Monday, October 14, 2013

The Culture of Competition – Community Gardens in New York City

by Ross Adler

       During the PTK New York regional conference, several speakers spoke about the culture of competition and how it relates to the push for better food and food production in the United States. One topic was “Urban Land Access for Food Production -- Community Gardens in New York City, the 2008 United States Farm Bill, and Food Population Nutrition -- Starting with Corn”.

While all of these topics are interesting and worthwhile, the particular topic that piqued my interest the most is the topic of Community Gardens in New York City. During the 1970s, New York City experienced an urban decline which led to a slew of abandoned properties. Because of abandonment, these properties plummeted in value, they ceased to have function within their communities, and they had almost no use to the city.

            During this time, people within these communities came together and slowly created and planted vegetable gardens in the abandoned properties in an effort to not only beautify their communities, but also because it was a source of fresh food for these families/communities that made these community gardens.

          While this indeed beautified neighborhoods and fostered a sense of camaraderie within the community, these public gardens faced a very tough challenge. First, they were planting in properties owned by the city. By beautifying these abandoned properties, they were also increasing their value. That means that the city sometimes found it profitable to take these properties away from these communities. This presented a challenge to these people who took on the endeavor of beautifying their communities but also did not want these properties suddenly taken away by the city and sold to land investors.

Because of this, a number of people came together and established the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA). Through this organization, people secured permits and planted their community gardens with legal protection. Although there were still other challenges to face, this was a first step in order to make sure that their lands were not going to be suddenly taken away from them.

Today, community gardens flourish and give life through neighborhoods across New York City. They have a positive impact on the health of people who live around these gardens and people who consume their produce. We owe it all to people who started with this idea of beautifying their neighborhoods and producing food of their own.

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