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Thursday, Apr 25 2013 11:00 PM

Community Gardens are breaking ground in Bakersfield

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    Nick Siewell and Stephanie Aguirre

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By NICK SIEWELL and STEPHANIE AGUIRRE

Statistically, Kern County's metropolitan area is one of the hungriest in the country. Many of our neighborhoods are in need of revitalization and beautification. In an effort to meet this need and to find an alternate way to combat hunger and food insecurity, Keep Bakersfield Beautiful, a nonprofit environmental organization associated with the city of Bakersfield, has teamed up with other local agencies and members of the community to start a community garden project.

A community garden is a single piece of land gardened collectively by a group of people. Research has shown that community gardens have a positive impact on the communities that adopt them. Some of these benefits include creating a sense of pride and belonging in neighborhoods, reducing crime, and beautifying otherwise unused and undeveloped land. Also, community gardens provide unique opportunities to help educate people on organic food cultivation, ease the impact of food insecurity by providing food to the families who grow food in the garden, and help develop a strong sense of community by allowing participants to get to know each other.

There are already a couple of community gardens in Bakersfield, a garden in Shafter and a garden in Arvin. The introduction of the gardens into these neighborhoods has helped reduce crime and increase community cohesion, pride, and interaction. The current sites that have been selected for gardens are lots owned by the city of Bakersfield that most recently were used as illegal dump sites, sites of illegal yard sales and gathering points for loiterers. One garden will be on the corner of Jonah and Langston streets in the Greenfield neighborhood, and the other will be at Fourth and Eye streets in central Bakersfield. These gardens are designed to become "open-air classrooms," providing education to the public on many subjects, from gardening and nutrition to physical education and personal well-being. The regular classes and events hosted at the gardens will be for local community members of all age groups.

A needs assessment was conducted in the neighborhood surrounding the lot selected for the Jonah Street garden by Master of Social Work students at CSU Bakersfield. This study showed that a significant majority of the community members interviewed supported the project and were willing to participate. Also, respondents of the study rated crime reduction and access to locally grown organic produce as most desirable among the benefits of community gardens. If implemented effectively, the project could revitalize the neighborhood and could prove to be a model for gardens in other neighborhoods in Kern County.

Planting day for the Jonah Street garden is scheduled for this Sunday, from 8 a.m. until noon. Planting day for the Eye Street garden is scheduled for Saturday, May 4, also from 8 a.m. till noon. If you are interested in learning more or are a member of either of these communities, please join us at these events. If you have questions about community gardens or are interested in starting a garden in your neighborhood, contact Keep Bakersfield Beautiful at 326-3539.

Nick Siewell is a Master of Social Work student at CSU Bakersfield. His co-writer is a CSUB classmate, Stephanie Aguirre. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.

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