Growing Gardens for Body and Mind
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“This is why we started the school garden certificate training,” says Lippoldt. “We are a small organization, and there is more need than we can fill.” In Portland the schools requesting help have a wide range of conditions — some with on-site gardens that were abandoned, some located near a community garden, some more well endowed. Growing Gardens focuses its efforts on those schools serving low-income communities, but it hopes the school garden coordinator certificate training will ultimately assist all Portland schools.
Like the training offered by the American Community Gardening Association in starting sustainable community gardens, and like the Food Project’s training in starting youth-based community farms, this certificate training emphasizes the importance of beginning with the community itself. Without community support, experts say the effort is wasted. Years of experience — successes and failures — have produced at least one consensus “best practice”: without the understanding and support of the community — whether a school, neighborhood, village, or city — a community garden can’t survive.
“Food really binds people together,” says Blethen. “All humans need to eat and need healthy food. Gardening is a great way to provide healthy food.” Growing Gardens sees itself as one piece of the bigger food-security puzzle. Its vision is to inspire anyone who wants to grow more food. With more than seven hundred home gardens, at least four school garden programs, and umpteen garden workshops to its credit, Blethen says the group has still barely made a dent. Others could argue that Growing Gardens has created a kind of tipping point, casting enough seed on fertile ground that it has already begun to multiply and naturalize on its own.
Installing Home Gardens for Low-Income Communities
Build a volunteer program to install the gardens. In Portland, Oregon, the nonprofit Growing Gardens builds and installs an average of 60 or more home gardens each year with a volunteer program drawing on six hundred to seven hundred community members. Garden installation is the most popular volunteer activity, says Debra Lippoldt, executive director. When Growing Gardens sends out a request for volunteers for garden installation, the slots are usually filled within three days.
This remarkable feat is testimony to the power of tapping into people’s natural interest in growing and eating good food and coming together as a community, according to Lippoldt. Growing Gardens trains the volunteer crew leaders, who lead teams of 8 to 10 when installing the new gardens. On a typical spring or fall Saturday, Growing Gardens is able to install six new household gardens by sending out three crews that are each able to complete two new gardens. Volunteers also teach workshops and serve as mentors for new home gardeners.
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