Kohlrabi and orchids. Taro and roses. Ung choi, chayote and daikon. These are growing side by side in downtown Honolulu at the Foster Community Garden, adjacent to the parking lot of Foster Botanical Garden. In 60 raised beds wedged between concrete highrises and the vestiges of paradise, the culinary flavors and aesthetics of the city’s diverse cultures intermingle and thrive; within each bed is a story of ethnic identity and pride.
The need for community gardens is growing as unemployment continues to rise nationally and locally, and more people struggle to meet their nutritional needs. Fresh produce is often the most expensive part of the food budget, and for many seniors and others getting by on fixed or low-incomes, community plots provide opportunities to get healthy food, fresh air and exercise outdoors.
Visit a community garden in Hawai'i and you'll get a glimpse at how ethnic groups here historically have had to adapt and to cooperate with each other. Each garden is governed by a set of rules: make sure your plot isn’t overgrown and encroaching on your neighbor’s; don’t use herbicides (presumably because your neighbor might be harvesting); no excessive watering (instead some gardeners use 2-liter soda bottles to provide supplemental irrigation); and no matter how well-intentioned you think you are, don’t work in someone else’s plot without their permission, and so forth. Break the rules or forget to pay your dues and you’re out.
Of course, there usually is a waiting list. For more information, contact the Community Recreational Gardening Program.