Growing Soil And Community

Friday July 23, 2004

Editors, Daily Planet 

Daily Planet Staff Writer Matthew Artz phoned me and a few friends the day before the publication of an article headlined “South Berkeley Community Garden May Soon Be History” (Daily Planet, July 16-19). Being inundated with information he unfortunately misinterpreted my comments, saying that “If the garden is turned into housing Berkeley would not have a shortage of public gardening space.” 

I told him that Berkeley is the second city in the United States to incorporate guidelines in its General Plan emphasizing the need to secure land for community gardens, especially in low-income, densely populated neighborhoods. Hundreds of well established community gardens in New York City have been and are being destroyed because they were created on public land leased temporarily by the city, who later put the lots up for auction. 

The fact that Berkeley has adopted these guideline does not ensure that adequate land will be made available for community gardening. At present many community gardens have long waiting lists. Since land is scarce, the city, eager to uphold fair distribution of land to its citizens, is considering reevaluating and possibly expelling gardeners after five years of tenure to give opportunity to new applicants. 

During the first five years many gardeners spend a lot of effort and money framing their beds and enriching the soil with compost and other amendments. Naturally they develop an attachment to their plots and to the community of fellow gardeners . 

Twenty-five years of research by Ecology Action has determined that it generally takes a minimum of eight to 15 years to develop fertile soil with the capacity to produce abundant, healthy crops on a sustainable basis with a minimum of maintenance. For this reason the organization’s president John Jeavons, known throughout the world for growing prodigious amounts of produce on small plots of land, recommends that community gardens always try to obtain long-term leases for the land they use. 

The American Community Gardening Association encourages unlimited tenure for garden plotholders since, in our mobile society, gardeners inevitably come and go and those few who stay for longer periods contribute immeasurably to the solidity of the garden community. 

Community gardens not only grow fresh produce close to home, they also grow community among neighbors and friends, which makes neighborhood life much more meaningful and secure. To fill every vacant lot in every neighborhood block, even with affordable housing, jeopardizes the opportunity for residents to develop a growing sense of community. In my brief verbal exchange with Mr. Artz, I emphasized that losing the South Berkeley garden would indeed be a great loss. 

Karl Linn