Category Archives: Community gardening
Urban Farming, founded by recording artist Taja Sevelle, is a nonprofit organization with a goal of reducing hunger and increasing access to fresh, healthy foods by encouraging people in urban, rural and suburban areas to plant gardens on unused land. There are now over 66,600 community, residential and partner gardens that are part of the Urban Farming Global Food Chain around the world.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Taja Sevelle about the group and its plans for the future.
NewPublicHealth: How did you become interested in the issue of Urban Farming?
Taja Sevelle: I was recording a CD for Sony Records in Detroit, Mich., when I began to see the vast amounts of unused land in the city. I knew that numerous jobs were being shipped overseas and a lot of people who had lost their jobs were suffering. So, in 2005 I put my music career on the back burner and started Urban Farming with three gardens and a pamphlet. It was always a global vision that grew rapidly and started to get international coverage quickly.
Even though this seems like a new idea, it really is just reacquainting people with the age-old act of planting food. The World War II victory gardens, for example, are a great model because during that time, 20 million Americans planted gardens and grew almost half of the U.S. produce supply. Recently, when the economic downfall hit around the world, planting a garden became a necessity for many people who may not have been thinking about it previously.
NPH: What are the key goals for Urban Farming?
While laws to help make it easier for everyone to get their veggies are cropping up all over, some would-be planters get stopped in their carrot tracks by regulations that prohibit use of public spaces for planting, or even limit what can be grown on private property, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal [note: subscription required]. In some jurisdictions, according to the article, sidewalk gardeners have been fined and may lack the clout to advocate for changing the laws.
>>Bonus Link: Read about Urban Farming, a nonprofit group with high-profile corporate sponsors that supports gardens on unused land.
The city of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society are seeing positive results as they continue to grow their Philadelphia Green program. The program has taken on the vacant lots in Philadelphia neighborhoods and transformed them from embarrassing eye sores to points of pride – and made the community safer in the process.
“The city owned the problem even if we did not own the land” said Robert Grossmann, Director, Philadelphia Green. “We decided to use horticulture to build community and improve the quality of life in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods and downtown public spaces.”
The goal was to help build equity for the people living in the neighborhoods so they felt a sense of pride – the result was crime prevention through environmental design.
With the help of community activists and landscape contractors the program has “cleaned and greened” more than 7,000 lots. The impact is a reduction in gun crimes, lower rates of vandalism and residents even report experiencing lower stress rates and an increased urge to get out and exercise.
Spring has sprung in the nation’s capital, and while the Cherry Blossoms are the most heralded bloom, the city is also awash in yellow forsythia, white apple blossoms, purple lavender and shovels and hoes at small and large plots of land across the area. One of those is a brand new garden at the Columbia Heights Educational Campus, a D.C. middle and high school.
The new garden is one of hundreds of People’s Gardens established by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack three years ago. The Columbia Heights garden has funding support from the D.C. Daughters of the American Revolution and planting expertise from volunteers at USDA. Students have been studying and preparing to plant their garden for a year, and it will include gathering spaces, a wildlife habitat garden and a fruit and vegetable production area. The produce will be used at school and donated locally.
Read a USDA blog post about the new garden.
Weigh In: How is your community supporting first-time gardeners?
Will The Lorax, a film version of the Dr. Seuss book, which opens tomorrow, prompt kids everywhere to plant gardens and eat healthier? That’s the hope of Kelly Meyer, the founder of American Heart Association Teaching Gardens, a project that teaches kids how to plant seeds, care for their plants and harvest the produce. The Lorax tells the story of a boy in search of his young love’s “heart’s desire,” a truffala tree, only to find that all the trees have been chopped down to create a new invention. A theme of environmental preservation and connection with nature runs throughout the story, and ends with a single seed meant to rebuild the forest.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Meyer, who brought a group of young gardeners to the film’s premiere in Los Angeles last week to showcase a special Teaching Garden that will be donated to local schools.
NewPublicHealth: How did the Teaching Gardens program come about?
Kelly Meyer: For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to address a health issue, childhood obesity, while connecting kids to nature and teaching them about a food source in a real, three-dimensional way. And so, I started the program with just one garden, and had the good fortune to have the program adopted by the American Heart Association. Now we’re in over 100 schools across the country and I have a real infrastructure to help push this program forward.
>>Read more on childhood obesity from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
NPH: What have you seen the kids get out of the experience?
Kelly Meyer: They learn what it takes to grow food that’s healthy for you and they learn teamwork. They have a much more real-life picture of science. We had one child in the program who was tasting a clementine from a tree she helped plant. She had never tasted one before, and when you see the expression on her face—she was prepared for it to be sour and awful, and instead it was sweet and juicy and beautiful. When we harvest the garden and prepare salads, I think the kids are shocked at how good it tastes.
>>Watch a video on the Teaching Gardens program, including footage of the young girl trying a Clementine for the very first time.
And the kids take [the message] home to their parents. I’ve gotten so many photos from kids who’ve gone home and made a little bit of space in the back and planted a tiny garden of their own. They take ownership.
NPH: How did the association with the film come about?
Kelly Meyer: I have a relationship with Universal Pictures and with the producer of the film and they gave us this opportunity to set up a beautiful garden at the premiere, and the kids got to plant and then they went to the movie and they learned it’s ultimately just about that one seed, whether it’s the literal seed for growing the last tree or the seed of an idea and its growth and how important it is to protect that.
When the movie was over, the kids ran and they couldn’t get back to the garden fast enough, and they wanted to plant more. And then, when we left the garden, we sent them all home with seedlings and I got many emails that kids had planted gardens with their parents and now they’re going to be growing vegetables together in their back yard. That was really exciting.
NPH: What’s next for you?
Kelly Meyer: I’m going to continue to focus on the Teaching Gardens because I want it to be successful. It’s not automatic. You don’t just ship it off and it’s done, it requires a lot of attention. I’d also like to broaden the concept that maintaining your environment and the environment of your body is directly related and connected to our general health.