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Urban Gardening Renaissance

Originally appears in the Winter 2008-2009 issue

Urban centers are often viewed as polluted areas devoid of green space and removed from the natural rhythms of growth. In contrast to this perception, many urban areas are currently undergoing a “green renaissance” whereby schools and community associations are reclaiming vacant and neglected industrial land. School and community approaches to creating urban gardens are varied, and can be as simple as adding a row of flowers to the front of the school, or as involved as turning a cleared vacant lot into a lush, urban oasis. While there is no singular approach to the creation of an urban garden, there are three main catalysts to the creation of school gardening programs. These three catalysts are: community service, community pride and education, and creating a green school philosophy.

Community service – BUGS program

Urban gardening has long been used as a strategy to “take back the community” in areas of high poverty and civil unrest. Gardening projects in these neighborhoods facilitate community development by creating safe spaces and learning opportunities for high-risk youth. Students gain a sense of accomplishment from seeing a project through from inception to fruition, and they are able to participate in projects that have a direct benefit to their communities. While traditional schoolyard gardening programs might aim to provide food or beautify school grounds, programs oriented toward community outreach emphasize the practical and economic benefits of urban gardens. For example, food from the garden might be donated to a local soup kitchen, homeless shelter or food bank, or students might operate farmers’ markets and other business ventures affiliated with the gardening program.

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Krystyann Krywko is a former early childhood teacher, currently working on an Ed. D. in International Education Development at Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York City.