Growing Gardens for Body and Mind

Growing Gardens, in Portland, OR, provides low-income families and schools with the material and educational resources needed to grow their own food.

| November 2012

Reclaiming Our Food Cover

"Reclaiming Our Food" is a practical guide for building a local food system, from urban lots to rural communities.

Cover Courtesy Storey Publishing

Over the last decade a food revolution has taken place: More and more people are turning to local sources for the food they eat. Through the voices of people on the front line, Reclaiming Our Food (Storey Publishing, 2012) provides insightful commentary on the grassroots local-food movement across the country. In this excerpt from Chapter 1, author Tanya Denckla Cobb talks about a non-profit organization in Portland, Oregon, called Growing Gardens, that is helping low-income communities grow their own food. 

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: Reclaiming Our Food.     

Growing Gardens’ mission is to promote home-scale organic food gardening to improve nutrition, health, and self-reliance while enhancing the quality of life and the environment for individuals and communities in Portland, Oregon. The group works primarily with low-income populations and schools, assisting them in cultivating gardens, increasing awareness of and interest in fresh local produce, integrating gardening into classroom curricula, and offering practical courses in cooking, preserving, and other aspects of garden-related living.

Some people think of gardening as an upper-class hobby, enticing only to those who have the time and money for it. Some think that lower-income people simply can’t be expected to be interested in growing their own food because they lack the land and resources or, as they often work two or more jobs, because they must also lack the time and energy to tend a garden. And if they have kids? Well, they must be too busy running between work and child-care duties. But in northeast Portland the nonprofit organization Growing Gardens, which promotes organic home food gardening, is blowing these stereotypes away. Since 1996 it has installed more than seven hundred home food gardens, and it is unable to meet the demand for home food gardens among the low-income population it serves.

“Growing Gardens is all about making sure that people have access to good, fresh food — healthy fruits and vegetables,” says Debra Lippoldt, executive director. “The neat thing is that people are actually growing for themselves, and we’re just helping them get the resources — whether it’s learning about something, or just getting the materials.”

“This is the biggest stress reliever in the world,” says Monique, a single mother of seven children, who lives in a small apartment in north Portland. When she started, she had no gardening experience and was interested only in growing cucumbers. Now she grows much more in her garden and has even progressed to starting her own plants indoors — a process that enchants her children. “It was instant joy,” she says, “because it made me realize they weren’t just going through the motions with me.”

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