Growing edible plants is one of the most doable yet high-impact projects that people can do, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Food security is now a very real and urgent social issue given the restriction of movements and the domino effect of business disruption as a result of this global public health emergency.
When people need to stay indoors and food production is hampered, people’s access to food is more difficult. Of course, those in the cities can rely on food delivery options although this is not sustainable in the long run especially if money is tight, and they are affected by job layoffs or business closures.
What people may consider doing is to come together to build a communal food garden that all can till, take care of, and harvest from as good, cooperative neighbors. The food garden center can also be a place for deeper social connections, cultural exchange, and communal safety.
Origins of Communal Food Sources
In modern history, the origin of planting vegetables and herbs for communal use began during World War II when many men had gone to war and left farms untended. Many of those involved in food production from planting, to harvesting, up to food processing were displaced by the war effort. This led to shortages in food and other vital supplies. By looking for unproductive farmland and other pockets of soil that is good for planting, people began to form into groups so that they can produce their own food. People began calling the project as their own “Victory Garden”.
In the 1970s, the Oil Crisis prompted Americans to look for additional food sources. Similar to the World War II experience, they found the opportunity in claiming unused land as part of so-called “public commons”. They used common space to plant a variety of fruit and vegetable plants that were shared with all families working on the land.
The Kibbutz Model
In Israel, there are collectives or communities called Kibbutz where families work together mainly in agricultural work. All types of work and agricultural harvests are shared equally. Later on, the community also worked on raising cattle and chicken. They developed township facilities like shared playgrounds for children, tennis courts, a library, medical clinic, and other amenities needed by the families who live there. They also built irrigation systems for their farms, a major feat considering that much of the land is part of the desert.
How to Start a Shared Vegetable and Herb Plot
Like the Israelis who “made the desert bloom”, people everywhere can also make their own neighborhoods flourish. There is no need to worry if you have no experience. You don’t have to be a ‘green thumb’ to start. Just search Youtube for urban garden tutorials. Watch and learn. It is really as simple as that.
The first important step is to list down all the vegetables and fruits you want to grow. Most people like to start with lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, and spinach. Visit your local agricultural supply store or plant shop to buy the seeds. Ask the plant shop keeper for advice on the best types of seedling nurseries or pods, growing media, and other supplies you would need for the project. With a small rake, watering jug, seeds, and a lot of patience — you can now start planting your seeds. Sprinkle the plots of soil with water.
For herbs, it is better to buy them already planted in tiny pots. Just learn how to grow them and do some replanting on the ground or in other small pots. Herbs are very delicate so make sure you ask for advice o watch Youtube tutorials on how to care for them.
Once the seeds you planted start to grow, you can start inviting neighbors to look at the seedlings and get them to try planting the next weekend. If you already have good harvests, sharing some produce with your neighbors is also an excellent way to make friends and convince them to work with you on this community project.
Making the seeds pop out of the ground takes about 3 to 7 days. It really varies depending on the seed, soil, and sunlight. One trick is to cover the soil with a plastic sheet to create a greenhouse effect. This helps heat up the soil, maintain the right moisture, and make the seeds germinate faster.
Some plants need more hours of direct sunlight, while others only need an hour or two. Some plants even grow best under the shade. Like people, plants have different ‘personalities’ that must be understood through observation and a little research. The easiest way to determine the health of your plants is to look at the leaves. Are they drying up and curling? Do the leaves fall away easily? Maybe the plants need more watering and time under the sun.
For plants like lettuce, harvest can be done after 25 to 30 days. Enjoy watching the plants grow and harvest them together with friends. Don’t forget to use the seeds of harvested fruits and vegetables for planting the next generation of crops. The next best thing is to have a community cookout and enjoy the meal using food that you have grown together as a community.