Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Victory Gardens for 21st Century

"What if new global and national conditions make it imperative that we tap all our human and financial resources to create new energy sources, support urban agriculture, band together in consumer and producer co-ops, live in denser communities, and collectively invest in our educational futures?"
Robert Giloth, Nonprofit Leadership

I remember a study someone from Northwestern did in the 1970s about health issues on the west side of Chicago. It was one of those studies where researchers actually talked to people. What they found was that residents, especially older people, wanted fresh vegetables and that there was an epidemic of dog bites from wild dogs.

I don't know who dealt with the dog problem, but the fresh vegetable shortage inspired the Center for Neighborhood Technology to start a heroic solar greenhouse demo. Our greenhouse in Pilsen was a lovely, flawed affair straight out of the Milagro Beanfield War that fell victim to feuding owners. In the shadow of the Sears Tower, we built our greenhouse out of structural steel and plastic panels because of free labor from a welding training program.

Surrounding our greenhouse was a community garden tended by migrant workers who lived in an abandoned school bus across the street. I remember vividly one Sunday morning selling a seedling to homeless transient with a pushcart. He wanted a hot pepper plant for his travels.

The building with our abandoned greenhouse is gone, absorbed by the inexorable expansion of the University of Illinois at Chicago and collateral development that destroyed old Maxwell Street.

I'm happy to report that community gardening and the spirit of local food production is alive and well, as reported in "Green Acres in the Windy City, included in Building the Green Economy. LaDonna and Tracey Redmond created a community garden after backyard tinkering for a few years that created 40,000 lbs. of organic produce in its first year.

Several years ago we did a report titled The High Costs of Being Poor. In it we focused on lack of access to quality and affordable food in urban neighborhoods among many higher costs. A part of the answer has to be inner-city supermarkets. But I think its time to raise goal of a new round of Victory Gardens in all neighborhoods and communities.

2 comments:

Josh said...

"What if new global and national conditions make it imperative that we tap all our human and financial resources to create new energy sources, support urban agriculture, band together in consumer and producer co-ops, live in denser communities, and collectively invest in our educational futures?"

This quote is particularly fascinating to me. I'm picturing hundreds of fresh produce vendors setting up shop in the shells of abandoned WalMarts across the country.

Bob Giloth said...

I like that image of re-using big box stores and alike. Suburbs have a lot of land as well that could be turned back to agriculture.