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StatePoint - Whether it is to help beautify their neighborhoods, foster a sense of community or to grow their own vegetables and fruits, more Americans are starting local community gardens.
According to the latest U.S. government statistics, more than 23 million Americans, including 6.5 million children, live more than a mile away from a supermarket. Whether your community is considered a "food desert" or not, starting a community garden is a great way to get active, improve health, promote nutrition education, and nurture great neighbor relations.
Here are some tips to get started on your garden:
Talk to neighbors to see if there is wide enough interest and to find partners to help you organize.
Create task-based committees and assign active, responsible community members to lead them.
Find a level, sunny site for your garden with convenient water access. A test can determine if your soil has the proper nutrients and is free of heavy metals. Be sure you have a written agreement with the landowner.
Approach local businesses for supply donations. Hardware stores and lumber suppliers are a great place to start.
Use a democratic process to make important decisions, such as what gardening tasks will happen cooperatively, how much member dues will be and how often they will be collected, and whether the garden will be organic.
Plan the garden, mapping out plots. Shared spaces should include a tool shed, a water fountain, a shady area for gardeners to relax and a composting area.
Create a set of rules and have all gardeners sign an agreement to follow them.
Post flyers, talk to your children's teachers and principal, and inform the local press of what you're doing.
Empower gardeners and the greater community with knowledge. Plan workshops focused on gardening techniques, nutrition, and cooking. Get children involved with programming geared specifically to younger audiences.
You can get inspired by what others are already doing. For example, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a global humanitarian organization, is helping refugees become self-sufficient and contribute to their new home in the United States through community gardening, nutrition education and small business farming.
With training, tools and land provided by the IRC's New Roots program, refugees are sharing their agricultural skills and producing affordable, locally grown vegetables and fruit for their families and neighbors.
"Community gardens are a win-win situation, creating trust and dialogue among local residents and establishing a healthier, localized food system that benefits everyone," says Ellee Igoe, the IRC's technical advisor for U.S. food and agriculture programs.
Learn more about IRC's efforts and how to do great things for your community at www.Rescue.org.
As more Americans are substituting highly-processed junk food for whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, experts warn that diets lacking essential vitamins and nutrients are contributing to escalating rates of health problems like diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
Think beyond your own backyard. With a garden, you can help make your neighborhood a healthier, happier place.