A gardening friend once made a comment that has stayed with me. It doesn’t take much to become a gardener, just a few seeds, some basic tools and a little knowledge. More vital, he said, is the gardener’s own shadow.

It’s the commitment a gardener to show up and get involved. It's the best fertilizer, he believed. Multiply that involvement by a neighborhood, and you’ve got a community garden.

Cedar Valley Grows, a collaboration of partners whose goal is to develop and maintain a network of community gardens in the Cedar Valley, is encouraging neighborhoods, religious groups, service organizations and non-profits to get involved.

A community information meeting is planned from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Cedar Falls Recreation Center. Information will be repeated from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Feb. 21 at Waterloo's Cedar Valley SportsPlex. Applications are available at www.cedarvalleygrows.org. Submission deadline is March 14.

Four gardens will be awarded, two each in Cedar Falls and Waterloo. Black Hawk County/Iowa State University Extension and Outreach will offer classes and support for garden managers. The Blue Zones Project will provide seeds and tools.

Cedar Valley Grows also includes Healthy Cedar Valley Coalition, University of Northern Iowa Center for Energy and Environmental Education, Iowa Northland Regional Council of Governments and the cities of Waterloo and Cedar Falls.

"A community garden makes some of the Blue Zones principles real and tangible — getting to know your neighbors, eating healthy and participation," said coordinator Felicia Cass. 

Historically, the social interaction aspect of community gardens has been as important as the produce. Some of the first organized community garden plots sprang up in Detroit in the 1890s.

During World War I, the government created a nationla program called the United States School Garden Army, “enlisting” millions of children, 50,000 teachers and thousands more volunteers to participate in garden projects. Community gardens helped feed the hungry and provided employment during the Great Depression. World War II Victory Gardens improved morale as well as provided food. 

Along with Rubik’s cubes, smiley face stickers and hot pants, the 1970s ushered in a renewed interest in community gardening. Urban gardens helped rebuild blighted communities and encouraged social networking.

Today's community garden projects also improve the quality of life for people involved, promotes community development, encourages self-reliance, produces healthy harvests and can reduce food budgets. 

For more information, contact Cass at (319) 883-8626.

Special Sections Editor for the Courier

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