Friday, March 25, 2005

It wouldn’t be Spring without the annual Gardener’s Gathering, which took place last Saturday at Northeastern University. Hundreds of hardy urban gardeners were there to usher it in, along with Mayor Menino, and a host of organizations dedicated to the greening of Boston and surrounding towns. One of the many things about Boston that is unique among American cities is the extensive network of community gardens, and the beauty, sustenance, and healthy, active lifestyle they promote.

The Mayor, a garden enthusiast himself, is doing his part with a new grant program called Small Changes (www.cityofboston.gov/parks/), that seeks to distribute $1 million over the next four years for urban beautification projects.

The Gathering, organized by Boston Natural Areas Network(www.bostonnatural.org), is in its thirtieth year, and is a testament to the spirit and tenacity of Boston’s urban gardeners. BNAN is an indispensable resource, and its practical and fun Master Urban Gardener (MUG) program touches on everything from organizing a community garden to dealing with pests, pH, and soil erosion.

The diversity of the urban gardening community was on display at the Gathering. All races, ages and classes were represented, often working side-by-side, sharing knowledge and experience. Too often city dwellers live in isolation from one another. Gardens, parks, and paths provide the infrastructure of a true community, and boost the quality of life immeasurably.

Gardeners are never content to stand around talking. They want to get their hands dirty. And what impresses me no end about these folks is that they really do walk the walk. They are committed to increasing the quality of life and health for everyone in our cities and suburbs, and they’re taking the initiative to make it happen.

Jennifer Hill, executive director of Groundwork Somerville(www.GroundworkSomerville.org), is a prime example. We had a nice, long chat about the Somerville Active Living by Design Partnership, which is working to (among other things) extend the network of bike trails around the city in the hopes that one day you’ll be able to get just about anywhere, including to work and back, safely and surely, by bike. There’s a lot of talk these days about obesity. Here’s a real and practical solution. Active living by design means making it easy for ordinary people to live actively by providing real alternatives to driving. Hill believes that living in the city really can be a walk in the park.

We Americans like to think we’re a hardy, independent lot, the heirs of Thoreau and Emerson. But the truth is we are growing ever more dependent—in terms of foreign debt and energy sources, obviously, but also in pretty much every part of our day-to-day lives. We’ve gone from a nation of small farmers to one of consumers in need of a constant fix. Hey, where’s my grande iced half caff organic triple espresso mocha soy latte? Agriculture, even on the gardening scale, teaches practical self-reliance. It’s spring. Go out and get your hands dirty.

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