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Grow Yer Own: SF Recreation & Parks’ Community Gardens

by Worldchanging San Francisco local blogger, Holly Pearson

Winter solstice may be the longest night of the year, but it also marks the return of the light – from now on the daylight hours will be getting longer by a few minutes each day. What better way to start preparing for spring than to start planning your own garden?

Gardening is more than a hobby or a way to put fresh and delicious food on the table for our families. Urban gardens are an important component in creating local food systems. Securing land within and near large urbanized areas – near where the greatest concentration of people live – is a fundamental element of having a viable, localized system of sustainable food production. Of course it’s essential to preserve agricultural lands close to cities and to support small-scale organic farms that produce and distribute food within the region. But small urban gardens, grown by individuals or families, can also play an important role in local food production.

Fortunately the community garden movement has made having a garden possible for even the most urban of urbanites. Here in San Francisco, the City and County Recreation & Parks Department supports and manages a program of about 40 community gardens on City-owned property. Garden plots are available on a first-come, first-served basis to anyone who lives or works in San Francisco (city residents have priority). Edible and ornamental plants – fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers – can be grown in community garden plots.

Participating in an urban garden project can improve your quality of life, build community, and help create a better world on many levels. The American Community Gardening Association states that “community gardening improves the quality of life for people by providing a catalyst for neighborhood and community development, stimulating social interaction, encouraging self-reliance, beautifying neighborhoods, producing nutritious food, reducing family food budgets, conserving resources and creating opportunities for recreation, exercise, therapy and education.?

San Francisco’s city-sponsored community gardens are entirely operated and maintained by volunteer members. Although each site is part of the city-wide Community Gardens Program, each site is also unique and self-sustaining. Gardens are usually supported by a modest membership fee agreed upon by the members who have plots at that garden location.

The gardens are all-organic – composting and other ecological gardening techniques are encouraged and supported, and only organic-based fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are allowed. The Community Gardens Program also promotes water-conserving irrigation methods.

Educational workshops and demonstration programs related to urban gardening and composting are offered by an independent organization called Garden for the Environment, which receives support from the City of San Francisco Department of Environment. Most of the educational programs take place at the 7th and Lawton community garden in the Sunset and are free and open to the public.

If all of these eco-friendly, low-cost, bringing-neighbors-together incentives aren’t enough to convince you, consider the best reason to get a community garden plot and “Grow Yer Own? - it tastes better! There’s nothing like the taste of a fresh home-grown tomato, just picked off the vine. Or the incredible flavorful sweetness of a carrot from your own garden. Most of us would agree that store-bought produce can’t come close to matching the freshness and flavor of home-grown veggies.

Click here to locate a community garden in your neighborhood. For information about gardening and composting educational programs, visit the Garden for the Environment website .

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