Why 1,000 New Gardens?
Access to nutritious, affordable food is a basic need for every American from the youngest child to the most senior citizen. 1,000 New Gardens is connecting a new generation to healthy food they can grow and eat themselves. We help people overcome the daunting task of getting a vegetable garden started. Our volunteers are college students who share resources and proven techniques with neighborhoods in two Montana communities. Household gardening makes access to nutritious, affordable food as easy as walking right out the back door.
Previous generations of Americans supplemented their family food requirements by having a vegetable garden full of nutritious food. But, for the most part, those traditions have faded.
We are students in the Environmental Studies program of University of Montana (Missoula) and the Sustainable Food and Bioenergy Systems program of Montana State University (Bozeman) who are extremely concerned about the modern food system we've inherited. It’s a broken system that keeps healthy food effectively out of the hands of urban citizens, bankrupts the health-care system through increasing rates of diabetes and heart disease, contributes to global warming by using 19 percent of the U.S. fossil fuel and emitting as much as 37 percent of greenhouse gases. “Food Inc.” and The Omnivores Dilemma have documented the true economic, social, and environmental prices we pay for food. Even in Montana, a largely agricultural state, we find many residents who don’t know where or how food is grown, picked, packaged or delivered to the supermarket. Especially low-income Montanans can’t afford healthy, fresh food . . . until now, until 1,000 New Gardens brought an innovative form of sustainable agriculture to their door.
As students we have researched the loss of our communities’ best farmland. Since 1986, Missoula County has lost an average three football fields of working farmland every day (29,000 acres in just 25 years). And in Bozeman it’s even worse. According to the American Farmland Trust, Bozeman’s Gallatin County contains the most prime agricultural land (over 174,000 acres) at risk of development among 263 counties in seven Western states that were studied.
It's become clear to us that while the sprawl of development erodes prime agricultural soil on the outskirts of many towns, potential growing spaces within cities are vacant. Who hasn't walked his or her neighborhood to discover that it is mostly fallow or planted in lawn? Kentucky Bluegrass is the most irrigated crop in America (three times more land is planted in grass than corn), and it’s often sprayed with herbicides. Our communities have fundamentally devalued or mis-allocated two of the Earth's finite resources—water and soil—in an effort to expand and “grassify.” We mean to change this embarrassing environmental legacy.
1,000 New Gardens volunteers have risen to these challenges. We are a movement of students working to promote environmental ethics by enabling sustainable agriculture to grow as democratically as possible. Our goals are to improve the community “foodshed,” which in a word encompasses the land our food grows on, the routes it travels, the markets it goes through, and the tables it ends up gracing. We’ll improve the community “foodshed” through local food production, soil rejuvenation and water conservation in neighborhoods, and by bringing a sustainable form of agriculture to disenfranchised members of our communities.
Ours is a project started in Missoula in 2009 and replicated in Bozeman in 2010. We believe we are encouraging a stable transition from a highly centralized, profligate form of agriculture to one that’s sustainable and healthier.