Although community gardens have a long history prior to World War II, it was during this time, in the midst of food rationing, when citizens answered the call in the name of the war effort, planting Victory Gardens to grow, eat and preserve fruits and vegetables for themselves and their families. At least 20 million private and cooperative gardens were created back then in backyards and empty lots in the name of patriotism.
Today, concern for the environment and awareness of the health issues associated with the use of chemicals and pesticides, has brought about a trend toward more nutritious, organically grown, fresh produce. Organic gardening relies on crop rotation to avoid insect and disease problems associated with a particular crop and the use of organic fertilizers, compost and mulch rather than the more traditional methods using insecticides, fungicides and chemical fertilizers. Local or home grown organic food is also known to be far more nutritious than traditionally grown produce. The organic movement is not lost on the traditional supermarkets, as most have jumped on the bandwagon, introducing organic produce and grocery items to their shelves. Limited selections and higher costs, nevertheless, have compelled many consumers to consider growing their own vegetables and herbs. Others, without the benefit of a personal outdoor space, have gravitated toward local community gardens where they can enjoy and appreciate the satisfaction of tending, harvesting and eating their own produce. There is also the added benefits of physical exercise, social interaction with fellow gardeners and emotional and physical health when eating a healthier and more wholesome diet. Gateway Park Community Organic Garden, located in Huntington, is a wonderful example of how a local community can come together. Growing produce while also supporting those less fortunate, provides an opportunity for the local community to improve their quality of life with a diet of healthy, home grown and nutritious food while also significantly reducing food costs.
Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA’s, are another path to realizing the benefits of healthy, sustainable organic produce while also supporting local farmers and the environment. These programs are based on you, the consumer, purchasing a share of a farmer’s harvest. A membership fee is prepaid early in the year to help the farmer purchase needed equipment and seeds. Then, from May or June until November, depending on the crops a particular farm grows, a weekly allotment of fresh picked produce is harvested specifically for you. Many of these farms have weekly drop off points in our area, so it’s important to choose a farm that delivers to a convenient location for you. Some membership require work participation, but considering that the majority of CSA’s are located at the east end of Long Island, this concept may be impractical for most of us. Produce selections and costs also vary from farm to farm, so checking out websites for the details is important. Homecoming Farm in Amityville is a wonderful example of a group, the Dominican Sisters in this case, coming together to support themselves and the community with a healthy and sustainable Community Supported Agriculture project. Bayard Cutting Arboretum and Bethpage Restoration Village are also CSA’s, but may or may not be organic.
As a consumer who purchases organic foods whenever and wherever possible, I find myself purchasing the same few available organic fruits and vegetables week after week. The experience of tasting a healthier and more varied choice of local organic produce, fresh from the farm, is very appealing and adds another benefit, for me at least, to join a CSA.
Being aware of the many options available on the garden path to a healthier diet, whether to have your own backyard garden, a plot at a local community garden or a weekly delivery from a CSA you will be an integral part of a rapidly growing movement to reconnect with nature and support a healthier, more sustainable environment.
Written by: Maria Ferrero