- Author: Chris M. Webb
This week Ventura County UCCE’s director, Rose Hayden-Smith travels to Washington DC! Rose is a W.K. Kellogg/IATP Food & Society Fellow and is in Washington this week to attend meetings on National Food and Ag Policy. She will be sharing with us on this important topic throughout the week.
(Please note: This post in a special bonus. Another article was posted earlier today.)I have not posted since July on my Victory Grower blog. It’s been – at times - a difficult and disheartening summer. Like many Californians, I will remember this period as the “summer of our discontent” here, a period when we struggled with the realities of limitations. Limitations imposed by a crushing state budget deficit, a dysfunctional system of state governance, double digit unemployment, furloughs, and a lack of water to support California agriculture and residents. It’s been a surreal period when we’ve seen further erosion in public funding to things Californians have taken as a birthright, including one of the best systems of higher education in the world. It’s been a summer of strange weather, of wildfires, a period when the Golden State has seemed dusty, limp, directionless. Even some of the most optimistic people I know (myself included) have seemed tired, a bit jaded, and wondering where we will go from here. The budget die are cast: the game will be played out with new rules, new expectations, new outcomes.
For me, the shoot of green poking through a parched landscape of uncertainty has been the amazing degree of interest in gardening. My phone is ringing off the hook, and my email inbox has been jammed with requests for support for home and community garden efforts. The UC Master Gardener helpline is reporting a high volume of calls from home gardeners and others seeking support for gardening projects. As Californians face hard times, they are responding creatively and innovatively.
What is remarkable to me is the nature of these gardening projects requesting support and assistance from UC. It has ranged from homeowners determined to rip out lawns and put in edible landscape to major public agencies. From a young graduate student sitting in my office seeking ideas on how to garden with schoolchildren in Ecuador (you'll be great, Megan!) to hearing Mayor Weir of Ventura share her vision for a gardening community. It has been a top-down and bottom-up movement, simultaneously. The world as Californians know it may be falling apart and changing, but many believe these gardening and civic agriculture projects will redeem the situation, will improve our communities, our world, our lives.
Here’s a short list of recent activity. The County Public Health Department requested a meeting to discuss a collaborative project with UCCE in Ventura County. This public agency views gardening as a tool, a vital component even, in chronic disease prevention, the fight against obesity, improving nutrition and other Public Health efforts. Could our Master Gardeners develop and deliver a gardening training for those engaged in community outreach? The county’s food bank, Food Share has also met with us. Food Share has started a Garden Share program, encouraging home gardeners to share excess produce with the county’s hungry, now estimated at 1 in 6 residents (this in one of the more affluent counties in California). Food Share is also encouraging backyard gleaning projects, and is working with the County Agency on Aging to promote a garden to supplement senior nutrition efforts; we’ve been asked to provide support there, as well.
A new community garden has started in Camarillo; this effort was led by citizens, one a Master Gardener. The Community Roots Garden, based at the North Oxnard United Methodist Church in – a full acre – is bringing farm workers into community with volunteers who are supporting the effort. Everyone is learning together. Another agency has recently contacted us to see about revitalizing an abandoned orchard to use it as a source of food for the hungry. A local group of volunteers, the Grow Food Party Crew, has provided free labor and expertise to plant numerous home gardens, home gardens that demonstrate organic gardening practices. The Ventura City Corps youth group, some trained by UC staff and Master Gardeners, has put a garden in the front of their building, where it can be easily viewed from City Hall. And at Ventura City Hall last Friday, the day before Labor Day weekend, about fifty people gathered and took the first steps to create a Ventura City chapter of a A LEAN VC. This will create a broad-based community coalition to support health and wellness in the city of Ventura, and one of the four pillars of activity will center on local food systems and gardening. To cap off last week, a terrific article in the Star, written by Lisa McKinnon talked about the growing CSA movement in the county.
Ventura is just one county in California, which is just one state in the Union. There are thousands of these efforts occurring across the United States, as a passion for gardening grips the nation. Much of this interest can be attributed to the White House vegetable garden planted by First Lady Michelle Obama, and the USDA’s People Garden, sited on the National Mall.
I’ve been invited to visit both of those gardens this week, and will be blogging daily from Washington, DC. (I’ve even brought plastic bags, hoping to snag some compost from the First Pile and also some of the compost at the USDA’s People’s Garden, which came from Rodale Farm in Pennsylvania, which has been so center in the modern sustainable farming and organic movement).
Whatever the problems facing residents of Ventura, Portland, Peoria, Lansing, or even Washington, DC, gardening certainly provides part of the solution.
More tomorrow. On Tuesday, I’ll be attending the National Food Policy Council Conference and also visiting the Congressional Hunger Center. There, I’ll have a chance to learn more about hunger and food policy in America from leading advocates, including one of my personal heroes, Ed Cooney, whom I met on a previous trip to Washington. Ed is an expert on food stamp and nutrition policy, and these are policies that have more impact on our children and communities than you can imagine. (BTW, Congress is currently discussing the Childhood Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004. This act encompasses all of the federal child nutrition programs, including the School Breakfast and the National School Lunch Programs, the Summer Food Service Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. This is American food and public policy, writ at its largest).
We’ll undoubtedly be talking some about how community gardening and urban agriculture efforts can help address food security issues, childhood nutrition and poverty.
See you tomorrow.