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June 19, 2009

Delicious Cities: Community Gardening Gets Serious

La Plaza Cultural community garden in New York City
La Plaza Cultural community garden.

by Mollie Chen

Last week I found myself knee-deep in conversation about compost rotators with Ross Martin, a landscape designer and longtime volunteer at the La Plaza Cultural community garden in the New York City's East Village. We were guests at a special dinner hosted by Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi to celebrate its partnership with the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA).

Yesterday Woodbridge at Mondavi and ACGA launched Giving Through Growing, a nonprofit educational program that will include, among other things, educational programs in five cities, as well as a Web site where you can send "e-seeds" to friends (and Mondavi will kick in $1 for each seed, up to a total of $40,000).

Mondavi couldn't have picked a better time. First lady Michelle Obama gave community gardening a big boost earlier this year when she broke ground on the People's Garden, but grassroots growing has been gaining steam for a long time.

In San Francisco, the Victory Gardens 2008+ project is an innovative way to spur home gardening: The organization sets up gardens throughout the city, hosts demonstrations, and handles a citywide CSA network.

Here in New York, more and more rooftops are going green as apartment dwellers nurture tomato plants, herb patches, and lettuce plots.

In Atlanta, where ACGA presidentBobby Wilson is based, community gardens take over abandoned lots, brighten up inner-city neighborhoods, and act as a place for disadvantaged kids to hang out. Wilson gave a rousing speech where he emphasized that community gardening is about two main things: organizing people and communities, and planting seeds and making them grow. "It's community and it's education," he said.

Ultimately, the best way to sell an idea is to make it delicious. Last night, chef Alejandro Alcocer of New York's Brown Café set up a grill in a section of the garden and turned out juicy pork from Michael Grady Robertson's Queens County Farm, richly herbed lamb from Beartown Farms, plus bright sides made of produce from Satur Farms, Migliorelli Farm, and Sprout Creek Farm. To end, impossibly sweet and perfect strawberries from Berried Treasures Farm paired with ricotta gelato.

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