There have been changes in the economy and a shift in suburbization that have caused many inner city areas to become downtrodden. Some of the residential areas have given rise to a growing number of poor single parent families that are living amidst high rates of violence, and drugs. The opportunities for resources in these neighborhoods are limited, but many neighborhood residents are coming together to form coalitions to better their neighborhoods and their lives. Many neighborhood groups are forming community gardens in vacant lots, or even on rooftops. These community gardens are a great way to get both children and adults involved in beautifying the neighborhood community while working with nature.
There is a book called Takiya and Thunderheart’s Life Garden that is about children who revive a neighborhood vacant lot into a flourishing vegetable garden. This book communicates to children what community gardening is all about and can be ordered through Spice of Life Educational Publishing. If you would like to visit a community garden to see what one is all about, try the Clinton Community Garden which is located in New York City. Information on community gardens in Vancouver and Montreal are also available. In Philadelphia , urban agriculture is widespread. To find out information about international urban agriculture, the City Farmer Homepage has a lot of information on this and other neat topics related to urban greening. The Seeds of Hope…Harvest of Pride site has good basic information and a number of links that can help people get started in community gardening.
The American Community Garden Association is a national organization that oversees many of the community gardens in the nation. They have tips on starting and maintaining community gardens. Kansas State University and the American Community Garden Association completed a nationwide study of community gardeners and the benefits they perceive. They also have provided this list of tips for working with kids in the garden.
Some Basic Tips for Gardeners Working with Kids
A picture is worth a thousand words. Never tell kids something you could show them.
Young kids have a very short attention span. Make sure that you have lots of options available so they can get started immediately and stay busy. Digging holes is one thing that seems to hold endless fascination.
Instant gratification helps a lot. Plant radishes even if you don’t like them-they come up in three or four days.
Growing their own will generally get kids to try eating things they otherwise wouldn’t walk into the same room with.
GETTING DIRTY IS AN INTEGRAL PART OF GROWING UP.
Your role should be as facilitator, rather than as a leader who imposes direction. Be a good model.
When giving out supplies to several kids, try to keep seeds, tools, etc. as similar as possible to avoid the inevitable squabbles.
After an activity, do something to reinforce what everyone has learned. Talk about what went on, who did what, who saw what. If you can, have them write things down or draw pictures. If they’re too young, take dictation.
Many kids who won’t talk in a large group will often speak easily in a small group.
When working with older kids (past about 13), one-to-one works better than groups, since gardening (and anything else that could get you dirty) is a remarkably un-cool and disgusting way to spend time. Try to add responsibility and ownership to projects. (“Quincy is in charge of the wheelbarrow today.”) Try pairing up older kids with younger ones. Rest assured that if you give them a healthy respect for gardens and green things when they are young, it will all come back to them once the acne goes away.
Children are very sensitive to lead poisoning and should take these precautions when working in the garden.
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