Climate Change Deniers Could Learn From Community Gardens

A summer-long heat wave and ravaging wildfires prove something must be done about global warming.

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At St. Mary’s College of Maryland, the on-campus garden doubles as a classroom in courses including Books The Cook and Biology of the Garden.

Under the tropical sun blaze here in Washington, D.C., gold black-eyed Susans adorn the rain garden in a wide-open neighborhood place where young people learn how to grow crops for healthy food. It's within the walls of the city, yet somehow it feels like the country. We should all be growing community gardens, given the state of the environment and the economy. Michelle Obama, lead the green way.  

Halfway across the continent, it's another story in Oklahoma—a sad state with no exclamation point. Wildfires are ravaging the bone-dry land there—just one more sign that global warming came to stay a while. 

Here's the rub: That's the state that keeps sending the most ardent foe of global warming science back to the Senate, time after time since 1994. His name is James Inhofe and he's quite a powerful, ox-like presence in the Senate. Just sayin', if you don't believe in global warming by now, then don't come crying to the rest of us states for help when it comes knocking. Isn't that hard-hearted for a nice liberal like me? That goes for the rest of the states that suffer the extreme weather consequences of global warming but block the wheels of policy progress. We're done with you.  

[See a collection of political cartoons on energy policy.]

The summer of 2012 has put the situation in clear focus. The earth is warming under our feet and rays are burning our skin and eyes with laser-like intensity. Water never tasted so good. What can we do now to do our part to help the parched planet?

This brings me to the Common Good City Farm, where a fig tree grows amid more than an acre of vegetables, herbs, corn, and luscious cutting flowers. The city garden is cared for by a corps of youths between 14 and 17,  paid to work five days a week. They tend the rows and learn some old-fashioned skills on the job. Take crop rotation, knowledge that often gets lost in translation as a family migrates to an urban area. 

Devontae Gray, 17, a Marylander and one of the group's hardest workers, said he first saw the land when it was stark in winter. "Now it's like a forest growing!" he said. Indeed, the Northwest neighborhood rowhouses seemed distant, as if on the prairie. His most pleasing discovery? "Rosemary. I love rosemary." I told him it was a symbol of remembrance. I could tell, he was seeing the garden as a place of enchantment, too.

[See photos of the summer drought around the United States]

Pertula George, executive director of the city farm, said life skill lessons are also on the learning agenda during the six-week youth program. They are interwoven with garden work. Public speaking, punctuality, observation, cooperation and leadership are covered as part of what they are meant to take home. 

On that day, the surgeon general, Dr. Regina Benjamin, stopped by to be a guest at a lunch served under an open wood roof,  prepared with garden produce. But for the Deep South heat, it was a delightful experience. 

Benjamin, a native of rural Alabama, said gardens had always been part of her upbringing and medical clinic. The virtues of city gardening, she said, are many: Learning weeding is necessary, sharing with the community, eating well in greens from the earth and a sense of ownership. 

[See photos of erratic western wildfires.]

The program is run with federal and city cooperation. Guess how many youths get to go to the Common Good City Farm's summer program? Only 16. Don't you think we can do better than that? 

Consider, too, the nation's capital has no U.S. senators to represent the need for greater environmental youth enrichment over hot summers in the city. Oklahoma's obstreperous senator should go see what they are up to only a country mile away from the Capitol. 

Come to think of it, the grumpy Senate should start planting its own seeds under the sun and see how their garden grows.  

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