For years, we’ve been urging local governments to do everything in their power to increase the supply of affordable homes.
Last week, though, we found ourselves rooting for the urban gardeners who pleaded with the city of Grover Beach to allow them to keep their small plots of land. The city had been planning to develop affordable housing on the site, but the proposal failed to muster enough votes on the council.
The gardeners got a reprieve — along with their carrots, tomatoes and zucchini.
We believe that was the right choice.
Certainly, it’s important to provide decent, low-cost shelter in every community. However, this site would likely have accommodated two units at most. It makes more sense for the city to look for a site that will allow more density.
Also, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that “food insecurity” — the bureaucratic term for worrying about where your next meal is going to come from — is a mounting concern that also must be addressed.
While we recognize that not every community gardener is motivated by economic need, a growing number of local residents who are struggling in today’s economy could benefit from having access to a plot of ground, as well as the fellowship and expertise that other gardeners can provide.
Case in point: The Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County recently reported that 40,000 county residents need food assistance, compared with 24,000 two years ago.
Community gardens provide families with a low-cost alternative to buying fresh fruits and vegetables — which, unfortunately, can be costly even here on the Central Coast.
They also provide opportunities for community groups to grow fresh produce for distribution to food pantries. Most of the fruits and vegetables harvested at Paso Robles’ demonstration garden, for example, are donated to Loaves and Fishes and the Food Bank Coalition.
Rather than phasing out community gardens, we strongly urge local governments to sponsor more of them. Churches, schools and other nonprofit agencies also could provide a huge service to local families by making community garden plots available.
A couple of examples: United Methodist Church congregations in Morro Bay and Atascadero turned some of their spare land into community gardens.
In addition to helping cut down on grocery bills, community gardens make sense for a number of other reasons:
Childhood obesity is a continuing problem, and sadly, it’s affecting younger and younger children. In a 2009 survey of 512 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in county preschools, 37 percent were already obese.
Community gardens can be an excellent way to expose kids to healthy alternatives to fast food, chips and candy.
Community gardens are a low-cost way to beautify a neighborhood.
Gardens bring neighbors together and are a great opportunity for recreation and socialization for all age groups.
They can provide an excellent source of fresh produce for families that live in smaller communities that don’t have large supermarkets.
Several communities in San Luis Obispo County have flourishing community gardens that are open to residents on a first-come/first-served basis for a small fee.
That’s good — but we need more.
For starters, how about one in at least every city and town?
After all, the Central Coast is an ideal spot for cultivating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables — just look at the crops in production in our rural areas and at the bounty of fresh produce at our farmers markets.
We recognize that not every piece of spare ground is suitable for community gardening, but we suspect there are many vacant plots that could be put to good use.
We strongly encourage every local agency, church, school and nonprofit to take stock and — especially at this time when the need is so great — to find more spots where urban gardens can flourish.
Here are some community gardens in San Luis Obispo County:
Elm Street Community Center
1221 Ash St.
Paloma Community Garden
11605 El Camino Real Atascadero
920 Brighton Ave.
Estero Community Garden
3000 Hemlock Ave.
Demonstration Garden, Centennial Park
600 Nickerson Drive
For information on work parties and demonstrations, go to www.pasoroblesdemogarden.org
San Luis Obispo
Rotary Garden at Meadow Park