A Vegetable Garden at New York’s City Hall

On the website of the People’s Garden NYC, New York’s stately City Hall building is depicted with a brightly colored vegetable garden in front of it being worked by happy school children. When I first saw the picture, I thought it was real. It turns out the “photo” is an artist’s rendering, and the garden is only a fantasy, but it’s a dream that could become a reality, like the now famous organic vegetable garden on the White House lawn. If enough people sign the petition on the People’s Garden website asking Mayor Bloomberg to put in a public vegetable garden, it just might happen.

The idea of a produce garden at City Hall might seem silly at first, but the People’s Garden project is an effort to achieve something like what Michelle Obama has done in the nation’s capital, that is, create a teaching garden where children can learn about healthy eating and the source of fresh produce by growing it themselves. The First Lady has brought our national epidemic of childhood obesity, disease, and lack of affordable nutritious food for kids to the forefront. Many kids live in neighborhoods where fresh produce isn’t available, or they are so far removed from where food actually comes from that they honestly believe it originates at the supermarket, rather than growing out of the soil. It’s both sad and a bit scary that so many of us have lost our connection with one of life’s most fundamental building blocks-namely, where food comes from.

Because we want all future generations of kids to start their life’s journey in good health, and to help them maintain it through proper eating habits, the idea of an urban garden in a high-profile setting like City Hall makes a lot of sense. In a time when poor nutrition and food scarcity are on the rise, the goal of helping kids to learn the connection between food and health seems worthwhile. Here are some reasons I think a public easy-to-access teaching garden for school children is an exciting idea:

  • It would teach kids about the cycles of the seasons and how to grow their own food in a very direct, hands-on way, so that they understand which vegetables and fruits grow at what time of year; important knowledge in an era when transporting goods across the world and the country may become unrealistic with rising fuel costs
  • By deepening their connection to the growing process, the garden would help to get kids more excited about eating fresh, healthy food, rather than the calorie- and chemical-laden chips and soda that are so cheap and widely available
  • In the spirit of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity, a teaching garden would provide an excellent way for kids to improve their health through outdoor exercise, especially for those in schools where Physical Education has been eliminated due to budget cuts
  • Many Americans, including New Yorkers, are going hungry, and the fresh produce from a public garden would be a small but important source of healthy, natural food for people in homeless shelters or otherwise in need
  • A public garden would help to beautify the city

Some cities already have their own City Hall produce gardens, such as Milwaukee, Baltimore (see photo at top), and Portland, Ore. What do you think about putting a garden at City Hall, in New York or elsewhere?

To learn more about the People’s Garden NYC project, see their website: http://peoplesgardennyc.org

Rendering and photo from the People’s Garden NYC website.

This post was originally published on Rachaelray.com on March 3, 2010.

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