Friday, September 4, 2009

Eliminating Food Deserts, one Tomato at a Time

I just returned from a visit to Trinity Community Garden, located on land from Trinity Baptist Church. This garden is just a short jaunt from the Foodbank, and it follows the principles of Square Foot Gardening. For anyone, like me, who doesn't know what that is, the idea is very simple. You make raised beds that are 4 feet x 4 feet, and then you divide each of those boxes up into 1 x 1 sections (so you have a grid containing 16 different squares). Then, you are supposed to concentrate on one box at a time. It requires no tilling, has limited pest problems, and seems generally easier to work with. I know personally that psychologically, this would be easier for me to deal with, rather than a HUGE space. I think this approach is geared toward the beginning gardener especially. The website has a much more comprehensive description of this concept.
The coordinator for the garden is Krista Willmorth, and she and her two children were very eager to show me around. The garden is in its 2nd season and it has sixteen 4 x 4 foot boxes. Most boxes are cared for by members of Trinity's congregation, but a few were also planted by elementary school kids from Liberty Elementary in the spring (the school is located right across the street, so it's perfect!). Their plots included giant, towering sunflowers, good for attracting bees and butterflies. Pollination never hurts!
The church provides all of the necessary materials, including seeds, land, water, and tools. Because of the nature of the square foot gardening program, it requires a low amount of tools, so that is definitely a point in its favor, especially for gardeners with limited funds! They get their water from a nearby canal, so that part of the system is free.
While I was getting the official tour, Krista's 4-year-old daughter kept picking ripe grape tomatoes off of the vine and eating them like candy. Krista also told me that kids get so excited after seeing something grow that they'll eat almost whatever comes out of the garden, even if they didn't like it before. Right as I was leaving, students from Liberty Elementary and their teacher were rejoicing over the size of the sunflowers, and looking at the fruits (literally!) of their spring labor.
It is especially exciting to me to see kids getting excited about this. Maybe, at least some of us, can start to get the younger generation away from the fast food mentality. When a kid gets excited over a garden-fresh tomato rather than a hamburger from McDonald's, I would say that's a step in the right direction.
Lisa Johanon in inner-city Detroit had the same kind of idea. In an area known as a "food desert" where most residents bought their groceries from a local liquor store, she decided it was time to get them some fresh produce! So with some help, she converted a retired UPS truck, filled it with produce, and drove it around the neighborhood.
My hope, not just for Idaho but for community gardeners everywhere, is that these gardens will help people living in food deserts, and maybe someday, eliminate them. Not only that, but it will get people excited about fresh food, just like those kids I saw today, and give them a reason to get excited about what they eat.

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