“We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of our time: How much is enough?”
-- Aldo Leopold
It may be hard to tell, given how warm it has been these last weeks, but we are nearing the end of another garden season. “Putting up” the year's bounty is, perhaps, the most crucial moment of the gardening endeavor because it forces the home gardener to reflect on the question posed by Aldo Leopold: “How much is enough?”
After a long season of carefully tending tomatoes and peppers, fighting back the weeds, bugs and rabbits, to then wash and preserve your produce and realize that it only half-filled your pantry is a very sobering moment. It's not hard to understand why so many new gardeners throw up their blistered, cracked hands and head to the nearest grocery store to stock up.
At Community Crops — a nonprofit organization with more than a decade of experience in creating opportunities for Lincoln residents to grow food for themselves — we constantly are working towards a better understanding of how much food is needed to feed our city and how it can be done as close to Lincoln as possible. We are training beginning farmers to start their own operations and to sell directly to Lincoln consumers; we work at five Lincoln schools, where we've helped build gardens that serve as dynamic learning spaces to enhance students' experiences and get them thinking about food at an early age; and, most visibly, we manage community gardens that convert unused land into productive, beautified landscapes where food is grown.
Our community garden program provided space at 11 sites for 240 Lincoln families (about 900 people total) to grow some of their own food this year and to get hands-on experience with the many trials and tribulations that come with food production. Collectively, our community gardeners had a tremendously successful year, growing more than 30,000 pounds of food in about an acre and a half of space.
In addition to the fresh produce, gardeners get to meet new people and share tips and techniques; they get some exercise, without having to pay for a gym membership; and, importantly, they can turn off their cellphones, step away from the computer and get a mental break from the hectic demands of daily life.
Even if the average gardener struggles to find time to get to the garden to pull weeds, or loses most of their lettuce to the rabbits, they have a different perspective when they go to the store in January to buy a tomato. In my mind, that is the major benefit of community gardening: planting the seed of curiosity in each gardener, a seed that is renewed each time they step into the garden or the grocery store.
In reality, we never will grow enough food for all of Lincoln in the community gardens, but if we can get more people to understand the importance of a more localized food system, all of us who believe in community gardens will have done our job.