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Beyond zero sum

March 29, 2012

Community gardens seem to be one of the up-and-coming trends in our readership area. Transition Honesdale started one last year in Honesdale, PA, and last week, we printed an article about one being started this year in Hawley, PA. In Tusten, NY, there is a proposal to start a community garden in Narrowsburg, on the Fort Delaware property and the 14-acre field on Kirk Road that currently belongs to the school district (as of press time, it had not yet been confirmed whether the venues will be available).

Although the proposal has been put together by Andrea Reynosa, who is a councilwoman for the Town of Tusten, it is not a town government project. Nevertheless, the subject of the garden came up last week at a town board meeting because the board is forming a Local Development Corporation (LDC) so that it can raise funds for various projects to enhance the town (municipalities themselves are not allowed to do fundraising), and the community garden could be one of the projects for which funds would be raised.

As a result of the LDC connection, and because at least part of the garden is proposed for school property, a member of the public raised a question as to the potential negative impact such a project might have on local farmers. Should any public facilities be used to encourage a community garden when such a thing might in fact cut into sales at farmers’ markets?

As staunch advocates of local agriculture, we are delighted to see farmers’ welfare brought into the equation. But we think this criticism is based on a faulty assumption: that we are talking about a zero-sum game. The idea that community gardens are harmful to farmers assumes, in particular, that there is only some fixed amount of demand for fresh produce, and that therefore, for every new supplier that comes in, some existing supplier must sell less.