As technology seeks to connect people via virtual webs, the residents of Fresno’s Historic Lowell Neighborhood, with the help from Fresno Metro Ministry, have found a way to reconnect with their neighbors while also providing healthy food for their families, cleaner air for their community, and stress relief from tough economic times. The Lowell Community Garden celebrated its first growing season Aug. 17, 2012 and provides the neighborhood with more than just a hobby; instead neighbors say it has provided a sense of ownership in their community that reaches deeper than their small garden plot.
The Lowell Community Garden was the product of over two years of dedication and perseverance by the neighborhood and various local agencies dedicated to seeing positive change in the county. After the Fresno City Council voted against using money from the General Fund in December of 2010, the project hit a major roadblock. However, in March of 2012, PG&E presented Fresno Metro Ministry with a $20,000 donation to fund this important project. A month later a group of Americorp interns came to the neighborhood to trench for sprinklers, run PVC pipe, install faucets, create raised beds, add compost and construct granite pathways. Their hard work paid off as the land was first planted in May of 2012 and the seeds of the community began to grow. With 32 plots, and a waiting list, Lowell neighbors are now able to grow their own fruits and vegetables to provide healthy options for their own families as well as meet, mingle, and share with other neighbors.
Through efforts of the Lowell neighbors, the once abandoned plot at Belmont and Poplar Avenues is now a lush, thriving testament to the change one community can make to their landscape. Tom Matott, Community Gardens Coordinator for Fresno Metro Ministry, remembers working on the Lowell Community Garden and having neighbors drive by thanking him and the volunteers for the garden. He says, “They may not even be gardeners, but they appreciate the fact that there’s this thing that has changed the landscape of that corner. Now the neighbors are in there with their kids, growing food. It’s a positive productive space.”
Community gardens can do more than just bring an abandoned piece of land back to life. In the 2012 Community Gardens Status Report, facilitated by Fresno Metro Ministry, 98.4% of gardeners sited the opportunity to “Grow culturally traditional foods” as one of their reasons for gardening. Additionally, 93.7% said that the ability to “Preserve green space” was a beneficial factor, as well as “Reducing stress”, which was sited 90.5% of the time. In a time when the nation is seeing a rise in unhealthy eating habits, and diseases caused by chronic obesity, the Fresno community gardeners also felt that the “Opportunity for recreation”, receiving 97.6% of the votes, was another important reason for community gardening.
Even more important is the positive effects Community Gardens can have on the nation’s hunger crisis. The Food Research and Action Center’s (FRAC) study on food hardships in Metropolitan Statistical Areas reported that Fresno ranked number two in the country for food hardships. This means that 24.3% of people residing in the Fresno Metropolitan Area did not have enough money to buy needed food at times in the last 12 months. In an area that has an agriculture industry reaching well into the billions, the FRAC study proves that more needs to happen to protect the people of Fresno to insure that they receive the benefits of our growing region as well. Community Gardens seek to help this issue by allowing a low cost option for families to eat healthy while also providing a positive family activity.
Currently, zoning issues and urban sprawl block many new gardens from forming, but new legislation within the local government is trying to make it an attainable option for other communities. “Being able to have a place that you can go and grow and cultivate something,” Matott feels is a valuable option for the entire community, “There’s something to gardening itself. It’s an act of nurturing. There’s always the opportunity for regeneration. Gardeners have to believe in a positive future or else they wouldn’t put a seed in the ground.”
The Lowell Community Garden is proof of the difference one seed can make in a neighborhood. To change the landscape it takes nurturing, patience and the belief that things will always regenerate, there will always be another season, and one seed can change a community.