Monday, August 9, 2010

American Community Gardening Association Annual Meeting

Diving for free seeds, thanks Ferry-Morse
I got back last night exhausted but enthused after 4 days at the ACGA annual meeting in Atlanta. I traveled with my co-worker and garden manager Kelly O. This was my first foray into a meeting of this organization and I was majorly impressed. The title of this years conference was A Holistic Approach to Building Sustainable and Healthy Communities, the Choice is Yours. Not only was the content of the sessions excellent, but the extracurricular activities were outstanding including a visit to the Atlanta Botanical Garden and a throw down at the Atlanta Metro Urban Farm, an effort recently undertaken by the president of ACGA, Bobby Wilson along with other community garden and food security folks in Atlanta. The event was sponsored by Whole Foods Market, and featured:
 a pit cooked whole hog, collards and black-eyed peas,

roasted sweet potatoes,

and a low country boil of potatoes, corn, crab and sausage. Banana pudding rounded out the meal washed down by lots of wine from Robert Mondavi and the whole night was made complete with a killer blues band, led by fourth generation bluesman Tony Bryant. OOOO, OO, OO, OOWEE!

But seriously, I came back super inspired by the work that is going on all across the country, and the world for that matter, to bring people back to the land, to provide opportunities for people to grow their own fresh food on public and private lands. Many efforts are underway to provide assistance to the homeless and people who are visiting local food banks and pantries to get access to fresh produce. If you have ever visited a food bank you know that everything is usually in cans and boxes because they don’t have capacity to deal with lots of perishables.

When I have volunteered at our local Inter-Faith Council Food Pantry here in Carrboro I’ve been saddened to only have the occasional fresh potato, onion or bell pepper to offer to the families coming in, fresh foods are a luxury to the poor, and often completely unavailable to people who live in what has been termed “food deserts” places in rural and urban areas that have no decent grocery stores for miles. The only option many families have is the local package store or quickie mart to buy groceries to try and feed the family and the result is the obesity epidemic that we are now dealing with in our country that affects the poor more than other groups. It’s a crazy oxymoronic situation of overweight in the face of food scarcity thanks to the availability of high carbohydrate foods loaded with corn syrup that fill up hungry people but don’t provide nutrition.
But don’t get me started on that. Tours were offered to visit community gardens all over the city. My tour featured four gardens that were organized by various refugee relief organizations and I got to meet people from many places, proud of their gardens.

Ladies from Bhutan

Gentleman from Somalia
I recognized the vegetables grown by the people of Burma that have become familiar to me in our gardens, and saw a small farm that’s working to teach growing and marketing skills among a group of men and women from Burundi, Africa. What a wonderful thing to make land available to people who have been torn from there traditional roots via wars and famine and permit them an opportunity to reconnect to the soil and grow crops that can remind them of home.

Needless to say, we came back tired but excited and filled with ideas about how to make our community gardens better and how to work to advocate for more community gardens in NC. I want to challenge anyone reading this to consider making a contribution to or becoming a member of ACGA- its only $30 for an individual membership- in order to help promote this important work that’s feeding people and creating sustainability across our troubled country. I also encourage folks to get involved in your local food and sustainability movements wherever you are to help improve the health, nutrition and quality of life of all of our neighbors, not just those who can afford the high price that going local sometimes brings.

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