Community Garden nourishes all

Posted by Christine, March 21, 2012

It’s not just fishing in Morro Bay. The San Luis Obispo Tribune reports:

In 2003, the pastor of the Estero Bay United Methodist Church in Morro Bay, Steve Islander, and board member Lee Greenwalt proposed temporarily using some of the church’s vacant property as a community garden.

A meeting to discuss the potential garden attracted sufficient interest to organize. Master Gardener Johannah Varland was designated community garden manager, a role she has maintained.


    Agree on basic rules ahead of time to avoid misunderstandings.

    Garden plots should be at least 10-by-10-feet, with 4-foot pathways. Dig trenches along pathways to install water lines and hose bibs, one faucet for every four plots. Spray heads on hoses should have automatic shut-off valves.

    Use gravel to provide pathways with a firm, flat, fast-draining, mud-free surface that is easy to weed.

    Economical deer fencing keeps out deer and stray pets; chicken wire or hardware cloth under raised beds excludes gophers; row covers protect young plants from birds and insects; mulch conserves water and prevents soil-borne disease.

    Allow space for fruit trees on the north side of the garden; designate a streetside space for bulk deliveries of gravel, mulch and soil; provide sufficient space for large compost containers.

    — Master Gardener Johannah Varland

Volunteers, including the Civilian Conservation Corps and Summer Youth Corps, laid out 12-by-15-foot plots, mulched the pathways, installed the irrigation system and fenced the perimeter. The city of Morro Bay donated a new water meter to separate garden usage from that of the church.

The garden opened in 2004, with rental fees of $60 annually. One feefree plot is devoted to the church’s day-care program. While the children learn about growing food plants, healthy eating habits are instilled.

After five successful years, church officials concluded that the community garden was the best long-term use for the land. Since then, a row of 15-by-15-foot plots, for $65 a year, has been added.

It’s now the largest community garden in the county, with 42 plots, Varland said. Newcomers will usually find a plot available. Gardening novices are welcomed into a community whose members are eager to share garden tips, as well as surplus seeds, plants and produce.

At the low end of the garden, five hens share a coop with ‘Rusty’ rooster, whose striking appearance and classic “cock-a-doodle-doo” evokes a storybook character. A clever gating system between the chicken pen and two flanking pens for compost containers allows the fowl access to garden discards in exchange for their valuable manure.

The garden shed was built by members Mike Armstrong and Albert Nunes. Its exterior wood siding was donated by Don Seawater of Pacific Coast Lumber. The southern wall has a seed-starting bench below corrugated greenhouse windows. The opposite wall is fitted with used kitchen cabinets from the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. Neatly hung garden tools are readily accessible.

Donated fruit trees, rosemary and flowers fill a 25-foot wide communal area along the street. The central path through the garden is also communal space. Wide enough to accommodate a long row of wooden picnic tables and benches, it’s the site of the organization’s annual spring barbecue fundraiser.

On April 29, this delightful mid-garden space will be where participants on the Annual AAUW Garden Tour will be served complimentary refreshments. The $10 tour tickets support the local American Association of University Women’s scholarship fund.

Sharon Crawford is a freelance writer who lives in Los Osos.

Community gardens can be part of resilient agriculture:

Durable food security and agricultural growth depend on development strategies with resilience built in from the start, says Gordon Conway.

Economic growth with resilience to environmental threats will be central to the agenda of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June this year, which aims to map out a pathway of sustainable development for the planet.

The ‘zero draft’, the document that will form the basis of conference negotiations, states a resolve to fight hunger, eradicate poverty and work towards just and economically stable societies.

Food security is critical to this mission. The threats are numerous: repeated food price spikes; shortages of good-quality land and water; rising energy and fertiliser prices; and the consequences of climate change.

Already, somewhere between 900 million and a billion people are chronically hungry, and by 2050 agriculture will have to cope with these threats while feeding a growing population with changing dietary demands. This will require doubling food production, especially if we are to build up reserves for climatic extremes.

To do this requires sustainable intensification — getting more from less — on a durable basis.

Combining traditional and technological

Farmers around the world will need to produce more food and other agricultural products on less land, with fewer pesticides and fertilisers, less water and lower outputs of greenhouse gases.

This must be done on a large scale, more cheaply than current farming methods allow. And it will have to be sustainable — that is, it must last. For this to happen, the intensification will have to be resilient.

The latest report of the expert Montpellier Panel [1], which I chair, lays out a vision of agricultural growth for Sub-Saharan Africa that is resilient — able to withstand or recover from stresses and shocks. The report makes specific recommendations around resilient agriculture, resilient people and resilient markets.

Developing resilient agriculture will require technologies and practices that build on agro-ecological knowledge and enable smallholder farmers to counter environmental degradation and climate change in ways that maintain sustainable agricultural growth.

Examples include various forms of mixed cropping that enable more efficient use and cycling of soil nutrients, conservation farming, microdosing of fertilisers and herbicides, and integrated pest management.

These are proven technologies that draw on ecological principles. Some build on traditional practices, with numerous examples working on a small scale. In Zambia, conservation farming, a system of minimum or no-till agriculture with crop rotations, has reduced water requirements by up to 30 per cent and used new drought-tolerant hybrids to produce up to five tons of maize per hectare — five times the average yield for Sub-Saharan Africa.

The imperative now is scaling up such systems to reach more farmers.

Another solution is to increase the use of modern plant and animal breeding methods, including biotechnology. These have been successful in providing resistance to various pests of maize, sorghum, cowpeas, groundnuts and cotton; to diseases of maize and bananas; and to livestock diseases.

These methods can help build resilience rapidly. We need to combine them with biotechnology-based improvements in yield through improved photosynthesis, nitrogen uptake, resistance to drought and other impacts of climate change.

Agro-ecology and modern breeding methods are not mutually exclusive. Building appropriate, improved crop varieties into ecological agricultural systems can boost both productivity and resilience.

Enabling environments

The Montpellier Panel report recommends that governments, the private sector and nongovernmental organisations work together to help develop resilient and sustainable intensification; combat land and water degradation; and build climate-smart agriculture, such as conservation farming.

These partnerships can also build the resilience of people by increasing the reach of successful nutrition interventions and building diverse livelihoods, especially by focusing on rural women and young people. The report particularly recommends taking part in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) framework that aims to greatly reduce the number of stunted children, which stands at roughly 50 million in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The report also describes how to achieve resilient markets that enable farmers to increase production, take risks and generate income through innovation while ensuring food is available at an affordable price.

Creating grain stores and opening up trade across Africa can reduce food price volatility. The continent also needs more private investments and public–private partnerships that will encourage increased production.

Developing agriculture with resilience depends on science, technology and innovation; but there are no magic bullets. We need strong political leadership.

An excellent example is Ghana, where agricultural gross domestic product has risen by five per cent each year for the past decade and the millennium development goal of halving hunger by 2015 has already been achieved. This was largely due to the leadership of former president John Kufuor who gave agricultural development a high priority and created an enabling environment for the adoption of new technologies and other innovations.

This is a crucial year. The sequence of G8, G20 and Rio+20 summit meetings provides a ready platform for the international community to coordinate policies and intensify investments. I am optimistic that agricultural development and food security will be priorities, and an agenda based on agricultural growth with resilience will be a key outcome.

Gordon Conway is professor of international development at the Agriculture for Impact programme at Imperial College London, United Kingdom.

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