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Battling food insecurity through community gardening
 
By Urban Harvest

Most of us know what community gardening is, but do we know what the term community food security means? Generally, it refers to the availability and accessibility, or the lack thereof, of healthy food to all residents of a community. For Harris County, the USDA estimates about 12 percent of our population is food insecure, which is about the national average. Of course, some communities experience greater food insecurity than others. Explained another way, this is the percentage of our population that does not always know how it is getting its next meal.

Community gardens have become an important tool in the arsenal to combat food insecurity. Community gardening is simply the growing of healthy food on a piece of land in a specific community by those in the community to share among themselves and with others through donation. This plot of land can be privately owned, a church, school, hospital, community center and more recently, a vacant lot made available through the city.

The most obvious direct benefit of a community garden is producing nutritious food that those in the community like to eat at a fraction of the cost of purchased food, if that food is even available from a local source. When a neighborhood collectively produces a supply of seasonal fresh food from a community garden, family food budgets are reduced and the quality of life of the gardeners and the community is increased.

Individual awareness of the importance of healthy fresh food in our diet is also critical in the fight against a growing obesity problem, especially among our young. Community gardens help foster a collective awareness of knowing where your food comes from, how it was grown and its role in good health.

Fortunately, there is a strong interest in Houston and throughout the United States, to grow more food in our neighborhoods through the community garden concept. Urban Harvest is the principal organization that promotes this goal locally through its free three part series, Starting a Community Garden, not to mention the myriad of discounted "growing" classes for members and community gardeners.

Getting involved in community food gardening will help to improve food security in your immediate neighborhood and in the general population through donations to local food pantries. It does make a difference.

What can you do? Volunteer at one of the many community gardens around the city. Start a community garden either in an area that lacks access to fresh produce or a donation garden to help provide for those in need. Donate to existing gardens money, time or supplies ----it all will be welcome.

This article is provided by Urban Harvest, Inc. To learn about gardening classes, farmers markets, school and community gardens and more go to www.urbanharvest.org or call 713-880-5540 for more information. This article was written by Scott Howard, who is the coordinator of the North Montrose Community Garden, which donates its food to a local soup kitchen. He has served on the Urban Harvest Board of Directors for a number of years, and is currently serving as Urban Harvestís President of the board of directors.