Urban Greenthumbs – Gardening in Underserved Communities
In the Bay Area, and particularly throughout Oakland, a number of non-profit organizations engage local residents, providing gardening opportunities and working with them them to grow fruits and vegetables and plant trees. The work that these organizations do is important for a number of reasons.
Strengthening Local Food Systems
Food insecurity, in which a community lacks access to grocery stores or other sources of fresh, healthy foods, plagues many low-income, urban areas. The result is that local residents must travel long distances to find health food, which is often difficult for those who must depend on public transportation. Many residents, therefore, resort to purchasing their groceries from liquor stores and convenience stores, where the food available is primarily processed and high in fat, corn syrup, and artificial ingredients. And because many low-income Americans lack sufficient health care, the problems are compounded, creating an alarming health gap separating those in low-income neighborhoods and their wealthier counterparts.
Organizations like People’s Grocery, City Slicker Farms, and Oakland Based Urban Gardens (OBUGS), operate organic, urban farms throughout Oakland and recruit local residents to help with planting, cultivation, and harvesting. They also provide the produce free or cheap to residents. By doing so, these organizations create a local food system that bypasses the corporate food system, which neglects low-income organizations it feels are not profitable enough to justify the construction of a grocery store.
Fighting Misconceptions about Community Value
In suburban neighborhoods around the country, streets are lined with trees and perfectly manicured shrubs and flower bushes. Residents often take pride in maintaining beautiful lawns. But this is not the case in underserved, urban communities, where trees and flower bushes may be few and far between.
Urban Releaf, a non-profit that works with residents in low-income neighborhoods in Oakland and Richmond, CA, has planted 8,500 trees along public sidewalks. By investing in the beautification of local communities, Urban Releaf’s work demonstrates to local residents that their well-being should be taken as seriously as that of wealthier suburbanites. Trees and flowers should not only be reserved for those with money.
Creating a More Livable Community
Those living in low-income neighborhoods face difficulties that those in more affluent communities are able to avoid. The work of urban farms and organizations like Urban Releaf work to mitigate some of those difficulties. By providing sources of healthy food, urban farms help to lessen the burden of going on long grocery trips that would otherwise be unavoidable for many local residents.
Organizations like Urban Releaf help to create a community that feels more comfortable. The concrete jungle, long swaths of cities where there is no green to be found, has a negative psychological impact upon local residents. But something as simple as planting trees can tangibly reduce that psychological stress.
Underserved communities have many needs that must be addressed. And many of them are being largely ignored. There is much this country must change if it is going to do right by its low-income citizens. Providing trees and fresh produce is only the tip of the iceberg – but it is an important step forward.