Embracing Community Gardens

community garden

Community gardens serve a great purpose in communities. Whether your community has a public garden space currently or you’re interested in establishing one in your community, it’s a good idea to learn more about these gardens, what they actually mean for communities, and how to go about starting a community garden.

What is a Community Garden?

Ultimately, community gardens are designated areas of land, typically set aside by governments or trusts, which are available to a group of people for gardening. These gardens mean different things to different people.

In some communities, for example, these gardens represent a source of food and access to healthy vegetables to the poorest community members.

For some people, participating in a community garden is an educational opportunity where they can learn from watching other gardeners in action. Still other people find that participating in community gardens is a social experience where they can go and talk to people who have a shared interest.

In most U.S. cities, large and small, there are people who would welcome the opportunity to plant a garden, but lack the real estate in which to do it. They either live in very small homes with little lawn space or in apartments where gardening is nearly impossible.

Each community garden will have its own rules and requirements. Some are devoted exclusively to vegetables. Others are all about aesthetics and prefer members to grow flowers, while others allow a healthy mix of vegetables, fruits, and flowers throughout the garden.

The common ingredient in all community gardens, though, is that the sweat equity in the garden comes at the hands of the member gardeners who are responsible for maintaining the garden.

Benefits of Community Gardens

In addition to the benefits of community gardens for helping people to grow and eat their own produce, there are many other benefits to gardening that are well worth considering. Just take a look at this long list.

  • Teaching children about the circle of life.
  • Exposing children to a wide range of healthy vegetable choices.
  • Learning about new vegetables, food preparation, and more.
  • Social interaction.
  • Personal satisfaction.
  • Assistance with community food budgets – particularly in lower income households.
  • Encourages better eating habits.
  • True melting pot on the local level.
  • Getting to know your neighbors (helps to prevent crime)
  • Builds stronger sense of community.
  • Increases the number of people out and about at all hours of the day (further reduces crime)
  • Allows multiple generations to learn from each other.
  • Exposes people within the community to new cultures.
  • Exercise – gardening helps to burn calories.
  • Increased property value for homes near the gardens.

For many people who participate in community gardens, the number one benefit is the simple pleasure that comes from working with the earth and then eating the literal fruits (and vegetables) of their labor.

Then there are the green benefits of community gardens to consider.

How are Community Gardens Green?

Community gardens offer a significant benefit to the planet, in addition to the many other benefits they offer.

For instance, temperatures inside large cities are often 10 degrees higher, on average, than in the surrounding areas. During summer months when temperatures really soar, those differences are even greater.

The problem with that is that in order to combat the added heat and reach cooler and more comfortable temperatures people run air conditioners in homes, offices, and automobiles releasing even more greenhouse gasses into the environment – causing more harm to the planet.

It becomes a vicious cycle that’s causing irrevocable harm to the planet. Community gardens and other green spaces within these large communities are instrumental in reducing the temperatures and keeping things cooler and calmer on the planetary front.

This also results in the burning of fewer fossil fuels and other not-so-pleasant energy creation processes for the fuel required to power up those air conditioners and automobiles.

The benefits do not stop there though. Other planetary benefits exists in the fact that people often sell or give away the food from community gardens they cannot consume. This helps to provide local vegetables into the community food supply that relies on fewer (if any) fossil fuels to produce and transport – further reducing the overall carbon footprint of the garden as a whole.

Community gardens are operated and maintained by individuals rather than corporations, and many of them have strict rules about pesticides, fertilizers, etc. in order to keep the foods as healthy as possible while growing and when on your tables. This reduces potentially hazardous waste materials from pesticides flowing into community water supplies, which can harm plants and animals living in the water as well as those that feed on animals living in the water or even those that drink the water.

As far as the planet is concerned, green spaces like community gardens are gifts that keep on giving.

How to Start Your Own Community Garden

There are many different types of community gardens you can begin. Many churches have community gardens available to parishioners, church staff, and church members. Planned neighborhoods and communities are beginning to include community gardens and other green spaces as central parts of the community plan. Other types of community gardens exist in the form of:

  • Youth or School Gardens
  • Job Training/Educational Gardens
  • Communal Gardens
  • Food Pantry Gardens

Once you’ve determined the type of garden you want to create, it’s time to face the organizational challenges of operating and running a community garden. These include:

  • Location
  • Management Responsibilities
  • Maintenance
  • Encouraging Participation
  • Dealing with Issues of Theft and Vandalism
  • Educating Gardeners
  • Water
  • Location or Site
  • Practical Matters of Gardening (tilling, plowing, mulch, and composting can be difficult for many people interested in participating to arrange and manage).

Step 1 – Determine Location

Of course, the first challenge is finding a location. The problem with many community gardens is that they are built on borrowed land, creating some degree of uncertainty about not only infrastructure and practical issues like getting water to the garden, but also in encouraging participation because community members may fear that the garden can be plucked away from them at any time.

Obviously community land designated by the township or city for the purpose of community gardening is the ideal situation. Consider applying for grants not only to purchase land for community gardens, if necessary, but also for the purpose of getting water supplied to the garden and perhaps purchasing equipment available to community members who participate in the garden. Many community gardens charge fees to help cover some of these costs.

Step 2 – Establish Core Principles or Beliefs

In order for a community garden to be successful, everyone participating needs to be on the same wavelength about certain core ideas about the garden. Work with the people instrumental in getting the garden started to create a set a foundation for governance within the garden itself.

There must be a unifying factor throughout the garden and certain rules and restrictions to make the garden successful. Some of these will be practical matters, regarding things like water storage and/or usage, while others may be about behavior within the garden space and respecting other members and the planet.

Step 3 – Drum up Enthusiasm

It doesn’t matter how many community gardens you have in your community or how large the space set aside for gardening happens to be, if you don’t get the word out and work to build excitement about the garden, then few people are likely to show up. You need not only people who are going to work the garden plots, but also people who are willing to manage the garden, educate new gardeners, and enforce the rules and regulations you’ve established for the community garden.

There are many avenues to consider for encouraging community participation including neighborhood associations, PSAs on local television and radio stations, and social media. Don’t forget to seek sponsorship from stores in the community and to use community bulletin boards to post flyers promoting your community garden during the planning stages and beyond. Public libraries are also great for spreading the word about community gardens, so don’t forget to take advantage of that particular resource as well.

Step 4 – Gain Exposure with Education

Education goes well beyond gardening alone. Consider creating recipe books that teach community members new recipes to make with the foods they’ve grown. Offer cooking classes with a local kitchen supply store. Ask the local health department or a local nutritionist to provide nutrition education to community garden members for ways to make the most of their gardening efforts in relation to their health.

The more you educate participants about how to make their gardens work for them, the less likely they will be to give up on the idea of maintaining their gardens.

With so many benefits to community gardens, it’s surprising how few communities have well run and maintained gardens. From increases in property values, which translates to more tax dollars coming into the community, to healthier residents, community gardens have a lot to offer people in large and small towns throughout the country alike. Now is the perfect time to introduce your community to the many benefits these gardens represent.

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