In 1987 the Legislature mandated the establishment of an Office of Community Gardens office within the Department of Agriculture and Markets. However, towards the end of Governor Cuomo’s term, all state agencies were required to layoff a substantial number of staff and the Community Gardens staff position was eliminated.
However, the statute that created the office, Article 2-C of the Agriculture and Markets Law remains on the books. The Hunger Action Network feels this office should receive funding once again so it can return to operation. Given Governor Spitzer’s previous commitment to protecting community gardens in New York City, we feel this is an excellent opportunity to support community gardens in New York State.
The Office of Community Gardens filled several key roles in the development and maintenance of successful community gardens. These roles included identifying vacant public land available for community garden use; providing technical and organizational assistance for gardens in form of tools, land, and expertise to the residents; working with communities to develop urban agricultural projects; and, identifying funding sources and helping community groups apply for grants. During the time that this office has not been operating, these community garden groups have been left on their own to perform these developmental tasks.
Community gardens provide benefits to the residents who operate them, as well as the community in general. There are health benefits from eating fresh and nutritious foods, and getting an outdoor recreation and exercise. Community gardens also promote self-sufficiency. The neighborhood also benefits from the presence of these gardens. The advantages range from neighborhood beautification and open space preservation to improving air quality. Also, having citizens run public gardens reduces the burden on the local government while allowing the residents to gain skills and to network in the community.
Community gardens provided for a better environment and at the same improve the health and social capital of the citizens. This is particularly true in low income areas. Community gardens provide for another food source to families in need, thus relieving some of the burden on the state as a provider.