Oxford guidelines for problems with community gardens was because these guidelines are obviously in response to real experiences. The other reason was most of the articles from a web search using failure in my search word, were big on all the social advantages but short on objectivity. Having had the experience of wanting to start a commune back in the early 70’s, and then actually living in one on 73rd and Jeffery in Chicago, I knew these ventures are not always warm and fuzzy. The FBI field office might still have a record of the raid if you want to verify. Nothing serious. Just a rainbow coalition, that when living together under the reign of J Edgar Hoover, were grounds enough. Any way,  I decided, offering a reality check on the matter of community gardens would be my contribution. In addition to the guidelines, an article on the Groundswell community garden, also found under community garden failures (I think U of Tenn.), has helped me realize the difference between community gardening and a community garden. I suggest you read it to help develop your own insights.

My thoughts are, the difference boils down to intention. That’s a hard one to nail down because there are many different personalities and motives in any community garden, and these can also change in mid season. For one example, some will want vegetables. Regarding this intention, one of the guidelines address those who want organic, and others that may not have a concern with inorganic when broccoli leaves get holes and start to disappear. Others want an experience, or identify with being purveyors of experiences well covered by the heartfelt articulations of philosophical metaphors. When it becomes apparent that Eco Gardening isn’t easy, it could be human nature to want to be the teacher. The thoroughness of the Oxford guidelines supports that the hybrid species of these two growth characteristics are probably found in most of our community gardens. Having said this, in addition to hosting a community garden, there are many ways to develop social skills, gain life experiences and mature. Community Gardens look like one option to do this while acquiring vegetables. I suppose the garden has a better chance of succeeding as long as the intention of growing vegetables is not lost in the manure.

          Growing for Growing 2

           Personally, I have discovered, it takes a significant amount of grief before my eyes open to self awareness of some of my unconscious ambitions. On that, I can only speak from my own experience. With this in mind, I do want to talk about opinions I have formed reading complaints from municipal governments, viewing pictures of community gardens and from exchanges with community gardeners. Evidently, the community gardens that require city involvement usually get their blessings through a commitment of responsibility for many of the problems the guidelines addressed. Water was a key issue understandably. One city manager researched the amount of water needed from agricultural sources and was telling the garden master, ‘more water was not the solution’. Long story short, the city manager was frustrated about the above normal water usage and city payroll covering city workers for weeding and cleaning the garden. The communication was reminding the community garden members of their commitment. Ultimately, the city will be held responsible by the citizens who live there, and what the manager can offer might be limited. Most of the community gardens on Facebook post pictures. Most are conventional gardens and many of them are getting very impressive results. By that I mean, big vegetables and significant yields. There are also gardens in shallow wood frames on the ground.

The world wide web shows many flavors of sq ft gardens, raised bed gardens, box gardens, straw bale gardens, containers gardens, vertical gardens, perma-culture gardens, buried log garden, etc., if I missed you, my apologies. However, I don’t see many hybrids. For example, making a square garden using straw bales for the walls, and then plant the walls too. Is this kind of thing allowed? There are also many types of gardeners, all very committed to their cause. Victory, sustainable, organic, etc. I can appreciate that. The type of gardening I provide combines aeroponic, hydroponics and geoponic. I have an advantage not being committed to a specific type of gardening. I am free to focus on what gets the best results for a target demographic. It’s called win-win. But again, we have to determine what good results are. So now we’re back to intention. My intention was to provide a way to grow the most vegetables with the least amount of cost, labor, materials and space while making a profit. The picture on the left is from The Big Vertical Eco Garden™. The picture on the right are the same peppers growing in the ground.

          The key difference is this. The Vertical Eco Garden occupied only 5 sq ft of garden space and used only 6-7 cu ft of media to grow 25 pepper plants. Only 3 of these plants would work in a the same space in a regular garden and 5 in a sq ft garden. The Vertical Eco Garden™ makes it easy to recycle the amended media. Using more aerated non compacting sustainable and less expensive medium (boiled rice hulls, coir, etc.) will facilitate automated recycling of the media opening the door for competitive commercial urban farming for profit.  This would be a low carbon foot print source for your nutrient dense vegetables. The Vertical Eco Garden™ also folds flat and stores on a shelf.  City managers might be more open to the Vertical Eco Garden if they know of failures. Re; the intention of making a profit, profits are sustainable. I have read some community gardens are funded with grants. That can be yet a third intention. Grants are a type of donation. Someone made a profit somewhere to make that money available. The companies that provided the computer and programs and Internet service you are now using, were all able to provide them from profits. Also consider, that human social science evolved from being social, apart from working together. Learning to grow food instead of foraging, the first agriculture culture of woman heir-loomed us into language, art and expression. 

          Out of respect for this sacred tradition, I would want to do everything I could, to honor it in my gardening practices. There are a few articles written by a few brave objective souls who eventually and tactfully covered what I will diagnose as ‘Konfused Intention Syndrome’. Lets not add the last S. Instead, using compassion with the intention of communicating, I will explain using a self disclosure. What that syndrome means to me is when I am leaning on others for whom it is I need to be. I have seen many pictures of shallow beds placed on  flat hard ground with little plants growing out of them. The gardeners standing by appear proud of their accomplishments. After all the work, they are appreciative, I’m sure. The beds that do get higher yields are sitting on aerated ground that has been cultivated. Likewise, the same smiles are seen next to stunted plants in deep boxes filled to the top with compacted humus heavy compost. Let’s do the math. A 4’ x 8’ by 12” square bed is 32 cu ft of soil. And that’s only 12 “ high. It should be at least twice that for growing bigger plants like peppers. That’s 64 cu ft. for one bed. Hopefully, no heavy down poor is forecast.  Yet this is in face of square foot gardens that use layers of straw, leaves, news paper, twigs etc, to prevent compacting and provide root anchorage, aeration and drainage. Is this allowed in the box garden identity? FYI, affordable boiled rice hulls can be used to get aeration, and the accumulation of  these is an environmental concern. Lots of heart and sweat equity, wheel barreled yards upon yards of compost manure with the main motive being to grow vegetables. Honestly? I can relate to the need to feel like I am doing something in these hard times. It is not a bad coping mechanism. 

          Here’s another option. Working smart instead of hard (cost effectively) at gardening will provide the freedom to be more proactive. Nutrient dense vegetables don’t have to come the hard way. The human spirit behind all this work is admirable and I am moved by it. Especially knowing it all has to be removed and done again every few years. Pine wood frames on wet ground will rot and attract termites. I wouldn’t want that near my building or house. If you cant afford cedar, redwood or composite, an affordable treatment Grandpa used to use was boiled linseed oil and charcoal. God forbid, I have seen pictures of treated lumber being used for bed gardens. Yes you can line them with plastic and pray there wont be a heavy rain. Wood skid vegetable gardens are also a health concern because skids are often treated with arsenic to prevent infestation or could have accidentally absorbed concentrated carcinogens.   

            The difference between a community garden and community gardening might be best determined by yield. If getting a bunch of vegetables that look like those at the farmers market is the primary intention of the garden, that is what you will get. That’s what farmers do. They want yield. Using their science, if they can get consistent yield ahead of rising cost, they stay being farmers. It might be more helpful to buy produce from them than to spend resources on making half baked gardens. If Activism is your calling, there are alternatives. Start a farmers market if there isn’t one or facilitate distribution from farms to store’s located in  food deserts. Or start a co-op to buy produce from a local grower using Vertical Eco Gardens™ (conscious intention). Our commune (40 years ago) used to place our orders with the Urban Farm (40 yrs ago) in the spring so they knew what to plant. If you do want a community garden it might be a good idea to read the Oxford guidelines along with books on gardening and soil amending. If you have second thoughts, let me share my vision of a community garden in full bloom. A bunch of people standing around with cold beverages in one hand and a watering can in the other. Reason being, all you really have to do when gardening with the Vertical Eco Garden™, is water it and yourself. Watering the Vertical Eco Garden™ can be done more efficiently with the drip irrigation provided. On a really hot day, a spray hose works for both garden and gardener. Or, for the romantic, watering cans could be individual artistic expressions. Perhaps holding an annual watering can competition would be fun. I see plenty of big smiles, couple of Frisbee’s being flung around, zucchini and sweet Italian peppers on the grill. Acoustic trio kickin’ it out, Why not? Whats wrong with this picture? Why not have the Vertical Eco Garden™ do the work for you so being out of doors can be more enjoyable.