Horticulture classes teach therapeutic sustainability, not just gardening

Courtesy of Ken Lee.

Saddleback College Horticulture class stresses urban farming and sustainability. (Courtesy of Ken Lee)

Horticulture, what by most is seen as no more than a trade of watering plants or maintaining gardens, has fared a neglected life as the undergrowth of landscape professions.

Horticulture takes its roots from gardening, a scientifically recognized therapeutic activity, while providing physical exercise comparable to that of a gym workout. To understand modern horticulture however, one has to think of gardening differently, more than just a small outing in the backyard.

“New horticulture”, as it is called, grounds itself as being sustainable. Horticulture therapy is one of the many professions which bases itself off of new horticulture and aims to provide both physical, such as exercise and working out, and mental well being, such as relieving stress and therapy. Urban farmers are another division of new horticulture which seek sustainability amongst an urban backdrop, teaching local communities, one at a time, where and how to use the land available to them to grow food.

Moreover, “learning” is essential to understanding new horticulture. Urban farming is just one of the many faces of new horticulture, which is taught in Saddleback College’s horticulture and landscape design courses.

This revolves around teaching to provide organic elements in urban spaces, where many communities find themselves lacking land to utilize, urban farming teaches these communities classifications of land such as “green fields,” or undeveloped land potentially useable for farming, and “brown fields,” developed land which can be re-purposed into viable farmland.

The course aims to challenge students by asking how one can keep from destroying the environment and remaining sustainable.

“I’m here to show my experience.” said Ken Lee, an instructor at Saddleback who specializes in design technology and horticulture, with 35 years of teaching. “…nature has very powerful functions. We destroy, nature heals.”

Increasingly, less and less green fields are present in today’s world of large cities and suburban planning, the desire for fresh and easily accessible food has not. Individuals today are amongst one of the largest consumer revolutions in recent history, such that they vehemently demand to know where their food is grown, how it is grown and if they can grow their own food. This is where urban farming comes in.

Urban farming is a movement which finds its roots as close and mundane as growing as growing greens on highway medians. Known as the “Guerrilla Gardener,” Ron Finley eclipses one of the most recent urban farming revolutions. Finley set out on a mission to turn traffic allies in South Los Angeles into public gardens, in order to bring local communities together working toward a common goal. His work was not without struggle, as Los Angeles city officials issued a warning and set out to destroy the gardens impeding public spaces. Finley, destined to popularize urban farming to transform neighborhoods, started a local movement to counter the city’s effort, enabling the passage of a bill among LA city council that “abandoned” property may be used as community gardens.

GMOs in a way, are the antithesis of urban farming. Where GMO-based companies seek to create plants that can grow amongst large farms in the tightest place possible and remain sufficient food producers, urban farming focuses on being as small as possible where each neighborhood is independent in food production.

“We have to change the perception… We need to focus on our own areas, one community, one neighborhood at a time…as opposed to ‘let’s mass produce everything’.” said Ken Lee.