Community Gardens Context

By Katie Blanchard

Imagine our ancestors. Not our grandparents, not our great-grandparents, not even the first pilgrims to set foot on the shores of this country. Imagine the hunters and gatherers: the self-sufficient beings of pre-industrial society. Their lives centered around food. Sounds fantastic, right?

Perhaps not. But while we know that the lives of these individuals was not an idyllic experience of ever-plentiful feasts, we can look back on and honor our ancestors’ respect for food and its production. Though it many not have been easy to fill a plate, the diligent and devoted labor of our ancestors created agriculture. The scarcity of food gave it a central position in society. One couldn’t simply pick up a can of vegetables at the grocery store; the laborious process included seed-saving, cultivation, care, harvest, and ultimately: community. Creating food was an experience shared between family members, friends and neighbors. It took a village to grow a bean.

Fast-forward to our modern lives. Gardening is not extinct, but its purpose and process are certainly different. Gardens have become much more ornamental, and community bonding over food happens at potlucks and in the grocery aisle more than at work in the field. While many people still have a backyard plot that supplies some fresh vegetables in the summer and material for canning late into fall, locally produced vegetables are far less common than they were in the bygone days. Until now.

The Northfield Community Gardeners are joining the revolution that is happening across the country: a return to local food. In schoolyards (such as Greenvale), at churches, in empty lots and on apartment rooftops, people are truly returning to their roots. Children are learning that apples grow on trees and the joy of pulling a bright orange carrot from the dirt. Older generations are sharing their wisdom with younger generations. The process that puts food on the table is regaining importance and communities are becoming healthier and tighter knit because of it.

Local produce, pulled from local dirt, passed through local hands and enjoyed at local dinner tables, is truly revolutionary. Locally produced food is truly thousands of miles fresher than that which travels from California or South America, and it is therefore perhaps thousands of times better for the environment because far fewer fossil fuels, if any, are emitted in its transportation. Local consumers can form relationships with those who produce their food, and trust that it was produced safely, without chemicals that are harmful to the consumer and the earth. It also keeps profits in local hands. Finally, local food simply tastes better. Local, small-scale farming has created delicacies such as the Honeycrisp apple, which stand up against the threat of a monoculture of the biology and flavor of our food.

Now imagine your grandchildren. They are sitting down to dinner with you, around a meal created from produce grown within miles of your home, if not in your own backyard. Because you started to be dedicated to growing or purchasing locally produced food now, they will know it as the norm in the future. They will help pick out heirloom seed varieties from catalogs in the cold of winter, delicately plant them in springtime, and pass the summer watching them grow.

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