The Urban Food Gardening Networking Session, an event co-sponsored by GreenStar Community Projects, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and Tompkins County Public Library, had a great turnout of over 85 people. The event opened with short presentations, which led into small table discussions where people could talk with individual speakers. At the very end, each group summarized what they had discussed.
Ongoing and New Urban Food Gardening Projects
Gardening for Food Security: Permaculture Parks and Community Gardens
Chrys Gardener opened the evening with her personal story about how she began gardening as a single mother to eat more economically. She emphasized that gardening can be done using found resources and minimal space, by planting in recycling bins, banana boxes, and shopping carts. She has also been involved in the permaculture park, or “edible park,” between the old P&C and the Sciencenter. The goal of the permaculture parks is to cultivate ‘collective gardening’ amongst neighbors, and to potentially share free food amongst the community. She hopes to expand the current project to plan regular activities in the park. A more formal method used by folks without space to grow at home is the Ithaca Community Garden. Rhonda Porras noted that currently 36% of the plots are rented by seniors, and 55% by families with children. People who do have space in their yards for plants can also raise chickens, even within city limits. Amanda and Skipper Zerilli found chickens to be beneficial to their garden because they eat garbage from the garden and turn it into eggs, and they eat bugs among the plants during the fall. Amanda can offer information about city rules about chickens and what it takes to start up your own flock.
Other community centers are also connecting to their community members through vegetable gardening. Sean Dembrosky, at Edible Acres in Trumansburg, runs the garden on permaculture principles, growing hardy medicinal and food plants that can survive on their own. He is interested in establishing common orchard spaces and could potentially donate resources for communal guerrilla gardening. Jane-Marie Law owns the community center next to the Fallen Tree Center. In the garden in the back, she grows vegetables in an economic way she hopes can be helpful for people starting up their own gardens. She also cultivates a pollinator garden.
There are several successful projects underway to pair urban gardening with childhood education and nutrition. Wayne Gottlieb described his work with the Dewitt Middle School vegetable garden. In their 7th grade science classes, students make all the decisions in the garden. 200-500 pounds of the produce is donated to the cafeteria, and students also learn important seed-saving techniques. Wayne would like to recruit community members with gardening expertise to volunteer. At the Beverly J Martin school garden, Josh Dolan, who works at Finger Lakes Eat Smart New York, helps students learn entrepreneurial skills by selling seeds and gardening skills by growing sprouts and starter plants in the classroom through the winter. He needs volunteer help in the garden in the summer months. Lauren Salzman, from the Ithaca Children’s Garden, is also looking for people to get involved. ICG runs summer camps, after school programs, and a teen job training program, and provides a public meeting space.
Gardening and Policy Change
Speakers at the session were passionate about the use of urban food gardening as a tool to improve food security in Ithaca. Joy Matthews is involved in collaborative design of a ‘demonstration garden’ project: small vegetable gardens in unused, visible plots of land around Ithaca. She wants to work with the city to prove that neighborhood gardens are doable and beneficial. The focus of these small gardens to be on dealing with local food insecurity issues: produce would go to pantries and to people that need it. She hopes to benefit a niche of people who would not have transportation or resources to start their own plots at the Ithaca Community Garden. She also hopes to help find a balance of green spaces within city designs. The corner of Plain Street and Esty is a potential spot. Rafael Aponte and Dan Hoffman spoke about the Food Policy Council, a diverse group using language from the city’s ordinance to fulfill a promise of a sustainable and just food system. The Food Policy Council wants a commitment from the city to protect urban gardening and food justice initiatives, with the overarching focus on inclusion. The council is looking for 10 new members, as well as “Friends of the Council” who will be updated occasionally on the council’s activities.
One audience member brought up a very important point after the presentations about how she wished she saw more faces of people of color as leaders and participants of this food systems movement. While urban gardens improve neighborhoods’ aesthetic, more importantly they can provide an important mechanism for neighborhoods dealing with structural inequalities in access to healthy foods. A crucial next step for all organizations and groups involved in urban gardening initiatives will be to continue to be a welcoming and diverse community.
There is space for new ideas, new connections, and much work to be done. People who would like to get involved in any of these projects can reach out on the GreenStar Community Projects Facebook page HERE, the Hot Potato Press Facebook page HERE, or email Holly (Holly Payne email@example.com or (607) 229-3540). Articles written by community members are welcomed on Hot Potato Press (email Rebecca at firstname.lastname@example.org), and support for burgeoning and established gardeners is available at Cornell Cooperative Extension HERE.