Community Gardens Help Grow Communities

Holly Johnson    Berries just starting to come into season at the Bay-Eagle Community Garden.

Should developers be required to provide space and other necessities for community gardens in new projects? That is a question for cities to consider as neighborhoods of single-family residences give way to multi-family housing.  

Community gardens are plots of land of any size where residents can rent or borrow space to grow their own food or grow food for others. The organizers or hosts usually provide water for irrigation, make tools available to borrow, and set guidelines for the space. These gardens can address many issues that arise when urban density and transit friendliness are prioritized, just as they fulfill important roles in traditional residential neighborhoods. 

In that way, the gardens become important tools for fighting climate change in that they make urban density more palatable. Science shows that gardening also removes carbon from the atmosphere.

Alameda has already demonstrated support for community gardens. The Housing Authority has sponsored the Bay Eagle Community Garden for nearly 40 years and the Recreation and Parks Commission included a community garden in the master plan for Jean Sweeney Open Space. 

The Bay Eagle garden is thriving. Meander past the fences on Eagle Avenue at Bay Street to see all sorts of fruit, vegetables and ornamental plants gardeners are cultivating. Gardeners donate surplus produce to the Alameda Food Bank to support Alameda’s most vulnerable residents. Plots are not easy to come by, but the Housing Authority maintains a waiting list. Call 747-4300 to join the list; priority is given to people who participate in Housing Authority programs.

“Community” is the key word in community gardens. Not only can gardens help get produce to the neediest families through the food bank, but they allow city residents to tend to their own needs and work together. 

“Community gardens not only address the fresh-food deserts that are often present in inner cities, but also provide a space for people to communicate across cultures, generations and lifestyles,” said Alejandra Vargas-Johnson, who volunteered with a community garden in downtown Los Angeles while studying community organizations in college. 

City governments should look to community gardens as a way to improve the lives of the community and the health of the planet. Whether Alameda begins to require — or strongly encourage — developers and landlords to include community garden space in their plans, or follows Berkeley’s lead by making sure that the city regulations allow for easy permitting of community gardens, our city government has an important role to play. 

The planned community garden at Jean Sweeney Open Space will make a terrific start. 

Alameda Backyard Growers is a network of gardeners in Alameda interested in growing food and donating fresh produce to neighbors who face food insecurity. Find the schedule for ABG’s monthly education meetings at www.alamedabackyardgrowers.com.