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Community Projects: CSA Farms and Community Gardens

Updated on October 28, 2012

A DISMAL OUTLOOK

In the past 40 years, the United States lost more than a million farmers and ranchers. Many of our farmers are aging. Today, only nine percent of family farm income comes from farming, and more and more of our farmers are looking elsewhere for their primary source of income.:
Tom Vilsack

A harsh reality to be sure, but a reality nevertheless! The family farm is disappearing in the United States. There are economic forces in play that are making it nearly impossible for a family with several hundred acres to make a living today. Mega-corporations like Monsanto are now the farmers of today, controlling the farming industry through a system called vertical integration, and in the process controlling prices for the American consumer.

Gone are the days when 85% of this country’s citizens were involved in farming; now that figure is closer to 2.5% and shrinking. The average citizen goes to the supermarket, looks at the prices of corn and wheat products, and wonders how this could be possible, and when will prices return to those of yesteryear. Not only that, but there is growing alarm over the use of pesticides and engineered seeds, so that no one is quite certain what it is that they are actually eating.

We are living in a time when corn barely resembles the corn of fifty years ago; same goes for apples, tomatoes, onions, watermelon, and on and on down the list.

So what can be done? A harrowing question for sure, for in a free enterprise system of economics, there is no stopping this trend. All that is left to do is find alternatives, and that is the focus of this article. Today we will take a close look at two such alternatives, the community garden and the CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture.

Wendell Berry Gardens
Wendell Berry Gardens | Source
The Wendell Berry Gardens
The Wendell Berry Gardens | Source
Another community garden in Olympia
Another community garden in Olympia | Source
More of Wendell Berry Gardens
More of Wendell Berry Gardens | Source

COMMUNITY GARDENS

Community gardens are springing up all over the United States. One such garden is the Wendell Berry Community Garden in Olympia, Washington, established in May of 2009. It is named after novelist, essayist, poet and farmer Wendell Barry, who for over forty years has been reminding people that eating is a political act, and that how we treat the soil and how we produce our food is a reflection of our values. He also believes that “it is only by reconstructing our agricultural system and communities from the soil up that we might hope to achieve a sustainable future and a more caring and peaceful society.”

Unlike many community gardens that divide the land into small parcels to be planted and tended by community members, the Wendell Berry garden is a collective effort with collective management. The entire garden, which you can see in the accompanying pictures, is managed by a collective of people who jointly share responsibility for planning, tending and enjoying the bounty.

All compost and organic material needed for ongoing soil health is produced at the garden. Seeds are saved from the crops so that new seeds are always available, and select crop varieties that are best adapted to the Olympia microclimate are planted. There is also a habitat for pollinators, and honeybees and mason bees are raised, thus raising the pollination rate for not only the community garden but the rest of the neighborhood as well.

This particular community garden has raised, since 2009, over 12,000 pounds of organic food for collective members, neighbors, and the Thurston County Food Bank. In addition, workshops and demonstrations are held regularly to showcase the potential for raising food in an urban area using sustainable organic methods of production.

There are five such community gardens in the Olympia city limits, and plans for several more are in the early stages.

Are these community gardens possible in any urban environment? Most certainly, but it requires a forward-thinking and progressive city government that is willing to think outside the conventional box. The possibilities are practically endless, but it takes leadership and vision to get it done. One can only imagine if this theory were practiced in Detroit, where entire neighborhoods were recently bulldozed.

CSA farm near Olympia
CSA farm near Olympia | Source

COMMUNITY SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE

Although many citizens have not heard of CSA, it is not a new movement. It began in the early 1960’s, and currently, in the United States, there are close to 13,000 CSA farms in operation, the largest of which is Farm Fresh To You in Capay Valley, California.

The CSA concept began in Germany, Switzerland and Japan; it was a direct response to concerns about the safety of food production and what was seen at the time as excessive urbanization of agricultural land. The early CSA farms consisted of consumers and farmers forming cooperative partnerships to fund the entire farming operation of a farm.

Think of the word “commune” minus the living accommodations and you will have some concept of how a CSA farm operates. Most often the entire cost of the farm, including paying a farmer, is absorbed by community members. In return, they receive pre-agreed upon amounts of available crops. It is based upon the idea of shared risk and reward; individuals and families do not pay for a specified number of pounds of produce but rather pay to support the farm and then receive weekly allotments of the seasonable bounty.

The advantages of this system are many, most notably:

· Financial stability since the farm does not rely on the market vagaries

· Lower cost since transportation of goods is not needed

· Guaranteed quality food, free of pesticides and other questionable growing practices

The types of organizational structures vary across the nation. The most common are:

· Those farms dedicated entirely to CSA members

· Those farms that also sell produce through farmers’ markets or farm stands

· Social structures involving a number of farms and/or farmers, thus increasing the harvest

· Some farms actually sell shares to community members not directly involved in the farming process.

As the environmental movement continues to gain momentum, and as more and more consumers become aware of corporate farming and the dangers that are inherent in that farming, it is expected that more CSA farms will begin operations. The continued success of the existing CSA farms is certainly a positive sign that this system can and does work.

Does Your Community Have Community Gardens and/or CSA Farms?

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THE FUTURE, ALTHOUGH DIM, IS FAR FROM HOPELESS

The success of community gardens and community supported agriculture depends almost entirely on a cultural shift in thinking. Citizens must continue the movement towards buying locally and buying organically. As that demand increases, these alternatives to farming will increase. It all depends on the individual consumers, and how willing they are to break the accepted norm and move out of their comfort zone. Instead of going to the corporate grocery store for produce and/or meat, they need to go to an organic produce market or meat market. When that happens, the true laws of supply and demand will once again be a part of the farming industry, and consumers will be eating food that is free of chemicals.

For many in this country, this is a matter of awareness. Many do not know the levels of pesticides that are used in the produce that they eat. Many are not aware that family farms are disappearing, nor do they understand that the price of their produce and meat is controlled by corporation board members who are about as far removed from farming as one can be.

It is time in this country to spread the word. It is time to leave our comfort zone and buy locally and organically. It is time, quite frankly, to start acting like the America of old and take control of our well-being rather than rely on corporate and governmental interests that could care less about our well-being. We owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to our children! Make the switch now! Support local farming before it completely disappears.

2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

      I couldn't believe the statistics on the number of farms there are today. I would love to see good soil everywhere with organic produce and beef and chicken. Imagine no GMO...That is really scary. I always look for roadside produce stands. How nice it would be to bring it all back. Thanks for writing this and bringing all this out.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Sounds like a great form of agriculture to me. Sounds like the "kampongs' we used to have in Malaysia and Singapore, where farming was a community effort. This is great. Will share to promote the awareness.

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

      Billy - You and I have discussed this so you already know I live in a rural area. I can walk the road and come upon farms now in decay. Tracks of land that once supported hard working families. It is a comfort knowing there are environmental movements such as CSA farms and community garden projects to provide some type of avenue toward this epidemic.

      Sadly, it is reflective of many economic areas currently being experienced throughout our country today.

      Regards.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Carol, we are committed to this now; hopefully I can get a few more people to realize the necessity of this lifestyle. Thank you my friend; have a great day!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Michelle, thank you for the share. I am not familiar with kampongs, but will do my research later today.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Beckie, it breaks my heart.....it really does! I'm going to keep talking about this; people have to wake up to the fact that family farms are needed, and that we need to shop locally. This affects all of us.

      Thank you my dear!

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      Thank you for yet again bringing a bit of hope for the future here. I know it may be a small amount of it, but still it is better than nothing. So I do truly thank you for sharing this here today. Have of course voted up and shared all over, too!!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Great hub on a very important topic. We are blessed living in Washington and Oregon where people are generally more environmentally sensitive and forward thinking. Plus, we have great land for farming!

      Price of commercial farming produce aside, you can finally taste what an apple, carrot, potato, etc. is supposed to taste like! Perhaps we could get more people to eat veggies if they participated in or purchased from CSA farms and community gardens! Its a health issue, too!

    • profile image

      summerberrie 4 years ago

      I love this movement of helping local farmers and getting fresh organic food at the same time. Great information.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Terrie, I agree, and thank you for the visit!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Janine, we see quite a bit of this on our side of the country; lots of local farms and buying locally is big here. Thank you for supporting this movement, and thank you for being who you are.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Steph, I agree that we are blessed in this part of the country. There seems to be quite a bit of this in Washington, which is wonderful to see. I hope the movement continues to grow, and you are right, this most definitely is a health issue. Thank you Steph!

    • starstream profile image

      Dreamer at heart 4 years ago from Northern California

      Thanks for writing this aarticle and sharing it with us.

    • Julie DeNeen profile image

      Blurter of Indiscretions 4 years ago from Clinton CT

      Such a good topic Billy. We have lots of struggling farmers around us...it is so sad and we love to buy local whenever we can!

    • profile image

      kelleyward 4 years ago

      I couldn't agree with you more. I have no idea how to garden and it's a little scary to me. This summer I'm planning to join out local community garden to help out and learn how to garden. Important hub Bill!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Starstream, you are very welcome! Farmers need a voice and I'm happy to provide one for them.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Julie, I think we are going to see a revolution in farming in the next few years, away from the corporate mentality, as more citizens see the wisdom in buying local. Sure hope I'm right! Thank you; I appreciate you greatly.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Kelley, that is so cool! You will have to write a hub about your experiences. As for my gardening skills, I subscribe to the theory of fake it until you make it. :) Thank you Kelley!

    • lrc7815 profile image

      Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

      That's my guy, the eternal optimist and by golly, he's doing more than his share to make sure we have a sustainable future. I'm so thankful that we have a CSA farm here since for the time being I am stuck living in an apartment. This is a great, informative and inspirational hub Bill. Kudos to ou for your passion for the family farm and to living large and well but frugally. You're a hero in my book.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Linda, I'm just doing my thing, kicking over rocks and seeing what crawls out from under. :) Things have got to change my friend, and I'm just trying to do my part, as are you! Thank you my dear friend!

    • lrc7815 profile image

      Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

      Isn't it funny how we pass each other repeatedly in this virtual space each and every day? I sit here and giggle every time, wondering if you caught my virtual wave and smile as we passed. You're right, here we are, doing our thing, and hoping someone is really listening. The coolest part is that we are still learning as we go.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Linda, I have so many ideas for hubs that I am overflowing....my brain won't shut down....now to find the time.

      I will fight the good fight, and feel good knowing that you are right there with me. HubPages has given me the forum I wanted for a very long time, and I'm loving every minute of it. :) Thanks buddy!

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 4 years ago

      Wonderful Hub Bill. We've lost so many Family Farms here in NJ. It is a Sad Fact. Community Gardens is a Wonderful Idea, that is becoming more wide spread. It's nice to know, that the vegetables are grown in a Healthy Environment. I shop in a Fruit & Vegetable market, that buys from some of these farms. Very Enlightening as well as Educational, my friend.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Billy, another great write, the CSA sounds like something we have been doing here in the UK for many years, but on a smaller scale, It is run by the local council or the National Trust, and the British are known to be eccentric and very passionate about their allotments.

      The allotments were first introduced by philanthropic Victorians to provide a healthy diet and lifestyle for factory workers. Today there is a long list of people waiting for allotments, from all different classes.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 4 years ago from Iowa

      We have several community gardens in Cedar Rapids and more on the way. I don't belong to a CSA, but I am a member of a local food co-op that sources produce, meats, dairy, etc. from local farmers. And just this weekend, a new year-round, indoor city market is opening. Can't wait for that!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Barbara, thank you! I think we are going to see more and more of these. I'm just guessing, but I think the economy is going to force more people to grow their own, and that may be a very good thing.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jo, that is very interesting about the allotments; I love HP because I get to learn all of this new information. Thank you for adding to the discussion with that comment. We haven't reached that point yet where people are on a waiting list; maybe some day we will have that kind of participation. :) Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Deb, that's interesting! We don't have a year-round market here, but I'll be we do in the near future. More and more community gardens are starting, and we have several food co-ops that do a great job! I'm excited by the growing movement towards local farmers.

      Thank you!

    • Michele Travis profile image

      Michele Travis 4 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      Bill

      I hope more will read your hubs. They are all great, this one is important. Regular farming is so important, because it is natural. If people read about corporate farming and what/how they produce vegetables/fruit/meat it is horrible. Even when people decide to become vegetarians, the food they eat is not that great.

      I thank God there is enough room in my yard to grow my own vegetables, and I live near farmers. Also the idea about the community gardens is fantastic.

    • Rolly A Chabot profile image

      Rolly A Chabot 4 years ago from Alberta Canada

      Hi Billy... great article and I agree with it completely. How many of the coming generation will be able to care for themselves should the need arise. What a great activity as a family, planting, caring and growing some of their own foods.

      Many Cities here in Canada have taken the incentive to cultivate land owned by the city and allow people to do their planting. We have a few cases that are being contested right now over people planting garden in their own front yards. Personally I think they should be allowed as long as it is kept neat and tidy. One thing about growing your own food is at least you know where it comes from.

      Hugs from Canada

    • Kimberly Vaughn profile image

      Kimberly Vaughn 4 years ago from Midwest

      This is a very interesting hub. I am going to have to do some research in my area to see what is available. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I used to spend the winter months in Fl. and bought all my food from farmers who brought their produse to a farmers market. The food was delicious. I wish we had that here. I do grow many vegies on my land, and use no chemicals. Each community could have a community garden. Great idea Bill. I have the land, not so sure people would participate...

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Michele, thank you! I love the community garden movement, and I'll be interested to see how much it grows in the future. I know I'm sold on the concept.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Rolly, that's interesting that there are contested cases; I wish I could say it surprises me, but it doesn't. We have homes here in Olympia where the garden is in the front yard and no problem. It just depends on the city government and how progressive they are I guess.

      Thank you my friend; take care and I hope the snow doesn't do too much damage.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Kimberly from St. Louis, thank you! I hope you find out what you need; it is a growing movement here on the west coast and I love it!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ruby, it seems to depend entirely on the type of community you live in. Here in the northwest, this is quite popular and there are many, many community gardens....some where land was just donated, as with the Berry garden in my hub.

      Thank you my friend; you have a huge heart!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for raising our awareness, I wouldn't know were to start if I were given this challenge. Working for a large company I am aware of what they might have in their cards.

    • rcrumple profile image

      Rich 4 years ago from Kentucky

      Bill, An extremely interesting concept. With my area having many rural areas surrounding, we still have many selling vegetables out of the backs of pick ups and such. The community garden concept is interesting, as long as the landowner doesn't get greedy, both in costs and allotments. Of course, man doesn't ever get greedy, so there's no fears! lol Perhaps I'm just growing somewhat cynical with age at times. Great points and ideas my friend, keep them coming!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      You are a reflection of our values! You shine our faults and our accomplishments back at us....Time is like a big circle, and all things return in one way or another, in time.

      We have community gardens, and every town has a Farmer's Market. The old ways are becoming new again. Thanks for the information Bill.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Martin, I never intend to paint all large companies as evil; everyone I have talked to loves working for MIcrosoft....but in the farming industry, it is darn close to antitrust action. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Rich.....somewhat cynical? LOL I am all the way there, buddy! One reason the communes of old died off is nobody could work as an equal unit......so yes, I am skeptical, but I like what I see with this concept so far. Thank you my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mary, thank you so much! I do believe the old ways are returning; it's going to take some time, but I like the direction we are headed.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Bill ,the community farms and CSA projects do seem a good move to ensure not only cheaper prices of agricultural produce but to also ensure that we know what is going into our food. And in the process giving the much needed boost to farming that seems to be declining due to the corporates who have ventured into it for their own gains.

      Useful and timely write.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Rajan, this is a movement that is gaining steam here in the U.S., and I'm quite certain there will be more of these next spring. I hope so, for all of the reasons you listed.

      Thank you Sir and have a great weekend.

    • ARUN KANTI profile image

      ARUN KANTI CHATTERJEE 4 years ago from KOLKATA

      Farming by formation of local cooperatives is a good effort but its success depends on the community spirit.The government should give sufficient incentivs and tax benefits for such projects A successful project will spur others into action.Very useful article. Thanks.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Aruan, you are so correct. Government incentives go a long way towards fostering this kind of community action. Thank you for that comment my friend!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      When I was living in western PA, we got food from a CSA.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Deb, where haven't you lived??? LOL I am excited about the CSA movement; I hope it grows and grows and Monsanto goes out of business. :) Thank you!

    • suzzycue profile image

      Susan Britton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Billybuc buy local is becoming a huge idea here in Ontario Canada as we have the same problems here as our neighbors across the boaders have. I am lucky that Perth county where I live has promoted buy local so produce is easy to buy local. The small meat markets around the county are being shut down and pushed out by big companies changing the rules on how to prepare the meat. Their rules or you are gone. This is not fair to the Minonites Communities that have 100 year old recipes for pepperoni, salamie, smoke cured meats that will go by the way side or they sell it illegally. A shame that their culture and practises can no longer be tasted by the communities.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Suzzycue, that saddens me, and I hope a resolution can be arrived at that will reverse that movement. Buying local is the only way that will allow we, the consumers, to do our part to help the farmers who so need our help. Thank you for a great comment and have a wonderful weekend in Ontario.

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Great, great, great! I am providing a link to this as I write this! One of the biggest differences I am realizing between the states and Israel is how much went right back to the community there. It was just a given. Thank you for your always eye-opening facts and ideas. Up, interesting and useful!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Randi! i am a big supporter of family farms in America, but sadly they are disappearing. Thus, I have to turn my attention to movements such as these, so that citizens can continue to get fresh and safe produce.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I love this hub, Bill! The information that you've shared is very important. Community gardens and CSA farms are becoming more common where I live. They are wonderful ideas.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Alicia, I am happy to hear that BC is doing this as well. I think we will be seeing more and more of it as the next few years unfold.

      Thank you!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      We have a really nice CSA group in our area unfortunately it is a bit price prohibitive for us. Up here though, there are loads of roadside markets everyday in the warmer months and the local grocery store tries to sell local produce whenever possible. When I lived outside of DC there were a number of community gardens which were nice to have. Great hub!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Glimmer, I'm glad to hear there is a CSA nearby; the community gardens phenomena is increasing and I'm grateful for that. Thank you!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Community gardens are a great way to not only know about the quality of food one will be eating, but also to leave a smaller footprint on the planet. When times were tough like during the two World Wars...there were many such gardens as well as personal gardens. It seems that with time we have gotten further removed from the simple act of gardening and realizing where our food is originated. I would be a happy participant in such a garden. Hope that they continue to spread all across our land and elsewhere around the world. Up votes and will happily share.

    • Ronna Pennington profile image

      Ronna Pennington 4 years ago from Arkansas

      I'm in a town of about 10,000 and we have a community garden. We don't have time to participate, but I wish we did! Voted up, interesting, and more!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Peggy, thank you for the visit. They are growing in numbers, and if this economy keeps going the way it is going, we will see a great number of them in the near future. I appreciate you stopping by and have a great weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ronna, it is a growing movement...forgive the pun...but they are definitely on the rise and I'm happy to see that.

      Thank you and have a great weekend!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 4 years ago from Central Florida

      Interesting, Bill. I was unaware of either of these. I'll have to check into it in my area. I would much rather buy organic foods from local farmers than the organics available in the grocery stores with jacked up prices. How do we really know they're organic, anyway???

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, we truly don't know if organic means organic if it is in a supermarket. I trust the local farmers, though. We go once a week to a local veggie market to support them and give ourselves some peace of mind. :) Thank you my dear friend.

      bill

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