When was the last time you really talked with your neighbors? Do you even know their last names? The chances are that you can’t match a face to a house even though you live 50 feet away. I have moved many times and this lack of hospitality always astounds me. You may be very different from your neighbors, but this is no excuse to not know them. By remaining strangers you are creating a less hospitable environment for the whole community. Connections bring security and peace of mind to everyone who is involved, so why aren’t we working toward a safer place to live when it is as simple as a friendly, “howdy neighbor?”
With such a distance forming between neighbors in a community I asked myself what would be the best way to bring people together? How could we form connections that would be both beneficial and pleasant? My solution was a community garden. Gardening is an activity that can be shared by all age groups. It can bring healthy food to your dinner table, and most importantly if done communally, gardening can grow connections. More and more people are becoming aware of what they are putting into their bodies, and local alternatives are being sought out on a regular basis. They want to know where their food is coming from and if they can feel good about eating it. Some communities have expressed these concerns and are now taking action. Community gardens may sound like a WWII effort to benefit the troops, but local gardening may be more important today than ever before.
I had the pleasure of visiting two very different community gardens here in Albuquerque and can say that both gave me so much hope for our city. The first garden I went to was Growing Awareness Urban Farm, located in the international district off Central in an area that at first glance might seem run down. The whole operation is much larger than just a garden, focusing on microenterprise and getting disadvantaged youth involved in jobs ranging from pruning to making ceramic ollas for planting. They run their own co-op and even have a free clinic.
John Bulten started the farm on his own and found the area to be suitable for an urban farm because it supplied a community that could benefit from it. He told me that in the beginning people were a bit wary of what he was doing and most just watched, but it centralized the community’s focus. After just one year, those who were once bystanders now became active members of the community garden. People donated their time to beautifying the neighborhood and brought other community members in with them. An after school program was established for the local kids, giving them a solid foundation to build on. Some of these children have grown up, started attending university, and are now mentors to the new children in the program. The garden creates opportunities that may not have existed before for neighbors to meet one another, keep eyes on the community, and put healthy food on the dinner table.
The second garden I visited was at the Sawmill Restoration Project. This is an area of town that has been restored from an industrial cesspool into a quaint living community for senior citizens. About three years ago a few members of the community came together with the simple idea of growing their own veggies. With a little planning and some donated beds for planting, these few seniors formed a garden right outside of their recreational area. Prior to the garden the land trust did have dwarf fruit trees around, but it was purely the work of the community that the gorgeous garden came to be. Now this tucked away area is frequented by people of the community on a regular basis. People are getting out of their homes and working on something they can be proud of – while meeting their neighbors. Wade Patterson, the manager of the land trust, explained to me that the garden has actually made the community a safer place to live. People know one another better from time spent working together, and more importantly now recognize when someone may seem suspicious.
A community garden is so much more than an aesthetically pleasing feature. It brings a neighborhood together. Connections are grown and people can feel safe knowing who lives near them. Children are given a solid foundation and a connection to the earth through gardening, and everyone involved can be happy with what they are eating. So next time you drive past that empty lot, don’t look at it with discontent, look at it with potential and hope for a happier community.
-Posted by Benjamin