Growing fresh produce may seem impossible to many city dwellers, but the growing popularity of urban gardening could change that feeling.
Baton Rouge community gardens, like Baton Roots, are scattered throughout the city. Community gardens aim to make gardening accessible to all residents. These shared gardens work by encouraging the community to collaborate in the cultivation and maintenance of designated land with the aim of providing the group with a harvest to enjoy.
Baton Roots program founder and lead coordinator Mitchell Provensal says the program was created as part of East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s Geaux Get Healthy Coalition, designed to combat food insecurity in the region. Since its beginnings in Howell Park in 2019, Baton Roots has grown into 11 housing sites with partnerships at three high schools.
“We decided to grow food where people need it and where it’s harder to get to,” Provensal said. “Part of our program is educating people on how to grow food themselves.”
Baton Roots hosts workshops on the first Saturday of each month that teach healthy habits like gardening, healthy eating, and movement. It also hosts volunteer days that give locals the opportunity to help stock a food desert while gaining hands-on farming experience to implement at home.
Research shows that participating in the process of growing food helps build a better relationship with what’s on a person’s plate.
Baton Roots program operations coordinator SK Groll said: “It just brings you closer to your food and kind of demystifies what I think is a confusing and distant system.”
Rising grocery prices also mean urban gardening could save money. Realistically, the majority of people are only able to grow a portion of what they eat, but the effort can still lead to a shorter shopping list while incorporating more fresh ingredients into meals.
Baton Roots advises starting small – working with a smaller space can have its limitations, but can also foster creativity.
“One of our favorite volunteers took seedlings and grew them in 5-gallon plastic tubs,” Groll said. “She’s in a smaller space with no in-ground garden.”
Choosing your first crops can be as easy as going to the grocery store. Trader Joe’s is known for affordable herbaceous plants perfectly sized for window seals. If a residence lacks natural light, an alternative is to use an LED grow light.
If you’re not yet confident in your green thumb, a reliable – but more expensive – option is an indoor hydroponic gardening system. These systems, like those from Aerogarden, can guide beginners through the growing process, telling them when to add more water or nutrients.
With warmer days ahead, May is a great time to welcome a little green into life by volunteering with a community garden or starting one at home. No matter what space you’re working with, you can grow a happy, healthier Baton Rouge.
“Knowing more about the world around us is important even in an urban space,” Groll said, “and especially in an urban space.”