Communities Unite: Suburban and Urban Gardens for Food Security

Urban agriculture is a tight-knit community that lacks the space to grow. Suburban agriculture has the space to grow, but needs a means to build a community.

Either way, getting fresh food onto the plates of people with limited means is a long-existing problem. When the flaws in food supplies become common knowledge, the easier it is for the public to find solutions. 

Urban agriculture

Urban Gardening | Vego Garden

Urban agriculture has always been part of the solution and in recent years it has taken off in almost every major and minor city in the United States. By utilizing that momentum we can also grow outside of the city limits and into the pockets of suburbia.

Fitting agriculture into an urban setting is difficult, in part because the people-to-land ratio is substantially skewed away from open space as density increases. City centers focus on getting as many people as possible into a small space, leaving little to no room for those who live nearby access to fresh, healthy food sources. Over the years the creativity and variety of ways to grow in small spaces has been astounding - farming inside old warehouses or office complexes, rooftop gardens, even gardening in spaces that have become abandoned or underutilized.

Urban Gardening | Vego Garden

The dwarf tomato movement - breeding large tomatoes to grow in smaller and smaller spaces such as containers on a balcony - has spread to other food staples as well. Okra, cucumbers, squashes, peppers and more can now be grown in a small space. In an urban environment where space is limited, having a variety of solutions is key to getting fresh produce to those within the city.

Suburban agriculture

Suburban Gardening | Vego Garden

Step outside the city limits and the landscape is dotted by houses with yards. A lawn was once considered a sign of wealth, but now some consider a lawn to be a waste of dwindling water supplies and unjustifiably harmful to natural ecological systems. These yards create gaps restricting the need or want of creating a community. These underutilized spaces can help fill in the gaps where food, and a sense of community, are desperately needed. 

Suburbs consist of a vast variety of pockets - pockets based on economic statuses. Areas with higher economic status have better access to stores that stock shelves full of the freshest, healthiest options available. Meanwhile, areas with a lower economic status have a more difficult time finding or traveling to these same options. These pockets are commonly known as food deserts.

The term ‘food desert’ usually conjures up an image of an area or region where no food can be found. Instead, think of it this way: when making a seven-layer dip, the best you can find is a three-layer dip. Finding fresh vegetables or even dairy will take going past three or more stores to purchase. What's really happening is a nutrition desert. To fix it we need to start growing for tomorrow.

Raising a community

Suburban Gardening | Vego Garden

Raised garden beds are the epitome of community gardens. In the suburbs, community gardens have more space to work with, making it easier to think outside the box - or the bed. 

Tools are among the top three investments when starting a produce garden, but can easily be shared among a community living in the same neighborhood. Setting aside a space where all suburban gardeners can access a tool shed and the tools inside is a great way to help reduce financial burdens. 

I have been growing in my space for more than five years now, and for the life of me I cannot seem to grow any variety of squash no matter how hard I try. While looking on the NextDoor app, I found a neighbor down the road who grows abundant squash, and from there we started a small group of gardeners within our neighborhood where we all grow exactly what we are good at growing, and trade with each other. Social media over the years has been portrayed as being self-centered, but there are platforms out there where you can find those who also grow and can share more than just a thumbs up and a comment below.

Just because a neighborhood has a Homeowner Association does not make it immune to a nutrition desert. An HOA is typically in place to make sure appearance and comradery are being abided by those within their jurisdiction. Through fees, they can also provide amenities similar to apartments - pools, playgrounds, maybe even a gym. Why not make a community garden a staple amenity too? Produce can be introduced into existing decorative gardens without being obvious. Many vegetables and edible flower varieties can blend in with a landscape and appear simply ornamental from the curb. 

Seeds of success

Community Garden | Vego Garden

Saving seeds is not only beneficial for your bank account, but also increases your chances of success. The seeds that are saved from what grew and thrived in your microclimate are more likely to succeed in the next generation, making produce more bountiful each year.

Ideally urban and suburban agriculture can support each other through trading harvests, seeds, and even tools. This cooperation will make the local food economy more stable than ever, and able to weather any storm that hits local food supply in the future.

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