Sunday, March 21, 2010

Don't just garden, advocate

It may have been a gorgeous spring day yesterday, but the 35th annual Gardeners Gathering drew its regular crowd at Northeastern University, with many workshops filled and standing-room-only attendance at the noontime plenary session. I wish I could provide you with sharper photos of the event, but if you have been reading earlier posts, you are aware that I've been having problems with the focus and range finder of my digital camera. My search for repairs has taken me out of state, with a quote of about half the price of the camera itself. So I'll be shopping for a replacement, and hopefully finding a way to recycle this camera without adding to all of the other appliances in our landfills.The organization behind the Gardeners Gathering is the Boston Natural Areas Network. In her address, BNAN president Valerie Burns informed members of its Boston community gardens that compost delivery will be delayed 3-4 weeks; the compost comes from the city's collected yard waste and won't be released until tests reveal that it meets lead-level and other requirements. With that and some other business taken care of, she dedicated the remainder of her speech to the important issue of advocacy, explaining that many of our elected officials aren't aware of the community gardens within their districts. Gardens beautify our neighborhoods, make them safer, and bring people together, but it's simply not enough for us to grow and maintain our plots. With citywide budgetary constraints, it's the silent that are most likely to end up on the chopping block. So speak up at neighborhood meetings about the benefits of community gardens, and write letters to city councilors and other elected officials. According to Burns, for every one letter they get from a constituent, it is assumed that there are about a hundred others who feel the same way.

A gardener in the crowd brought our attention to a bill that was introduced last summer, H.R. 3225, The Community Gardens Act of 2009, which would provide funding for community gardens. Obviously, the Congress is tied up with the health care bill and other matters, but she urged us to contact our representatives to urge them to support it.Later I attended a few of the workshops, including Fresh Tastes from the Garden & Cooking with Seasonal Vegetables, put on by several graduates of BNAN's Master Urban Gardener program. After tasting Patricia's swiss chard with cannelloni and some kale seasoned with garlic and other spices, I am now trying to figure out where I can make room for these vegetables in my garden. Florence showed us different ways to use every part of the cassava plant, a major staple for many in African countries, and Phoebe had us taste-testing various salad dressings made from yogurt, orange juice, and herbs.

At the end, everyone reunited in the plenary room to hear Mayor Menino's annual remarks. In addition to urging everyone to invite him to their gardens at harvest time (which he does every year), he touted an initiative as a testament to his dedication to community gardening. For this year, he described the garden on Long Island (one of the Boston Harbor Islands), where residents of the homeless shelter help grow, harvest, and sell produce at a farmers market. The farm recently acquired 100 chickens, so he kidded the math-challenged by explaining that if each chicken laid an egg a day, there would be 700 after a week. After his speech, he stuck around to bestow awards and raffle prizes. The honored included the Hall of Fame inductee, the Southwest Corridor Parkland (11 gardens along the Southwest Corridor between the Back Bay and Jamaica Plain, including some I passed on my bike on the way home), and the Most Valuable Gardener, CiCi Kwan(sp?) of the Berkeley Street Community Garden. That she has never missed a garden cleanup in twenty-five years would put any work-hour slacker to shame.


Bryan Bunch said...

Sounds like a great day. I'm glad it was too far away for me to consider attending since I have managed to spend most of each day for the past four days working in my garden--a string that ends tomorrow both because of other commitments and expected bad weather.

Daphne said...

Looks like you had a great time while you were there. It seems like a wonderful event.

Thomas said...

I've been meaning a local food/gardening advocacy group here in Massachusetts. I will have to do a bit of research. Getting to know other gardening bloggers is great, but I would love to network with other local gardeners as well.

Sally said...

Bryan: It was a nice event, but I did pay for going as it meant I didn't get over to the MSG to start cleaning and preparing my plot.

Daphne: Thanks, it was. By the way, are you getting a plot in the Arlington community garden?

Thomas: I've wondered how easy it is to meet gardeners outside the community garden. Are you forming the group? Maybe you can get a table at your local farmers market and see who shows up? If I learn of anything or anyone up your way that I'll pass it on.