What activity can decrease a low-income family’s dependence on food assistance, promote health, reduce crime, and bring people of different income and education levels together? Gardening can accomplish all this and more.
Since botanist and garden enthusiast Larry Stebbins responded to the lack of community gardens in Colorado Springs, Colorado by starting the nonprofit Pikes Peak Urban Gardens (PPUG) in 2007, hundreds of volunteers have become involved in creating plots in low-income neighborhoods and educating their new owners on how to tend them. “By teaching others how to [garden], you empower them to be more in control of their food supply,” Stebbins told J. Adrian Stanley of the Colorado Springs Independent.
Case in point: Stebbins said that one low-income family participating in the PPUG expanded the garden volunteers had helped them plant and were able to reduce using food stamps by 70 percent during the summer months when tomatoes, zucchinis, and other produce was abundant.
Another benefit to gardening? The nonprofit has learned over the years that when the plots are physically close together in proximity, not only is a feeling of community created, but also an atmosphere in which gardeners learn from and share with each other. Now it plants “pods” of gardens, such as the nine clustered gardens they established in a low-income neighborhood this year with the help of a $3,000 grant from the Colorado Home and Garden Show.
In addition to helping people plant their own gardens, Pikes Peak Urban Gardens has established two urban farms that grow produce for charities; some of the homeless people that benefit from the produce pitch in to tend those crops, alongside volunteers from all walks of life. Stebbins told Stanley that one year, a doctor and a man who lived in subsidized housing struck up a garden-based friendship. “People come in their dungarees,” he said. “You don’t know if they’re rich, poor or whatever. And it’s a great equalizer, and it’s a great way for people to come together.” After all, we’re all united in our quest for that perfect tomato.