January is a great time for families to dream about their organic food garden and to draw a plan of where to grow their fruits and veggies. Edible plants that are also ornamental can be used to landscape any city or suburban plot; balconies can be filled with pots of veggies and with railing boxes of strawberries. The first step in making a garden plan is to make a rough sketch of the property: locating buildings, paths, boundaries, established trees, shrubs, and plant communities, any contours in the land, and then mapping the sun exposure throughout the day. This sketch can also be made for a balcony, patio, or community garden. By adding flowering native plants and removing lawns, families can create a sustainable garden with low water usage and low maintenance. The next step is to choose favorite veggies, berry bushes, and fruit trees to grow and decide where to plant them. To make a landscape sustainable the plants should be climate appropriate, planted with enough space to accommodate their mature size, and grouped with plants with the same water and light needs. Each raised garden bed can be drawn to scale to determine where to plant each herb and veggie. Another consideration is to place plants near one another because they enhance plant growth, discourage pests and diseases, or have some other beneficial effect. This companion planting also means to keep some plants separate that react poorly together. The last step is to draw the organic food garden plan on graph paper, measure the garden space, find the sun, and name the fruits, veggies, and herbs. A detailed garden plan builds family excitement for the project and gives an easy reference for planting the garden.
A food desert is an area that doesn’t have large grocery stores selling a variety of healthy foods. Instead, food desert areas have convenience stores and fast food places that sell foods high in empty calories and fat. With an abundant variety of available grants, people are turning empty lots into school and community gardens to grow organic fruits and veggies in food desert areas, an economical way to get the highest quality food. Growing food in a school or community garden, kids can put food on the table, improve their health, improve their environment and boost morale. Community gardening improves the quality of life, producing delicious organic food, regular exercise, and neighborly good will. Garden projects in outdoor class rooms help kids to learn where their food comes from and to develop healthy eating habits, especially when the fresh produce is used in cooking classes and school lunches. Outdoor classrooms at schools bring food studies into the curriculum and offer opportunities to taste, touch, and ingest lessons in virtually every academic subject on every grade level. A garden with cold frames and cloches can give kids a varied and changing diet with access to different antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients throughout the year. Rejuvenating an empty lot in a food desert area into a lush edible garden inspires the neighborhood to plant containers of flowers on fire escapes and herbs in window boxes giving the whole area new life.
School gardens give kids not only food, but exercise, science projects, and the connection to what is alive on the planet around us. Kids can start an organic school garden with a few herbs in pots by the classroom door. With teacher and parent support, kids can expand their garden by growing veggies and fruit trees in the unused places across the school campus. Edible gardens can bring people together planning and planting the garden, growing and harvesting their produce, and sharing organic produce within the community. Growing food in urban places, on patios, roofs, and fences is happening across the country as our population surges past 7 billion. More families want to know what’s in their food and are asking for organic whole fruits and veggies.
School gardens offer outdoor education. Kids can learn math and science lessons while building and decorating raised bed garden boxes. Raised Bed Gardens are abundantly productive, cost effective, accessible to all ages, and can create beautiful berry patches or butterfly gardens along the campus pathways. Kids can learn about the microbial life in the rich organic vegetable potting soil as they fill their raised bed boxes. Kids can study the seasons, the interaction of beneficial insects, and the synergy of life in the garden, while attaching nets, covers, and trellises to their boxes. Kids’ brains are charged in the garden with exercise, fresh air, smelling the herbs, communing with the microbes in the soil, and listening to the birds and bees. Kids can install a drip watering system with a battery run timer which delivers water right to the plant’s root. Vertical crops, like pole beans, can be planted in containers and bring a living tapestry to a grey concrete wall. Kids love growing in pizza slice-shaped garden boxes, planting toppings like basil, oregano, tomato, eggplant, and peppers with mulched paths delineating the pizza slices and making it easy to access the beds. Installing a pizza oven can be an inspiration to bring the community together over pizzas topped with school grown organic ingredients. Kids can start an organic container garden at their school and illustrate the abundance of organic produce that can be grown in urban places.