New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball today announced that the Community Gardens Task Force has issued its 2023 annual report. The report outlines recommendations to help the State further support the establishment and expansion of community gardens across the state, including creating a state-wide dashboard for community gardens to share data; increasing coordination between community gardens and government entities; mitigating barriers to funding; and increasing staffing opportunities in community gardens. The full report is available on the Department of Agriculture and Markets’ website at https://agriculture.ny.gov/community-gardens-task-force-2023-report.
Commissioner Ball said, “Community gardens play a pivotal role in our state’s agricultural industry and fill an essential gap in the supply chain. From making fresh, locally grown produce more accessible to those in underserved areas to providing educational and recreational spaces for residents of all ages, these spaces respond to the unique needs and aspirations of their communities to contribute social and economic benefits beyond food production. The guidance released by the Community Gardens Task Force today will help ensure these important places can continue to grow and flourish in New York State.”
The Task Force, established in 2021, is chaired by Commissioner Ball and includes representatives from State agencies and members who represent existing community gardens, municipalities, school districts, other special use districts, public authorities, and cooperative extension services. The priorities of the task force include fostering partnerships between community gardens and local voluntary food assistance programs; expanding the production of fresh fruits and vegetables in areas served by community gardens, especially those in food deserts; and developing after school programs that participate in community gardens.
The report issued today outlines actions that the State and other partners can take in support of community gardens including launching a leadership certification program for community gardeners and a statewide soil testing program, developing a state-wide resource dashboard, increasing coordination, improving land access, mitigating grant related barriers, and increasing staffing opportunities. In her State of the State Book and Executive Budget, Governor Hochul is already taking steps forward on several of these recommendations. To help create new community gardens and increase the productivity of those already operating, Governor Hochul is providing $2,325,000 to launch initiatives to:
- establish a Community Gardens Grant Program to support the creation of new or expansion of existing community gardens;
- create a Community Gardens Leadership Certification Program to provide training and continuing education; and
- provide funding for soil testing, as well as associated outreach and training.
The funding will also help develop and launch a leadership certification program for community gardeners and a statewide soil testing program, as recommended in the Task Force report. In cooperation with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Harvest NY Community Gardens Team, the curriculum and training for the leadership certification will focus on preparation for the distinct challenges faced in the establishment and development of these important sites. In conjunction with soil testing that also includes support for community gardens to interpret results to inform plantings, gardens will have the well-rounded foundation and ongoing development needed to establish a sustainable presence.
Community gardens bolster neighborhoods with more than just healthy food. They increase green space, lower carbon footprints, provide recreational spaces, encourage community cooperative engagement, support physical activity, and offer skills development and workforce training opportunities. Community garden leaders, many of whom are volunteers, bring varied levels of management experience and often need training on how to start and sustain a community garden. In addition, because community gardens are often located on vacant or less desirable plots of land, soil testing protects the health and safety of the people working and the food produced in these gardens.
For more information on the work of the Community Gardens Task Force, please visit https://agriculture.ny.gov/community-gardens-task-force, or email [email protected].