Urban Gardening Expenditures QuestionedEric Siegel's Dec...

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

January 10, 1994

Urban Gardening Expenditures Questioned

Eric Siegel's Dec. 13 article, "Baltimore urban gardening program endangered by cut in federal funds," offers an example of a mindset that has brought this country to the brink of financial ruin (and I'm optimistic here -- evidence says we're already well over the brink and heading for an inevitable crash).

According to the article, the urban gardening program has provided federal funds to Baltimore communities to help them set up flower and vegetable gardens through the University of Maryland's Cooperative Extension Service.

The program's federal funds were cut from $145,000 to $35,000, which is expected to slow down a program which has greatly benefited our urban neighborhoods.

A Department of Agriculture official says, "We've got a lot of benefits from it in relation to the costs."

A gardener is quoted: "That block that's now a garden used to be used as a dumping ground for people around the city. That hasn't happened in the five years since that garden was started. It's one of the cleanest, best-kept lots in the city." Another gardener says, "As far as the expenditure of funds, it's infinitesimal compared to the benefits."

Pretty depressing, huh? Makes you want to call your congressperson and demand that the money be restored to this program.

But wait, think a minute.

What are "federal funds?"

They are local funds funneled through the federal government -- or, more accurately, money borrowed from our children's children's children.

We are in debt to the tune of four trillion dollars, and I think we have to question the federal government's justification for borrowing even $35,000 to help start gardens in Baltimore neighborhoods. And this is for Baltimore only. This same program exists in 22 other locations.

Who is paying for this? The federal government?

No. You are. I am. Our great grandchildren will somehow have to pay for this program. We're mortgaging our descendants' future to pay outreach workers to encourage gardening and shocked that "federal funds" had to be cut back.

If an urban gardening program is such a good idea -- and I think it is -- and if it's necessary to pay people to make it succeed, then let's pay for it with our money, today's money, local money, by taking it out of the city budget.

The voters wouldn't stand for it? If that is true, then that's your answer. You can't do it.

It's brutal, it's sad, but there it is: living within your means.

aul T. Kilduff

Baltimore

Needle Exchange: A Valuable Prevention Tool

I take strong exception to Michael Gimbel's Dec. 28 letter opposing needle exchange. While needle exchange programs are not a panacea for the AIDS epidemic, they are an important tool in preventing the further spread of this fatal disease.

In Baltimore, AIDS is now the leading cause of death for the 25-to-44-year-old age group, black and white, male and female. A full 60 percent of all new AIDS cases in the city are among injection drug users.

The primary cause of the spread of this infection in Baltimore is the sharing of contaminated needles, with an estimated four to five new infections occurring each day among the city's injection-drug-use population.

In contrast to Mr. Gimbel's assertion, needle exchange programs directly address this mode of transmission, and they do it effectively.

Results from the best studied needle exchange program in the )) United States -- in New Haven, Conn. -- demonstrate a significant reduction in contaminated needles and needle circulation time, which decreases a drug user's risk of contracting an HIV infection.

The assertion that needle exchange programs condone drug use and will increase the frequency of use among current users or cause more youngsters to initiate drug use is also false.

A recently released study, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which examined all 37 needle exchange programs currently operating in the United States, conclusively states that there is "no evidence that needle exchange programs increase the amount of drug use by needle exchange clients or change overall community levels of non-injection and injection drug use."

A further benefit of needle exchange programs found by the CDC study was a significant drop in the number of dirty needles found near program sites. This would be a result appreciated by the many residents of our city who are tired of seeing used syringes littering our streets.

Most reasonable people agree that we need to concentrate on reducing demand in the new public health war on drugs.

The needle exchange program that the Baltimore City Health Department proposes to operate -- if approved this session by the Maryland General Assembly -- will serve as a direct bridge to substance abuse treatment.

The mayor has committed enough city funds to provide an adequate number of treatment slots for those program participants who desire to become drug free.

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