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Revival of urban gardening cultivates hope in downturn

As we become achingly aware of the current economic recession when we hear of job cuts, know someone who has lost a job and is not able to find another one, or see a neighborhood house foreclosed, gardens are a source of hope.

Struggles with the effects of the recession in Wilmington, Ohio, were featured in a Dec. 20 broadcast of “60 Minutes.”  The story demonstrated the interconnection of problems being faced by individuals, families, communities and our entire country and world.

Wilmington is suffering from all the ailments this recession offers: manufacturing plant closings, lack of alternative sources of employment, foreclosures on homes, unemployment benefits running out, lack of health insurance, the closing of clinics that treat the poor because of lack of public funds, food insecurity, fewer or lower donations to nonprofit organizations that serve the poor, and mental health problems made worse by all of the above.

One bit of hope that caught my eye was the growth of community vegetable gardens in Wilmington.  People who had never gardened before, planted gardens last summer.  Both private and otherwise unused public land was used.

People have been eating better, gaining new skills and reaping the rewards of community.  Hope often comes in small bits that gradually combine to help alleviate a situation.

Why bring up gardens now?  It’s cold out there!  There are seeds of a community movement already spreading in this area.  The Plant a Row for the Hungry program encourages home gardeners to plant extra vegetables to donate to food banks.  Churches are planting gardens that yield produce for members and food banks.

Some community groups are teaching young people to raise vegetables, which are sold to support group activities.

Driving around town, we can see a few front lawns turned into vegetable gardens.  One pastor planted herbs and vegetables so that they outlined the path of a labyrinth.

In the Pullman area, a group of gleaners organized last year.  They reap berries and other fruit in gardens where property owners are no longer able to do their own harvesting.  After giving property owners a share, gleaners donate the harvest to food banks.

I’m not a gardener.  I make other contributions and cheer from the shade as I see benefits of a church garden.  Children plant pumpkin seeds, anticipating Halloween and fall pies.  Older people now in apartments have a place to continue their love of gardening.  People who never gardened learn how.  Some people like a specific job, and others like to do a little bit of everything. Gathering early in the morning in hot weather, the group stays together for brown bag lunches supplemented with whatever has matured that week.  Seemingly unlikely friendships are formed as people weed together and learn about each other.

To thank the Spokane Valley Food Bank, a woman who formerly used it and took cooking classes at Valley Partners, gave a basket of fruit and vegetables that she had canned to the food bank director. 

The ingredients are already here for further cultivating community and hope.