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Community gardens provide food and connectivity

Posted: November 15, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 15, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Santa Clarita’s community gardens are feeding local families — and not just the families of gardeners. Just like America’s “war gardens” and “victory gardens” during World War II, Santa Clarita’s gardens are providing pesticide-free, healthy food for families.

In fact, community gardeners recently harvested more than 1,500 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables at the Central Park site, which they donated to the Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry.

But they are also providing a place to grow plants and flowers and a space to sit with nature, relax and reflect.

Just a few weeks ago, my fellow council members and I had the pleasure of dedicating 51 new garden plots, adding to the original 80 we opened just a few years ago.

The waiting list for a community garden plot has been extensive, so we are proud to offer 131 spaces to families, youth groups and troops, and a host of other organizations with a vested interest in health and nutrition, the environment, cultural tradition, teamwork and empowerment.

Community gardens are about more than just healthy meals and eco-friendly spaces; they help build community and have been since the late 1800s.

In fact, throughout our nation’s history, community gardens have served as a symbol of empowerment and have brought Americans together in times of depression and war.  
Community gardens first emerged in the United States in the early 1890s in response to the Panic of 1893, which caused a severe economic depression.

During this time, vacant land was donated for garden sites to tide over the unemployed. The program was spurred by Detroit’s Mayor Hazen Pingree, and thus became known as Pingree Potato Patches.

The program’s popularity spread to cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago and continued in Philadelphia into the early 20th century.  

Following the success of these gardens, teachers initiated a movement to open gardens in schools. In 1914, the

United States Bureau of Education established the Division of Home and School Gardening to promote gardens nationally.

This effort grew in popularity through World War I and was renamed the U.S. School Garden Army with the motto “a garden for every child, every child in a garden.”

Community gardens were extremely important during war times and when the United States joined World War I, the food crisis in Europe spurred the “war gardens” campaign, which encouraged Americans to raise food for their households so farm-raised food could be sent to Europe.

In 1918 alone, it has been reported, more than 5 million gardeners grew $525 million in food, thanks to the war gardens and the U.S. School Garden Army.

Americans never stopped gardening, but America’s reliance on self-gardening re-emerged once again during World War II with the victory gardens and Food Fights for Freedom campaigns, which not only served as a way to produce food for the household, but also as a way to express patriotism, build morale and enjoy recreation.

It is reported that victory gardens produced 42 percent of America’s vegetable supply in 1944, which is simply amazing.

Today, community gardens still provide sustenance, but they also reflect our desire to support a new environmental ethic, community beautification, and partnership.
Community gardens don’t look the same in every city, and as you look around our Community Garden at Central Park, you’ll see some are growing flowers, while others grow fruits and vegetables.

The commonality in our garden is that people are working together to do something good for the community, for themselves, and for one another.

The American Community Gardening Association emphasizes that “community” comes first in community

gardening, and that’s exactly the principle guiding our garden.

For more information about Santa Clarita’s Community Gardens, visit

Laurene Weste is a member of the Santa Clarita City Council and can be reached at


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