Growing gardens & community locally, and nationally

Ganei Beantown is building a network of Jewish educational community gardens, and our mission is to build community through experiential food and agriculture programming. As we’re always anxious to learn from others, this past July 27-30 I was lucky to attend the annual conference of the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) hosted in our northeast region, Hartford, CT. The Mission of the American Community Gardening Association is to build community by increasing and enhancing community gardening and greening across the United States and Canada.

As our network continues to grow and evolve, Ganei Beantown leadership  looks forward to opportunities like this to connect with other leaders in the field. Workshop topics ranged from growing tips and tricks to how-to do community engagement. It included tours of local gardens, regional conversations, and pub gatherings. Conveniently located in downtown Hartford, behind the buildings were some beautiful, large parks.

It brought together a healthy combination of professionals and volunteers from around the country, and like any good conference, table conversations were great networking opportunities over good healthy food.

I took part in an intensive on School and community gardens that included representatives of Food Corps CT,, Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation, and representatives of Edible School Gardens of the East End (NY). The afternoon was a mixture of curriculum sharing, connection to resources and group conversation and sharing.

Another workshop brought folks from Indianapolis Urban Patch to share their work making their inner city better using a “past forward” approach that “…brings the rich legacy of our community’s past in building strong and resilient neighborhoods forward to today and the future by using holistic models of social, environmental and economic community development.”

An example of their work is displayed here in a comparative community mapping project from 1948 and today:

Most apparent in a workshop by VT Community Garden Network and University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science was that the challenges we are experiencing in building a network of Jewish educational gardens in the greater Boston area are echoed at locations around the country, faith based or not. It was very affirming to sit in a room with others and hear stories of network growing pains, communication breakdowns, membership deliberations, and frustrations echoed. There were also stories of educational milestones reached, joyful and funny moments, as well as  increased interest and growing wait lists. Many in the workshop were just starting garden networks, and gained inspiration from veterans in the room.

The funding and support systems of various community gardening groups are varied and diverse. As Ganei Beantown works to build a strong, connected Jewish sustainable food community in greater Boston, we look forward to building our support structures, institutional partnerships, and increasing the local produce grown for local communities.  

We agree with the ACGA that:

“… community gardening improves people’s quality of life by providing a catalyst for neighborhood and community development, stimulating social interaction, encouraging self-reliance, beautifying neighborhoods, producing nutritious food, reducing family food budgets, conserving resources and creating opportunities for recreation, exercise, therapy and education.”

We know first-hand that gardening and community building are inextricably tied together. We see this in our synagogue and day school partners as they think holistically about their land use and outdoor community gathering spaces. It is affirming to see these discussions also happening in other places around the country.

As Ganei Beantown  grows our community here in Boston, we look both outward and inward for inspiration and helping hands.