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The Future of Community Gardens in DC and Beyond

The last week of August was proclaimed Community Gardening Week by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and the new People’s Garden project outside the USDA headquarters fronting on the National Mall was a perfect place to discuss community garden in the greater DC-area and take a long at its future. On September 4, I joined a local farmer and USDA staff to talk about growing tomatoes, maximizing your harvest, and community gardening.

At Washington Gardener Magazine, we are seeing the requests for community garden plot space double each year. We see this trend generated not so much by economics as it is by a desire to be able to be in touch with the Earth and living a more simple, sustainable life-style. Going a step beyond buying local or organic, gardeners that grow their own food have complete control of its production and feel a real sense of accomplishment.

Land use issues are prohibiting many potential gardeners from growing where they live. From Home Owner Associations to small town ordinances, folks are fighting rules that prohibit front yard edible gardens. Many must turn to community garden plots to provide needed growing space. Those in apartments, rental homes, in shady older neighborhoods, etc. are also seeking out community garden plots to grow in.

In a related trend, urban land owners are offering their un-used yards to neighbors who want to grow, but may not have the space. Web sites that match landowners with potential gardeners are springing up in cities across the nation. Many ask for a small share of what is grown in exchange for the land use. This is a win-win for everyone.

One new trend in community garden is combining plots and working them together to share the harvest. Instead of each gardener having their own small area, they pool the land and decide as a group what will be grown that season.

Another new trend is urban farming. In which a group buys up a piece of unused land with the express purpose of growing edibles and dividing up the produce among the share-holders. Sometimes they sell the excess produce at local farmer’s markets or grow for an express purpose such as a food bank donation.

School gardens are an expanding trend. Many schools use gardens for teaching science, math, art, etc. and now they are growing food in them to supplement what children are eating in their cafeterias. Colleges are also jumping in by allowing students to set aside a portion of their campuses for community gardens.

All of these community garden trends are converging and the result is that more Americans are gardening. Learning about food, and eating what they grow.

Follow our Twitter feed and Flickr account for the latest information on the People’s Garden, and check in on the weekly Healthy Garden Workshop schedule.

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