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UB Grad Student Documents Buffalo's Community Gardens

By Mark Scott

Buffalo, NY – A graduate student at the University at Buffalo is documenting the transformation of vacant lots in Buffalo into community gardens.

It may be the winter months now. But during the spring and summer, ,any urban neighborhoods are reclaiming blighted, abandoned properties and turning them into welcoming green space and a source of fresh food.

LaDona Knigge, a graduate student at UB's Department of Geography, says she's always been interested in how public space is used. And she says, she also has a love of gardening.

"There's a beautiful garden on Niagara and Jersey Streets and a really beautiful one on Best Street," Knigge said.

But Knigge says the gardens are doing more than simply adding beauty to a neighborhood. Some are producing food for the Buffalo Community Market, the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen and the Food Bank of Western New York.

Knigge says there are a total of 56 community gardens in Buffalo. She's particularly interested in how planting the gardens may be a first step of getting residents involved in the political process.

"Perhaps that's a way they can become politically active in other areas," Knigge said. "We see (the gardens) as empowering people in neighborhoods that are losing population and don't have a lot of support from the city."

Knigge says some of the residents who have reclaimed vacant lots wage a daily war against garbage and graffiti. She says her research has led her to visit various city neighborhoods and that's she's surprised that the bad reputation of some doesn't always match reality. Knigge says she was particularly impressed with gardens in Buffalo's Fruit-Belt neighborhood.