Thursday, June 21, 2012

Community Gardening and Me

Video from community gardening tour 2010. To view with closed captioning, please open video in Youtube.

 Had the chance to attend a local event showcasing community gardening. Can You Dig It, a community garden tour promoted by the Mecklenburg County Fruit & Vegetable Coalition  (MCFVC) was the second community garden tour put on by the group since the first one in 2010 (video above is from 2010). It was set up as a self-guided tour, which was wonderful because it allowed you to take your time or pick which locations you want to visit.

Inherent to gardens, accessibility is not easy. Out of the five locations, I can only think of two, Atherton Mill Farmer's Market and the garden at Central United Methodist that were arranged near a large parking lot with handicapped parking spaces and on level ground that would support a wheelchair or someone with mobility/balance issues. Although Central UM did not have a ramp into the garden when I was there, I am sure they would accommodate if needed.

The other gardens were wonderful with beautiful examples of everything from social, communal gardening to intensive gardening where plants are grouped close together to promote insect control and water conservation. There were plenty of free plants to take home and presentations at each garden that truly gave a personal touch. But, I realized that I could not enjoy these gems with any of my friends who need wheelchair access without risking them becoming stuck in the dirt, mud or uneven ground or having a difficult ascent to the actual location of the garden.

While I understand this didn't cross anyone's mind when the gardens were conceived or built, it created a conundrum for me. Out of all the locations where actual gardening took place, only one; Central UM, was conceived and built with accessibility in mind. In fact, one of the speakers, Jackson, met us in his wheelchair to show off his raised bed and how he had a part in building the woodwork around the site.

Far from being only an inspirational character, he showed how accessibility to communal gardening benefited him in simple, practical ways. It was a place where he could show his talents with woodwork, grow his own produce to supplement his food-style, and make sure others had what they needed. Before the tour was over, he and I exchanged phone numbers so he could help me with a raised bed plan for my own garden as well as possibly building a picnic table for my backyard.
[Slideshow does not have captions or descriptions. Will try to get site to update images. ]

I came home still wondering if more people with disabilities would participate if they were involved in the planning of these gardens from the "ground up." Even at the Winterfield Garden that has the great distinction of being the only Parks and Recs garden working with a public school, there wasn't a designated accessible path to get to the garden beyond trekking up an incline. I also didn't see any raised beds. 

I hope to be involved with MCFVC in the future as a volunteer, and as the hope is that there will be gardens across Mecklenburg County, especially on the grounds of public schools, I hope to bring the idea of accessibility to the proverbial table, along with the conversation of how to bring fresh, local fruits and vegetables to more people in our communities.

How about where you live? Are the community gardens, which receive funds, materials and assistance from your local governments, accessible to all? Is it openly promoted to local groups dealing with persons with disabilities so that they are aware of these resources and social activities?  Drop a line and let me know.

Resources for the Greater Charlotte area:
Interactive Map of Charlotte's Farmer's Markets
List of County Community Gardens
Mecklenburg County Fruits & Vegetables Coalition (MCFVC)
Sow Much Good
Field To Fork Program

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