AARP Community Challenge grants have funded community gardens where residents are asked to plant, weed and water the plants. In return, the harvesters and the hungry can enjoy fresh produce. (Click on the image to "visit" the community.)
Bowman, North Dakota
In 2021, an AARP Community Challenge grant helped the Main Street Garden upgrade its location with the addition of accessible seating, an outdoor dining area, flowers, a shade structure and even a hammock. Residents of the small city (population: 1,500) are invited to “pull a weed or two, and enjoy the fresh produce.”
Hudson, New Hampshire
The ReGen Roots Community Farms program provides free land and resources to refugees from Zambia, Burundi and Honduras so they can grow healthy food for their families. In 2021, the organization expanded the land offerings from one acre to two (due in large part to the AARP funding). The only requirement of the farmers is that 10 percent of their peak harvest be donated to the Nashua Children's Home or the Nashua Soup Kitchen.
Fourteen “Little Free Pantries” and 10 garden beds were built using recycled and salvaged lumber donated by the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia. The Lifecycle Building Center used the fabrication work to demonstrate how the construction industry can help strengthen communities by prioritizing the reuse of materials. The nonprofit Friends of Refugees stocked the pantries with 1,000 pounds of food. The raised-bed planters were installed in community gardens.
Using input from the residents of Riverview Tower, an apartment building for low-income older adults, the local housing authority created a garden where residents could grow own vegetables. The garden has places to sit; accessibility features for residents with mobility impairments; and "sensory areas" where people can smell, touch and taste herbs, fruits, and berries. Staff also installed the infrastructure for a “Three Sisters” garden. According to Iroquois legend, corn, beans and squash are three inseparable sisters who can only thrive when they're together.
San Francisco, California
When the Florence Fang Asian Community Garden in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood opened in 2014, it filled a need for green open space. The area has two freeways cutting through it and the poverty level is double the citywide average. Gardening provides residents with fresh produce and a welcome form of exercise. AARP Community Challenge funding helped increase the space available for growing crops, improve growing techniques, upgrade distribution facilities, and conduct community outreach to promote healthy eating.
AARP funds helped create waist-high raised-bed planters for the Society of St. Vincent De Paul's urban farm. Shade trees and benches were added to better serve the garden's older volunteers and people with disabilities. When posting pictures on social media of its first plants and harvest, the society used the hashtags #MakeKindnessViral and #AllinThisTogether.
Six raised-bed gardening beds were constructed and placed on the campus of the Dena'ina Wellness Center run by the Kenaitze Indian Tribe. The location provided a way to promote walkability, encourage physical activity, provide social activities and complement the gardening efforts performed inside the center's greenhouse. Garden signage include each plant's Dena'ina name, the word's translation and information about the plant's use.
Providence, Rhode Island
Building a community garden at Amos House, a nonprofit that serves people living in poverty, achieved the organization's goals to engage volunteers; increase the use of fresh produce in the meals served in the house’s soup kitchen; and establish a bright and peaceful outdoor space in an urban neighborhood. The 900-square-foot garden with four raised-garden beds and two raised herb containers produced enough produce for a total of 15,600 meals, feeding 650 people during the garden's first five months.
A vacant lot in a high crime neighborhood received garden boxes, an arbor, signage, lighting and a bench. While it was hard to recruit gardeners during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, by mid-year there was more enthusiasm, including from residents of the area's Hispanic, Iraqi and Karen communities. Working with Community Crops, new gardeners were mentored by experienced neighbors. A resident who was initially dismissive of the project acknowledged that the garden improvements had helped people feel safer and made them more willing to talk to their neighbors.
AARP funds help spruce up the rooftop Pike Place Market Secret Garden. All produce grown in the volunteer-run garden is donated to the Pike Market Food Bank, which used its 2019 AARP Community Challenge grant to install better signage so visitors could more easily navigate to its hard-to-find location on Level 5 of the busy Pike Place Market's parking garage. Nearly 500 fresh herbs and vegetables are donated every year. (The photo of a pandemic-masked gardener holding a tray of seedlings was taken in 2020.) The garden also serves as a location for intergenerational activities organized by a market-area assisted living facility and a child care center and preschool.
Page published March 2022 | text by Melissa Stanton and Lisa VanBuskirk
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