In 2014, Boise was chosen as one of 15 communities to receive the Darden Foundation/NRPA partnership’s Grow Your Garden grant, a $10,000 award for community garden development in existing city parks. One year later, the funds — allotted specifically for the formation of the Liberty Community Garden, Fort Boise Garden and the Comba Community Garden — have been spent on major, previously unattainable expenses including new irrigation systems, fences and even a greenhouse, all of which serve to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to families in need.
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According to Erin Guerricabeitia, coordinator of the Boise Urban Garden School, nearly all of Boise’s gardens also contribute to local food pantries by donating excess food, with many of the individually managed plots growing produce specifically for the food bank. But as community gardens grow in popularity, in part as a solution to local food insecurity, so too do the challenges of funding and maintaining these areas and determining where new gardens should be developed. Multiple studies have shown that the longer the commute from home to a grocery store chain — where fresh produce is often less expensive — the higher the risk of food insecurity. “Managing a community garden is much harder than most people realize. There’s a great deal of time, planning and expense involved,” Guerricabeitia admits. “But [the effort] is worth it. Community gardens give local, low-income neighborhoods the opportunity to come together and interact with people they wouldn’t ordinarily have the chance to.”
Typically ranging from a quarter to half an acre total, and often situated on abandoned lots or hosted by city parks, community gardens condense the average household garden into small, manageable-sized plots to be planted, maintained, and harvested by individual families or organizations that may lack the space to plant gardens of their own. But while there are a number of grants available to help support local food efforts, like the Grow Your Garden grant, many larger urban areas have put to rest the traditional notion of the “community garden” in favor of a more modern and affordable approach to inner-city food production.
Combining design aesthetics with sustainable, ecologically responsible principles, permaculture takes urban agriculture to a whole new level by incorporating everything from innovative water conservation techniques and homestead practices, to blending vegetation in ways that mimic natural habitats.
Particularly in metropolitan areas with well-established green initiatives in place, such as San Fransisco and Seattle, the transition to an urban agricultural approach to community farming, and even permaculture, has been years in the making. Rather than plots of land devoted to traditional row-based gardens, urban agriculturalists utilize existing rooftops, crumbling architecture, roadway meridians and even hotel balconies as lush, garden real estate. And the benefits are not merely aesthetic: by developing gardens in the unlikeliest of places, cities are able to reach a more diverse population, as well as cater to a greater portion of urban populations that may be on the outskirts of the community. As such, urban farms are a unique and often artistic means of addressing local food security.
Following the trend, Sustainable Boise, a large-scale initiative still in development between the city of Boise, the Boise Urban Garden School (BUGS) and a number of other organizations, aims to address the growth of nationwide permaculture and city farming practices by using Boise’s existing metro areas and unique landscape as opportunities for food education, urban agriculture and ecologically conscientious development. And given the startling statistic posited by the University of Minnesota in 2011 that global food demand will nearly double by 2050, utilizing Boise’s urban landscape to its full potential is a necessary step towards statewide food security.
And Guerricabeitia agrees. “Any step towards community empowerment and food security is a worthwhile one, especially if it allows local citizens to use their creativity. I see [urban agriculture] as a next step: it promotes ownership, which is especially important during the summer which is when a lot of community members lose their motivation.”
Many community gardens, like Comba Park in Boise, which are formed in partnership with the city Parks and Recreation Department are part of larger community centers that host children’s camps, adult classes and provide outdoor play areas and engagement opportunities for lower income families.
Specifically, permaculture as a movement seeks to mimic the ecosystems and natural patterns found in nature as an environmentally friendly approach to building, economics, energy and agriculture. It often involves recycling irrigation water, layering vegetation as it is found in its natural habitat and establishing honeybee colonies for natural pollination and growth. With this approach, these miniature ecosystems serve multiple purposes by counteracting city pollution, re-establishing natural growth systems and providing natural, unprocessed food sources for city dwellers.
Check out our gallery of just a few of the country’s most inspiring community gardens, urban farms and permaculture startups.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.