Much has been written about the development, presence, and impact of “food deserts” in rural and urban areas of the United States. These are areas where residents have poor access to fresh and/or high quality foods because of cost, location, or other issues. Many of these same communities have numerous vacant lots that could be used to grow food for anyone on a “take only what you need” basis. Community gardens are a wonderful idea, but the focus on annual vegetables can increase the money, time, and environmental impact required for success. Perennial gardens can provide a sustainable supply of foods at lower costs. Such gardens offer fruit and nut trees (apples, plums, figs, pecans, and others), grape, muscadine, and scuppernong vines, berry bushes, asparagus, and other treats.
A nonprofit initiative could initially focus in Arkansas, a Southern state where even urban dwellers often retain remnants of a more rural heritage in which people grew, harvested, stored, and cooked their own food. The group would identify lots, plant perennials, and offer classes and information on harvesting, storing, and cooking the foods. Some communities, like Little Rock, also have a city land bank which could be approached about creating perennial gardens on vacant land awaiting title clearance. And landowners might be interested in hosting a perennial garden on their property.
When crops are chosen carefully based on environment, perennial productive gardens create another potential use of vacant land and greenspace and, importantly, can provide fresh, local foods that promote healthy living at low cost.