Local Gardeners Find Healthy Living in Community Gardens
The panelists at the latest Quiet Waters environmental lecture series said community gardens could be the answer to many of today's health and environmental problems.
With obesity rates on the rise and energy prices skyrocketing, eating healthy and locally has never been more vital than today, said a local group of environmentalists.
Local food experts from around the region gathered Thursday at Quiet Waters Park for the seventh in a series of environmental lectures. The theme for Thursday’s session was The Benefits to Eating Green.
Joel Bunker said the answer to healthy living and environmental awareness is just a patch of fertile soil away.
Bunker is the executive director of Grow Annapolis, a nonprofit coalition of local gardeners that has created a community garden near City Dock downtown, and one for students at Annapolis Elementary School.
Bunker said the goal of Grow Annapolis is to show the public the importance and function of maintaining a sustainable community garden with your neighbors.
“Some of the beauty of growing local food is that you get to know your neighbors,” he said. “It also puts you more in touch with your environment.”
But there’s another good reason to grow locally—knowing where your food comes from, he said.
Supermarkets across the country buy fruits and vegetables that travel up to 1,500 miles before landing in the produce aisles of your local grocer. To accomplish this modern feat, most produce today is genetically engineered for long life and transportation.
A tomato altered in this way is hardy enough to survive the long journey to the supermarket, but will never ripen like natural fruit. This modification process also stops key nutrients from forming, robbing the buyer of the true tomato experience, Bunker said.
“Essentially you have an unripe tomato that looks ripe, but it holds up, and it ships properly,” he said.
He said markets that sell “organic” vegetables aren’t much better, because they too must travel long distances to reach their customers, and can’t compete with locally grown foods.
“Organic used to mean it was very much tied to a place, your local environment," he said. "But now that has become something that’s been industrialized as well.”
Sharon New, who runs the blog Local Food Beat, said she thinks people should be more invested in learning where their food comes and how it’s raised before they buy it.
“I always tell people, 'What you’re eating? You need to look to see what your food is eating,'” she said. “If it’s eating corn, and soy and drugs and steroids then guess what? You’re eating that, too.”
New said her milk comes from grass-fed cows owned by a farmer she’s met personally. She sought him out after shopping around to make sure his own food standards met hers.
Cows raised to digest corn or grain must undergo treatment before transitioning away from a more natural diet of grass. New said that treatment process alters the cow and the nutrients in its body.
While this approach to gathering food may be more expensive than a trip to the supermarket, New said the frugal approach to food is one of America’s ailments.
New railed against the Food and Drug Administration, which she said bows to lobbyist groups from the grain industry. That’s a large part of what got America fat, she said.
“Our demand for cheap food is really killing us,” New said.
She displayed a slideshow with graphs showing the spread of obesity in America from the mid 1990s to 2008. At the outset, few states had obesity rates of more than 10 percent. But by the end of it, only Colorado had an obesity level below 20 percent, according to her presentation.
“It’s really critical that you opt out of the system and go local,” New said.
The final panelist was University of Maryland student Deborah Dramby who showed how students have created a community garden with grant funding. The goal of their garden is to be completely self-sustaining.
They were given a small patch of land on campus that was weed-ridden. Instead of using harmful pesticides, their solution was to bring in a few goats.
Dramby said she and other students have learned so much from local gardeners that she thinks everyone should take it up at some point in their lives.
“There’s such a wealth of knowledge in growing out there that I think people miss out on,” she said. “I know I missed out on it.”
Thursday’s lecture was the seventh in a series at Quiet Waters Park, hosted by the Friends of Quiet Waters Park. For information on future lectures, visit www.aacounty.org/RecParks/parks/quietwaters/lectures.cfm.