Growing fruit and vegetables, tending to livestock, and collecting honey from beehives are everyday activities in rural communities. While city and suburban gardening typically happens in backyards, roof-tops, and balconies, community gardens tend to operate on a larger scale. The gardens can occupy spaces in parks, vacant lots, or by the roadside. They also have a social purpose—to promote healthy communities by providing access to fresh fruits and vegetables and to create recreational and therapeutic opportunities for community residents.
A special 5-year report by the National Gardening Association (NGA) indicates 35 percent of U.S. households grow food at home or in community gardens. There are two million more gardeners than were reported in 2008 (a 200% increase). “This report clearly shows that there truly is a food revolution taking place in America,” said Mike Metallo, President, and CWO of the NGA.
Building Stronger Communities
Community gardens improve social interaction in neighborhoods and build community spirit. When people get together regularly to work collectively in gardens, it enhances the cultural richness and health of the community. These gardeners are a part of the sharing economy. They are people who enjoy a shared resource without the need to be concerned about the cost of ownership. When neighbors create connections, they feel more invested in the community and have a more meaningful sense of ownership and responsibility for the events that take place.
Helping Families Thrive
Often in urban areas, community gardens have been planted on land that was once vacant lots. What were once litter-filled eyesores, have been replaced by vibrant gardens brimming over with greenery, and colorful fruits and vegetables. Community gardens provide fresh, nutritious food to families who may not have access to healthy food options or can’t afford to buy produce regularly. “Right now there are 16 million children in America struggling with Hunger, says Milke Metallo, food deserts are still commonplace, and obesity coupled with poor nutrition remains at epidemic proportions.”
Seeing Healthy Results
Gardening is an activity you can participate at any age. Children and senior citizens are two of the most active groups engaged in community gardening. Numerous studies conclude that gardening has many positive health benefits. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), gardening can change a person’s quality of life, increase the nutrients in their diet, and reduce the impact of chronic disease. Overall, the studies indicate gardening can:
- Improves self-esteem—it feels good to accomplish a task and watch things grow
- Strengthens the heart—gardening may be as beneficial ads formal exercise in reducing strokes and heart attacks
- Reduces stress—Thirty minutes of gardening increased cortisol levels, and that reduces stress
- Gardening makes you happy, and you sleep better
- Community gardening is a way to bond with family and friends
Cleaning up the Environment
Plants add oxygen to the air and reduce air pollution. The plants grown in community gardens also absorb rainwater. They reduce the amount of water which eventually gets polluted and flows into lakes and rivers. Composting is another earth-friendly task performed to maintain healthy gardens. Recycling plant waste, leaves, and trimmings make an excellent organic fertilizer.
Reducing Feelings of Isolation
Technology has improved our lives on many levels. However, it has also made many people feel isolated from others in society. To assist with improving mental health issues, several national health organizations have recommended “Horticultural Therapy” as part of a treatment plan to help in healing and restoring mental health. Community gardening is especially useful since it’s about building relationships with people. It brings people with a shared pursuit together in a safe, non-competitive environment. This interaction fosters a sense of belonging and makes isolation less attractive.
Getting Educated About Plants
Helping in a community garden is an excellent way for children to learn about growing food, nutrition, and issues related to the environment. They will also understand the importance of using work skills and business principles to accomplish projects. Adults can learn from their neighbors who come from different backgrounds and are of different ages, cultures, and races.
Community gardeners are like other gardeners who go online to watch videos and conduct research to solve problems they may find perplexing. Local garden centers are an excellent resource for getting advice and purchasing seeds or gardening equipment.
Partnering with Government
Many cities fund public community garden programs that are managed by the parks or community development departments. On a national level, the United States Department of Agriculture coordinates the People’s Garden Initiative. The gardens in this program vary in type and size and must meet three criteria to meet the USDA’s approval.
- It must benefit the community. The garden can be a recreational space or grow food for a food bank or shelter.
- It must be collaborative. Residents, groups, or organizations, must maintain the spaces,
- Those who manage the garden must incorporate sustainable practices.
As Americans grow more health-conscious, the need for nutritious fruits and vegetables will increase. Community gardens will become increasingly essential resources in the community. They play a vital role in feeding residents, building social networks, and educating children and adults about growing healthy food in open spaces.
As first published in The Cutting Edge Spring 2020 issue.