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wide-ranging recommendations for potential state action. Parmer’s legislative efforts highlight four of those areas. The Omnibus Hunger Bill would establish an Emergency Food Assistance to Families and Individuals program with $2.5 million in state funds, to be matched by an equal value of local cash or services. Similar to the Temporary first state-local aid program set up in 1983, Parmer’s proposed program would supplement TERP with money specifically for food costs. “We’re actually going in and creating an emergency nutrition program,” explains Parmer, who bases the funding request on the cost of the number of bags of Grow-Your-Own-Relief Program By Greg Stephens Austin AMONG the many recommendations made by the Senate Interim Committee on Hunger and Nutrition are recommendations of moral support, such as a call for cooperation between public agencies and private groups. In this category comes the recommendation “that the Texas Agriculpromote the development of Community Gardening.” Community-gardening activists see gardening as one of the most obvious means of short-circuiting hunger a means of addressing the source rather than the result of poverty and hunger. Communitygardening leaders are unlikely to be too excited about the two paragraphs devoted by “Faces of Hunger” to gardening alternatives. But they realize that, in a year where fiscal restraint is atop everyone’s list of priorities, any mention of gardening is a seed that can be nurtured for further growth. Sen. Hugh Parmer plans to introduce a resolution during the current legislative session calling on TAES to develop a program of technical assistance to community gardeners, using Austin Community Gardens as a model. “My main concern is to put together legislation that will make it through the Senate,” explained Parmer. “We face a very cautious mood financially.” Before writing its report, the Senate Interim Committee directed the Legislative Budget Board to research the probable cost of implementing each recommendation. The bottom line on community gardening that came back from TAES is that it would cost $29,000 per county to implement a statewide gardening program, plus another $95,000 for an Greg Stephens is an Austin journalist and songwriter, who served as a public relations consultant for Austin Community Gardens last fall. administrator and expenses. The conclusion: TAES could not implement such a program without funding from the state. The report does not include two measures that community garden and agricultural leaders consider of primary importance: drawing up a state law that will require idle state land to be available for gardening, and the creation of a statewide Community Gardening Coordinator, who would be responsible for pressing this land into usage. Eight other states, including California and Massachusetts, have laws on the books requiring that idle and vacant state land be available for individual and community gardening. Parmer’s resolution does mention HCR 135, adopted by the 68th Legislature, which made available a computerized list of all idle/vacant state land and encouraged community gardening on those sites. Nancy Epstein, Executive Director of the Senate Interim Committee, argues that the existing list is probably a sufficient tool for enterprising individuals and groups willing to utilize it. But Austin Community Garden director Eleanor McKinney noted that one problem with the list, aside from the red tape involved in getting any given state agency to grant access to idle land, is that the list does not indicate which lands are actually usable garden spaces. She estimates the number may be as low as 25 percent. In her September 1984 testimony to the Interim Committee, McKinney called for the creation of the statewide Community Gardening Coordinator position. This individual would: review and analyze the public land list to determine suitability for community gardens; promote a public awareness campaign concerning the benefits of community gardening and the availability of lands; lend technical assistance and set up an information and referral system. In short, the same duties “Faces of Hunger” referred to TAES, but at a cost that some sources put in the $30,000 range, total. McKinney thinks the state could easily show such an investment to be cost effective. “A 25 by 20 foot plot of land will average $300 worth of produce per growing season,” said McKinney. She said that her experience serving as regional director for the American Community Gardening Association leads her to believe “there are a lot of people who would rather grow food than ask for food stamps.” Dean McGraw, Vegetable Extension Specialist at Prairie View A&M, supports the idea of a statewide Community Gardening Coordinator. “It would be easy to show a return in produce and in reduction of capital outlay for social programs” said McGraw. “We’ve shown that gardens turn back at least $1 per square foot. But it would probably take 3 to 4 years to collect benchmark data. The more immediate benefits would be non-monetary -neighborhood improvement, teaching people selfMiance, giving the elderly and others a chance for social interaction, keeping inner-city kids off the street. I don’t think you can measure those things in terms of dollars. McGraw, who works with A&M’s Intensive Farm Planning program, agreed with McKinney that Prairie View A&M would be an ideal home base for the statewide position. “We’re in a position to interface with the ongoing extension service,” he pointed out. Community gardening programs are relatively new and, thus, may not have the pull this time around to gain more than moral support in the state’s battle against hunger. But for future reference, it might be appropriate to appraise the community gardening ethic. A dollar of Texas money given to a relief agency may keep one child from going hungry for one night. But that same dollar invested in a gardening program can help teach both child and family how to feed themselves for life. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11