Mayor Rudolph Giuliani believes there is no need for community gardens in
New York City because you can buy carrots in the supermarket. He says
these gardens are relics of a failed economic system and the land they're
using should be auctioned off to the highest bidder. One hundred and
twelve neighborhood garden sites are scheduled to be sold on May 12th.
Mary, a listener from Trumbull, sent a newspaper article and a letter
asking for help in stopping the sale of what she calls "these places of
beauty and community pride." The article from <I>The Christian Science
Monitor </I>featured a Harlem elementary-school garden created nine years
ago by teacher Tom Goodridge with the help of community organizations and a
local church. Last November, a bulldozer arrived at the garden, pushed
through the wood-framed fence and over trees and garden beds in order to
clear the lot. Another fence was put up to keep people out of what soon
became, once again, a brick-strewn wasteland accumulating garbage. What
message does that shout out to the children and the community?
This garden is one of 44 community garden sites that have already been
bulldozed in New York City. Although some lots may become needed housing,
Giuliani's "free-market economy" approach will convert many of these
gardens into parking lots or commercial spaces. Some may even stay vacant
while existing housing remains boarded up. High profits for developers and
more taxes for the city are the goals.
The increase in community gardens and urban agriculture in the last few
decades makes so much sense, it is hard to believe that the mayor and his
advisors don't understand it. Small, hand-tended plots can be much more
productive per acre than large areas farmed with huge equipment. They're
certainly more environmentally sound. The flavor and freshness of
vegetables from the neighborhood make a big difference to those at the end
of a very long food chain. Many of the world's most crowded cities produce
significant amounts of fresh, nutritious food.
These gardens build and strengthen communities, encourage pride in creation
and ownership, as well as provide beauty and wholesome food. Many are also
living laboratories for schoolchildren. Even a small plot of land can
provide critical lessons and important connections to nature's essential
processes. Gardens are a source of healthy exercise. It's hard to
believe that a "quality of life" mayor would bulldoze such flowerings of
the human spirit in order to bring in a few extra dollars.
Mary asks for letters in support of the gardens, especially from friends
who live in New York. Unfortunately, the Mayor's not alone in his
ignorance of the real values of the gardens and farms which sustain us. In
suburban Cheshire, Connecticut, it was just assumed that the town could
turn a community garden site there into a parking lot for the swimming
pool. However, it took lots of hard work by citizens and town employees to
arrange for a replacement garden site. New Haven's now-vibrant community
garden program has struggled for years against seizure and development of
its garden lots.
More traditional farmland is not much different. It is open, often flat or
scenic and easy to transform into industrial parks or housing subdivisions.
The US loses over one million acres of farmland every year. Connecticut
and New York State each lost about 20 percent of their farmland over a
recent ten-year period.
All of the real food we eat comes directly or indirectly from the soil
(except for energy-intensive hydroponic vegetables and the declining bounty
of the seas). Unless we want to eat the products of a chemical factory, we
need land for gardens and farms in order to grow our food.
Since the Earth isn't getting any bigger, as the population rises, the
available land per person shrinks. Now there is only about one-half of an
acre per person left for food production. This makes all arable land
valuable. Urban land is especially valuable because in addition to fresh
vegetables and fruits, it also grows knowledge and community.
Spread the word before all the land is developed and everybody believes
that carrots really do come from the supermarket.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1999, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "Living on the
Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays Living on the Earth:
Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future is available from Bill
Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14 postpaid. These essays first
appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted
weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since November 1995 are
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