Who is Involved?
From my research, I have found a variety of wonderful grassroots organization both in New York City and elsewhere in the US. Many different figures were involved in founding and continuing these organizations including teachers, community members, neighborhood boards, professional gardeners, chefs and of course students. This area of action attracts a huge range of people inclusive to anyone with an interest in food, education, or community.
How have they organized?
Some of the organizers began informally, others through existing community organizations. Organizations like La Familia Verde were created through their community district boards after they recognized a problem with fresh food access in their neighborhood. Other organizations like Green Guerillas were founded by individuals interested in improving schools and neighborhoods with more greenery. One of the unifying themes I have noticed is that most of the organizations aim to be solely made up by community members. Even when some organizations have outside members involved, they try to limit their influence. This impacts organizing by making it more inclusive, and makes it more accessible to everyone, not just the professionals. Some of the organizations I looked out like Green Guerillas worked especially to mobilize students themselves, and let students take control. Having leadership positions in community organizations make students feel more involved, and increases confidence.
Many of the issues that these grassroots organizations target intersect with other challenges other than gardening education. Each organization targets a slightly different aspect of implementing gardening programs. One major issue is lack of transparency in neighborhood information. Many community members are unaware of how the spaces in their neighborhood are sold and used, and for how much money. In New York, these deals can be made at higher levels, leaving community members feeling out of touch and like they have no control.
One of the organizations I looked at, 596 Acres was founded to increase transparency in Brooklyn neighborhoods by making maps of local land plots, and tracking the prices. They were able to find that the city was selling plots all over Brooklyn to developers for $1 each! Keeping citizens aware of this can help them know where gardening opportunities are, but also improves interactions and accountability in the neighborhood overall. Another issue that intersects with school gardening is nutrition. While many organizations highlight the educational aspects of school gardens nutrition, especially in poorer neighborhoods, lack of nutrition be a major cause of health problems in students. The organization Just Food helps train groups or individuals in nutrition and cooking for schools and communities. Both organizations have affected these problems through educating the community. Creating training programs also allows community members themselves to facilitate this education process in the future.
There are many obstacles that even these organizations cannot fully remedy. Even if school gardens are able to provide nutrition education and nutritional food to students throughout the year with programs like FoodCorps and Just Food, students and their families may find it difficult to continue the healthy patterns due to budget and time constraints. It can also be difficult for individuals in a community to advocate against the city when it comes to selling off land parcels. Not every school in the city can have the space or resources to create a gardening program, and it requires a lot of dedicated involvement that not every school has.
These organizations have had a lot of impact on the communities they target. La Familia Verde has noticed improved neighborhood cohesion, voter registration, and food availability in poorer neighborhoods in the Bronx through their local events. Other organizations like the Battery Urban Farm that work directly with student education have impacted students through math and science programs. Other programs using technology like EarthBox have seen improved school attendance and less behavioral incidents in the year since they started gardening programs (Stoltzfus, 2017).