Gardening is an exercise in both practicality and spirituality. In his masterpiece Les Miserables, Victor Hugo wrote, "A garden to walk in and an immensity to dream in — what more could [one] ask?" Indeed, little else. Gardens provide us with nourishing food, meaningful work and — in the case of these four cutting-edge gardens — change for our very society.
In the shadow of downtown Dallas, the community of Farmers Branch has forged a partnership among churches, social service agencies and town officials to create a community garden that benefits the hungry. Anyone who lives, works or goes to school in the town is able to participate by planting and harvesting crops from a reserved plot of land. The crops that aren't harvested for individual use are given to emergency food pantries so that hungry people can enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables rather than just canned food.
Large cities like Los Angeles are often plagued by vacant lots, unkempt roadsides and trash heaps next to public sidewalks. Ron Finley has addressed this problem by becoming a guerrilla gardener. Finley states that South Central Los Angeles is the land of "drive-throughs and drive-bys," and claims that drive-through restaurants actually kill more people because they are dying from curable diseases caused by poor nutrition. To provide healthier options for his neighborhood, Finley plants veggies and herbs on vacant or trashed plots of land that he doesn't actually own. The result is free, fresh produce for his neighbors and a revitalized appearance for the neighborhood.
Nationwide school-based gardens have been shown to improve test scores, fight childhood obesity and promote physical activity among youths. Nowhere is this more important than in public, urban districts such as those in New York City. According to Grow to Learn NYC, the city's children have double-digit rates of obesity and diabetes because of poor nutrition. The organization combats these problems by providing funds for public schools to start their own gardens. These gardens, in turn, produce harvests that are served to the children in nutritious school lunches, increasing the kids' access to healthy food.
Horticultural therapy is gaining attention as an effective treatment option for adults with developmental disabilities. As a result, New Jersey's Department for Persons with Disabilities nonprofit now offers on-site gardens for residents of group homes in a tri-county area. The participating residents have shown a marked improvement in teamwork, health and behavior when they have the opportunity to connect with nature through gardening. They're also able to eat the fresh produce. According to the National Gardening Association, such programs "transform dependents into caretakers, empowering residents to care for another living thing and restoring a sense of control."
Whether you have access to your own land or not, gardening is worth your time and energy. Check out your local community for gardening options that let you pay it forward for social change.
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