Community Gardens Relieve Family Budgets

With a little resourcefulness, communities around the country have found alternatives to the supermarket produce section, turning to their own backyards and empty city lots. Community gardens have become an attractive option in today's economy.

"We're seeing this movement really taking off," said Sadhu Johnston, Chicago's chief environmental officer.

The city provides the soil and water for the gardens and the sunlight takes care of the rest.

"They're on public right of ways, on little abandoned vacant lots in neighborhoods," Johnston said. "It doesn't have to be a big fancy green space in order to grow food there."

By turning abandoned lots into produce-rich gardens, some Americans have been able to get together to combat rising food costs.

"When you walk into a grocery store and a green pepper is anywhere between $1.50 and $2.00," said Gwenne Hayes-Stewart, board member of the American Community Gardening Association and director of Gateway Greening, a St. Louis-based organization that helps start neighborhood gardens throughout the area, "This can make a real difference to a low income family, or, for that matter, to any family."

All consumers have faced sticker shock at the supermarket this summer, watching food prices rise by 5 percent this year. While a sprig of basil at the store ranges in cost from $2 to $3, it is free in the community garden's basil patch.

Sales of seeds have risen 40 percent since last year, said George Ball Jr., president and owner of the Burpee Seed Company. He attributes the spike in seed sales to the rising cost of groceries, and the popularity of going "green."

An estimated 20,000 community gardens have sprouted up in cities and towns across the United States, growing fresh, local produce. St. Louis has turned thousands of vacant lots from liabilities into assets.

Since their backyard was heavily shaded by trees, Brooke and James Roseberry of St. Louis joined their local community garden, and grow their own produce for their family, with very little experience.

"Last year, James grew a sweet potato that was the ugliest thing known to man," Brooke said. "But it was amazingly delicious."

One important perk of the community garden is that residents, like the Roseberry family, know where their food came from.

"Getting produce that's flown in from Chile, and things like that, is crazy," James Roseberry said. "We wanted to bring a lot of that closer to home."

Incidents, like the salmonella outbreak, which has sickened over 1,000 people in the United States, and that the Food and Drug Administration initially attributed to tomatoes, fostered fear in the consumer market about the path their food travels before it lands on their plates.

But in a community garden, tracing the trail is as easy as walking around the corner.

Bill and Rogerine Kinds, retired St. Louis residents, joined with more than 50 of their neighbors to build the McPherson Community Garden, in what was once an abandoned lot. They have seen the once trouble-prone lot transform to grow sunflowers, basil, turnip greens, and more.

"I think people are afraid it's going to take up too much of their time," Rogerine said, "and some people are just downright lazy!"

Having both grown up on farms, the Kinds see gardens as a way to bring fresh food back to their urban lifestyle. Gardening is both financially and personally rewarding.

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