Friday, August 6, 2010

NeighborWorks Network Helps Residents Start and Develop Community Gardens

Today NeighborWorks America announced its support for the 2010 National Farmers Market Directory recently released by the United States Department of Agriculture. The 2010 National Farmers Market Directory lists 6,132 operational farmers markets in the United States, which is a 16 percent increase since 2009. NeighborWorks America and its affiliates are taking part in this trend of transforming vacant and abandoned lots into community gardens and farmers markets.

Studies and surveys have shown that the use of community gardens and farmers markets help improve personal well being and enhance social relationships among residents while providing the community with an increased supply of fresh food. Gardens and markets generate community support through the involvement of local governments, youth, faith based organizations, businesses, banks and residents. The collaboration between these kinds of organizations and residents is a key part of the work done by NeighborWorks organizations with active community building operations.

The United States Department of Agriculture reported 1,755 farmers markets operating in the United States in 1994. From 1994 to 2010, there has been a 44 percent increase in markets nationwide from 1,755 to 6,132. In an effort to go green and provide neighborhoods with an abundant amount of locally grown food, NeighborWorks organizations in Sacramento, C.A., Rochester, N.Y., Rapid City, S.D., Utica, N.Y. and Orange, N.J. are taking part in this growing trend.

Among the recent efforts is a resident launched program with Dakota Home Resources, a NeighborWorks organization in South Dakota. At first Dakota Home Resources purchased a foreclosed house with the intent to rebuild it and place a homeowner in the house. However, the house needed to be demolished because it was too dilapidated to rebuild and in keeping with Dakota’s history of community engagement it sought resident input on next steps. The residents suggested that the lot should be used for a community garden with the hope that a garden would create broader benefits. Everything except the lot itself was donated by residents and other members of the surrounding community- the tools, mulch, water, compost piles, piping and manual labor. The garden opened on June 1, 2010 with 20 plots, all of them filled.

“The community garden has really brought the residents together on a united front,” said Jolee Wolf from NeighborWorks Dakota Home Resources. “The garden has not only decreased crime in the area; but has strengthened the bond between the police force and residents of the community.”

While Dakota Home Resources used the community garden model, NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Center-Sacramento Region developed and organized a farmers market in an area labeled a ‘food desert.’

Oak Park is considered a food desert because the overwhelming number of fast food restaurants in comparison with the number of grocery stores with fresh produce. Just as with the Dakota Home Resources, residents were the catalyst for this NeighborWorks organization project.

Oak Park residents went to NeighborWorks Sacramento and tapped the nonprofit’s organizational and financial capacity to develop a farmers market. Months of planning went into creating this market that’s now open five months of the year. At this weekly market, partners, vendors and NeighborWorks Sacramento have tables where they talk to residents about nutrition education and other programs the members of the community offer.

“We’ve gained a lot of support and attention from the residents and community,” said Sharon Eghigian from NeighborWorks Sacramento. “People love having the opportunity to buy local food. The Oak Park Farmers Market has a fun and exciting atmosphere with informational booths, activities for kids and a variety of vendors and farmers.”

The trend toward healthier and greener communities housing is a solid part of the services offered by many NeighborWorks organizations. For more information on how to participate in the trend go to to look-up the nearest NeighborWorks organization.