Blessed with high altitude and a finicky growing season, Northern Arizona is often criticized as a frustrating place to grow food. In spite of these challenges, the City of Flagstaff and Flagstaff Foodlink are proud to celebrate the overwhelming success of the 2011 growing season. In just two community gardens, over 160 community gardeners raised 6,600 pounds of food to help supplement not only their diets, but those of friends, family and the local community. In addition to getting to know their neighbors and beautifying their neighborhoods, community gardeners saved an estimated $400 each on their grocery bills last summer.
The City of Flagstaff recognizes the role that community agriculture has in promoting sustainable communities by providing locally grown food, reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with food transportation, and building a sense of community. As a result, the city provides land for the development of community garden spaces that benefit the Flagstaff community. The city has partnered with a local nonprofit organization, Flagstaff Foodlink, to manage and maintain community garden sites located on city owned property. The project serves to educate the community on how to sustainably grow food in Flagstaff’s unique high elevation environment, arid climate and short growing season.
As assessed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, levels of food insecurity remain higher in Arizona than the national average. Over one million Arizona residents utilize the supplemental nutritional assistance program (SNAP) and obesity and diabetes levels are above national averages. For many city residents, participating in a garden is the most affordable way to obtain nutritious, locally grown food. The recent economic crisis and the accompanying rise in the costs of energy have contributed to the steady increase in the price of food. Decreases in income and increases in food prices result in people paying a higher percentage of their income to be able to afford less nutritious food. Gardening offers the opportunity to access nutritious fruits and vegetables at a minimal cost and reduce the financial burden of food purchases. Multiple studies have shown that children and adults that participate in gardening consume larger amounts of fresh vegetables than non-gardeners.
Community gardens provide solutions to many of the issues facing urban areas by reducing neighborhood crime, preserving green space, and supporting economic development. Often occurring in vacant city lots, community gardens frequently act as the only green spaces in many neighborhoods. An extended examination of neighborhoods in St. Louis demonstrated a high correlation between the occurrences of community gardens and increased household income, owner occupancy, and home values.
Flagstaff has a strong base of community support for community agriculture and clear potential for more extensive growth of community gardens as a public amenity. Home to community garden efforts led by the university, municipality, school district, local nonprofits, and community groups, Flagstaff is ripe for the further development of an integrated, just food system. The development of welcoming and functional community spaces can further connect community members to each other and to the land.
Anyone can participate in the City of Flagstaff community gardens. Gardeners are selected on a first-come-first-serve basis and will be provided with individual and group plots for a nominal fee to cover water utility costs. To find out more about the City of Flagstaff community gardens, visit www.flagstaff.az.gov/gardens or call 928-213-2153 for more information. FBN
McKenzie Jones is the Community Sustainability Specialist for the City of Flagstaff. She is currently a student in the Master of Arts in Sustainable Communities program at Northern Arizona University.