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Thursday, August 22, 2013
We’ve all watched the collapse of Detroit; entire neighborhoods with boarded-up houses and vacant lots. It’s the vacant lots that interest me. Every city, even thriving ones, must have many, many acres of such space. And therein lies part of the answer to every city’s problems: community gardens.
Too simple? What could a community garden do for an inner city neighborhood?
Those who live in the blighted neighborhood would gain from its beauty and its bounty. They could learn how to freeze and can vegetables and store some for winter use. It’s not rocket science.
Who doesn’t feel pride, self-reliance and self-worth from growing a garden? It can give a person some dignity; a feeling of accomplishment; a job. And what garden doesn’t produce more than can be consumed? Community gardeners could form a co-op of sorts and sell the extra produce.
It could even be tied into the SNAP program. Imagine that. Needing less assistance? Growing and eating healthy food? Surely, not all inner-city denizens are lazy, shiftless, taxpayer-supported, I’m-entitled residents, as portrayed by the far right. I’m also sure that some probably grew up gardening.
Inner-city kids could learn where some of their food comes from; they could get exercise from working in the garden. It would give them an alternative to joining a gang or becoming a drug addict. Some inner-city schools already give qualified students food to take home for the weekend. Why not let them grow some of it? It would be much more nutritional and help fight obesity. They, too, could feel pride and self-worth, which could spill over into other areas of their lives.
But what about the rights of the landowners, the absentee landlords? Cities do have the power of eminent domain. Perhaps they could utilize some quasi-domain ruling allowing the community garden until the landowner develops or makes use of the land or pay him a nominal fee.
Is this pie-in-the-sky thinking? First lady Michelle Obama should be cruising Washington’s streets encouraging community gardening. She should be bringing together volunteers willing to plow the ground and donate seeds, tools, fencing, etc. She should be organizing community gardening groups.
I’m not suggesting we resurrect Chairman Mao’s enforced labor for intelligentsia. But given the chance, I would think that most inner city folks would avail themselves of such an opportunity.
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