Earlier this year, I was driving around town (like I often do for my job) when I noticed a bunch of these:
Now, I know that some cities already let people make gardens on certain vacant lots and such. And some people have become quite creative with making gardens on their balconies, on their windowsills, and even on their roofs. In my research, I also read about so-called guerrilla gardening, where people just plant things in anyplace that looks abandoned - and even though it's technically illegal, cities tend to look the other way since it does beautify the city, doesn't hurt anyone, etc. I was really excited to read about these things. I couldn't find anything about specifically food gardening plans implemented by the city itself, though. That doesn't mean it hasn't happened; I just couldn't find anything reported about it.
The first (and obvious) benefit of a program like this is that more food would be grown. The food could then be distributed to the hungry via food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, vouchers at farmers' markets, or any other avenue the city has in place. People who are normally sustained on "non-perishable" food items discarded by others or cafeteria-type meals would have more fresh (and local!) produce to eat. This is part of the reason I envisioned a city-run plan for this. The city could issue produce vouchers or utilize already-existing methods such as food stamps (I'm sure it could be done somehow). The same tax dollars or whatever funding is currently used to purchase flowers and other plants could be used to purchase vegetable seeds. The same people who are currently hired to mow and weed could be paid to tend the fruits and vegetables. Jobs would be maintained and possibly even created. People would get healthy food to eat. And after distributing the produce, there was still food left over, it could be sold & the proceeds used to continue this program and maybe even give funds to other city or charitable programs. There are so many possibilities.
In addition to the medians around town, I also see possibilities between lanes of traffic on the freeway and between on-ramps and off-ramps, which look something like this:
I'm sure there are even other benefits I haven't considered yet. All I know is that every time I drive or walk past a green space, this idea keeps flashing through my mind again and again. But along with this vision I've been seeing, I've also come up with lots of questions crucial to any possible implementation of something like this. Some of these questions are:
- How would the caretakers/harvesters/etc. get to the medians? Most of them are in the middle of the road and in the middle of traffic. Others are in the middle of the freeway or on the side of the highway with nowhere to park. I don't know where current mowing crews, etc., park or how they get there safely, but I suppose that gardeners would do the same. It would definitely be something to consider when choosing which medians to plant.
- Which medians would be planted with vegetables and which would remain planted with grass or flowers? Grass and flowers are definitely beautiful. They definitely have their places. We wouldn't want to replace ALL of those with veggies.
- How would the workers stay safe while taking care of the plants?
- These gardens, as I've mentioned before, would be in the middle of the road or on the side of the road. How would the exhaust fumes from all the vehicles affect the growth, quality, and safety of the plants and food? Would it still be good or healthy to eat? Would it affect the size of the fruits and vegetables? The flavor? Thanks to my friend for the link about pollution effects on plants, here.
- Would this program solely be run by the city, or would volunteer groups be involved? For example, some cities (such as Indianapolis) have an "adopt a median" program for anyone to plant and take care of medians. So far, I've only seen flowers and bushes, though. If a volunteer did the planting and gardening, would that person or organization keep the produce (or donate it as they wish), or would they give it to the city for distribution? What would the guidelines be (and how would they be enforced) to ensure that the gardens were kept up? Would volunteers work in the city gardens or just in the volunteer gardens?
- What kinds of vegetables would be grown? I can think of plenty of places where corn, for example, would not be a prudent crop (think safety reasons). And we wouldn't want apple trees dropping apples onto the road or something. In addition, there are ways to arrange vegetable crops attractively. Who would decide this? How would it be done?
- I've had some ideas for distribution, but what would be the most efficient way to get this food to people?
- How would the plants get watered during times of drought, for example? One possibility I thought of was rain barrels, but I wasn't sure where these would be kept, etc., or if that would actually work.
- How would the city or community control for potential stealing?
- Would there be any efforts for canning, freezing, etc., for distribution during the colder months, or would that be up to the individuals?