Letter: The many benefits of urban food gardens

Graphic by Lori Deaton

While I wholeheartedly agree that homelessness is a significant problem in Asheville, as a garden educator and community herbalist, I have to take issue with the notion that urban gardening spaces are contributing [“The Problem with Urban Food Gardening,” Feb. 17, Xpress].

I can assure you, working in a public school, I’m not part of the liberal bourgeoisie, but I have seen the neighborhood change drastically in recent years with rapid gentrification. I, like you, worry about the sharp rise in homelessness, but urban gardens are not to blame in the least. They are often located on land not suitable for residential construction and are one of the few places where unhoused folks can simply exist for free.

In fact, they not only provide a relaxing respite from the streets, but community gardens also act as a source of free fresh produce, a precious commodity.

Furthermore, if we look at the land use in a historical context, we see that before urban renewal snatched large swatches of land from low-income neighborhoods, these gardens served as a critical piece of the communities’ food security.

Urban gardens are desperately needed to capture carbon, a benefit for all residents of the city regardless of income, and they provide a critical oasis for the pollinators that our larger food systems rely on. And, to your point, there is no better way to cut down your commute than walking down the road to pick your produce rather than having it trucked in from all reaches of the land. There is such joy in finding my students walking home through the garden, leisurely picking an after-school snack as they go.

I promise you that urban agriculture isn’t a fantasy; it’s a real mutual aid practice already in action that strengthens communities, improves health outcomes and ensures there will always be a place in town to rest in the shade of a tree and enjoy the fruits that Mother Earth provides for all of her residents, regardless of their ability to pay.

— Summer Whelden


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