A Revival of Urban Gardening

"If more Americans grew a little food instead of so much grass - our savings on grocery bills would be astounding."
- Rosalind Creasy, who grew $700 worth of produce in a 100 square foot garden.

As many readers and community members are well aware, a new movement is sprouting up in America's neighborhoods. This movement is pulling many people away from their TVs and computers and into their backyards closer to their neighbors, their communities, and to nature. According to the American Gardening Association, 84 million Americans gardened in 2009. Community gardens now number over 1 million throughout the country. Locally, in Menomonie, landlords are finding that there are more and more requests for gardening space, the farmer's market is expanding into a larger location, school gardens are being established and expanding, and a new community garden has just taken root.

The revival of the urban or backyard garden is due in part to the economy, the awareness of the nutritional benefits of fresh vegetables, the recognition of the health and exercise benefits of gardening, and because the the American people are increasingly understanding that growing and eating local, sustainably grown food is another way to green our daily routine.

Today, the average distance food travels to the American plate is about 1500 miles. Although this number has gone virutally unchanged the past 30 years the volume of food being transported has increased substantially. This industrial food system leaves us all at the mercy of rising fuel costs and natural disasters which gets passed on to the consumer in the price of the food we buy. Many consumers are also becoming more aware that to grow their own food and to sometimes pay a bit more for locally grown food keeps the money locally, improving our local economy.

As a result of the increasing demand for local food "urban farms" are becoming more attractive and profitable. If you have not heard the name Will Allen you soon will. Recently on the Time 100 list of Heroes, Will Allen has organized, protected, and maintained the last farmland within the city limits of Milwaukee. On two acres in urban Milwaukee stand six greenhouses, four hoophouses, goats, turkeys, chickens, rabbits and beehives. For many urban Milwaukee youth this may be one of the few opportunities they have to connect with nature and see where their food comes from.

Operations like these that connect youth and community to nature are increasingly popping up across the country. The movement towards establishing the Menomonie Community Garden has many of the same goals. The Menomonie Community Garden hopes to provide a space for people who live in apartments or shaded backyards to grow their own vegetables. It will provide an opportunity for members to create a place of beauty and sustainable agriculture, as well as enhance community bonds by providing space for gardens, gardening education, and a gathering spot for community members. It is Menomonie Community Garden's hope to establish a legacy of stewardship for the land in upcoming generations.

As Menomonie community member Kris Recker states, "The idea of having a small garden (at the Menomonie Community Garden) is exciting because its within walking distance...my children can take advantage of the park amenity when the peas are picked and we can meet people and run into friends, while filling the pantry with healthy vegetables we've raised ourselves. In essence, the Menomonie Community Garden supports our efforts to live more healthily and sustainably and integrates us into the community socially."

If you are interested in assistance with starting your own garden contact the Dunn County Master Gardeners through the Dunn County UW-Extension office (715-232-1636) or the Menomonie Community Garden (menomoniegarden@aol.com) for more information.