Healthy gardens, healthy people
Sacramento’s head gardener says create your own grocery store
In tough economic times, Bill Maynard says fight back with a rake, hoe and trowel. Oh, and you might want to don a gardening hat.
Maynard always wears a hat when gardening under Sacramento’s scorching sun. And in the community at large, he wears many hats: community garden coordinator for city of Sacramento Parks and Recreation Department, master gardener with Cooperative Extension, co-founder of the Sacramento Area Community Garden Coalition and volunteer with the Sacramento Hunger Coalition.
“There’s a lot of overlap in these groups. It [all] centers on food access and healthier people,” Maynard said.
To get people gardening, Maynard fights the fight with more than a trowel. And he’s motivated: Gardens are more important now than ever. “We’ve had the economy collapse. We’ve had the tomato scare and the spinach scare. Just think if you couldn’t get tomatoes or spinach anymore,” he reminded.
“With prices going higher, you have to supplement your food budget.”
Citing recent natural disasters around the world, Maynard stressed self-reliance. “We’re only three days away from bare supermarket shelves. If you had a garden in your backyard, at least you could eat. Creating your own food store is powerful,” he said.
Strong community is also powerful in time of crisis—and garden planting germinates community. Maynard says gardens help people connect. For those lacking space, community gardens help neighbors branch out and grow together.
“Crop swaps build community. There’s no money involved. You trade excess produce for something you don’t have,” Maynard explained. “If we create enough of these crop swaps, you could trade every day of the week for free for whatever you need.”
“It’s about making connections with neighbors who share resources. Maybe someone needs a ride. You trust this person because you know them as a gardener, you give them a ride and cut your carbon footprint in half. Maybe you share tools or create a baby-sitting cooperative. It builds community around the food system. Everybody needs food.”
But not just food. They need healthy, great-tasting food. Gardens are critical to both. We all know the importance of vegetables and fruit to a balanced diet. But when food is stored, it loses nutrients. So fresh-picked eats offer optimum vitamin content. Plus, vine ripening rakes in amazing flavors.
“The difference in taste is amazing,” Maynard said. “If you teach kids how to grow fruit, they’re going to eat it. They can’t wait until it’s grown.”
Jennifer Cliff of Edible Sacramento, another avid gardener, reaffirmed Maynard’s belief that kids will eat healthy food if they grow it. “Gardens provide education and tangible connection to the land,” she said. “It provides a landscape for our children to understand the values of growing your own. It allows folks of all occupations to be farmers and get their hands in the dirt.
“Having a garden helps the green movement by diverting consumption away from corporate agriculture.”
Maynard agreed. “Eating locally means different things to different people. Each grocer has their own definition,” he said. “If it’s outside your door, you’re going outside to pick your zucchini for dinner.”
From going green and eating locally, to building community and fighting back in a bad economy, planting a garden is critical. Now. And, according to Maynard, it’s easy:
“Put the plant in the ground and it’s going to grow. All you have to do is water it, prune it a little bit and harvest,” he said.