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Tag: food deserts

Desert- and Swamp-busters: Community Gardens

The Artdog Image of Interest

Last week’s Image of Interest focused on the problem of food deserts and food swamps. This week, I’d like to focus on one of the solutions that can be used to combat them: the growing movement to create and cultivate–in ALL senses of the word–community gardens.

Community gardens are becoming increasingly popular for more very good reasons. Beyond helping lower-income communities stretch their food budgets and gain access to healthy food, which would be enough in itself, they:

Make good use of previously-vacant (often trash-plagued) plots of land. This is efficient, fights blight, and discourages crime.

Teach people of all ages practical skills they can use to improve their lives. This is why they’re an outstanding project for schools.

Bring communities together, because there’s nothing like gardening side-by-side to promote people talking with each other, creating friendships, and sharing ideas or skills.

Yes, I know it’s getting on toward winter in the Northern Hemisphere. But winter is the time to PLAN gardens. The infographic below, which promotes the annual Project Orange Thumb, sponsored by Fiskars, offers good starter tips. If you think you’d like to apply for Project Orange Thumb, the next call for applications probably will go out in January.

Plant a Community Garden

IMAGES: Many thanks to Suburban Stone Age, via Pinterest, for the image-with-quote about tomatoes, and to Fiskars’ Project Orange Thumb, for the infographic about community gardening. 

Deserts and Swamps: a closer look at food insecurity

The Artdog Image of Interest

Do you know what a food desert is? What about a food swamp? Do you live near one?

They exist in all kinds of places, including rural areas, where you really wouldn’t expect them–but viewing an area in terms of food deserts and food swamps is a way to key in on some root causes of food insecurity.

We can join in the effort to fight this trend. First, support community gardens, and efforts to bring farmers markets to low-income areas near you. A quick Internet-search should offer local options.

Also, pay attention to how poverty-stricken communities in your area are treated. I really hope you’ll encourage your civic leaders to remember that poor people are people. People with rights, like everyone else. It’s a myth that most are lazy or poor because they made bad choices. Most people who are born into poverty must overcome huge obstacles to climb out of it.

Another good way to fight food deserts and swamps is to advocate for programs such as SNAP, the US government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is part of the Farm Bill, renewed every five years (including now!).

And in the meantime, contribute to local food banks. Again, they’re only an Internet search away.

This infographic may be focused on a particular region, but it’s instructive as an example in a broader sense, offering a snapshot of the problem’s impact.

IMAGES: Many thanks to AZ Quotes for the quote image featuring author Michael Pollan, and to Brown is the New Pink blog, for passing along the infographic on food deserts and swamps.

For Food Security

Day Five: For Food Security

I feel more conflicted about this one than I have about my previous gratitude topics. Not that food security is not a marvelous blessing–it truly is, in every sense of the word. 

But I’m aware that all around me–in my community, across my nation, and around the world, there are many, many people who do not share this blessing.

To express public gratitude for it, in the knowledge of such widespread lack, almost feels like gloating. That’s not my intention at all. If I could, I’d extend this blessing to everyone in the world, so that no one anywhere has to go to bed hungry, or wonder where their next meal will come from.

Here in the USA, today is Thanksgiving. Everyone in the country is presumed to be eating their fill, then waddling into the next room to zone out in a “food coma” while watching American football games. However, despite the best efforts of community charities, not everyone will be able to do that. Statesman Jacques Diouf put it well:

Everyone alive should be acknowledged to have a basic human right to adequate, nutritious food. That this is ignored, pushed aside as inconvenient, left to the vaguaries of climate change, governmental style or unregulated capitalism, or even actively subverted so hunger can be used as a weapon is inexcusable. Yes, people have been doing it for millennia; it’s a crime against humanity every single time, in my opinion.

How can persons of conscience work to fight food insecurity? Acknowledging that we who can eat well are blessed, we can make charitable donations on both the local (link to find US agencies) and international (this link: UN) level to help fill immediate shortfalls.

But we also must advocate for longer-range goals: 

Creating systemic improvement is a large, difficult goal, fraught with practical difficulties, cultural pitfalls, and unintended results. It also is desperately necessary, as long as people anywhere are hungry.

Creating changes in public opinion is a way to begin. Funding empirical studies by unbiased researchers is a reasonable step forward. Involving all involved parties in design of solutions is a reasonable, respectful necessity that is likeliest to result in the best solutions. Many initiatives have already begun. We all must work together to bring the best ones to fruition.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. The “Food security definition” quote by Pattie Baker is from Quozio, via Pinterest; her book Food for My Daughters is available from Amazon Smile and other fine booksellers. The Jacques Diouf quote is identified as sourced from Live58, though I couldn’t find it on their site; I did find it on the website for GRIID (the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy). The quote from Ray Offenheiser of Oxfam America is courtesy of The Huffington Post, via Pinterest. Many thanks to all!

Growing knowledge in the teaching garden

The Artdog Image(s) of Interest

 Sometimes there’s no substitute for getting your hands dirty and learning from the ground up.

A parent volunteer with gardening experience works with children of all ages at the school, and helps teachers build lesson plans around their experiences in the garden.

A parent volunteer with gardening experience works with children of all ages at the Oak Hill school, and helps teachers build lesson plans around their experiences in the garden.

This little video gives a glimpse of the massive potential for tying lessons to life experiences with the Teaching Garden at a Fairfax, VA elementary school.

Oak Hill is clearly a fairly upscale neighborhood (note: they still have the Teaching Garden in the 2016-2017 school year), but schools from all different parts of the country, and all different socio-economic levels, have adopted similar programs in the last two decades.

Unless they grow up on a farm, nearly all children lack understanding about where their food comes from. This goes double for children who live in food deserts.


Lincoln Park in Duluth, MN is a classic food desert: their last full-service grocery store closed more than 30 years ago. Read more about it here.

Lincoln Park in Duluth, MN is a classic food desert: their last full-service grocery store closed more than 30 years ago. Read more about it here.

Food deserts, as you may know, are areas where healthy, affordable food is far away and hard to come by, especially if residents do not have convenient transportation. Food deserts all-too-frequently occur in minority communities, and can happen in both rural and urban environments. Food insecurity is everywhere.

While a vegetable garden isn’t a complete solution to a food desert, community gardens often do help address part of the problem, and students who learn how to garden in school have one more tool in their toolbox of survival skills.

Learning/teaching gardens have many lessons to teach in a variety of STEM disciplines.

Learning/teaching gardens have many lessons to teach in a variety of STEM disciplines.

Educators favor teaching gardens for other reasons, too. There’s much emphasis right now on the so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines, and yes–there are guides for teaching STEM in learning gardens. Personally, I think STEM is incomplete without STEAM (add the arts), but that’s a topic for another post.

IMAGES AND VIDEO: Many thanks to Oak Hill Elementary School of Fairfax County, VA for the image and YouTube for the video. Thanks to University of Minnesota Extension for the article about Duluth’s food desert, and to Edutopia for the image of a STEM student in a greenhouse. The accompanying article is interesting, too.

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