Community gardens grow food and friendship

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Spring has arrived, and with it, patches of green sprout up in urban jungles across the country, transforming landscapes and lives. Learn how community gardens grow more than food in neighborhoods.

Two people smiling and engaging in a gardening activity outdoors on a sunny day.
Discover how community gardens cultivate food, friendships and sustainable living skills for all ages. Photo credit: YayImages.

While gardening doesn’t always require teamwork, digging in the dirt with neighbors can certainly foster community. These green spaces offer outdoor community hubs in cities grappling with food deserts and isolation amplified by screens. People of all ages and from all walks of life come together to plant a garden, building connections to the earth and each other. 

Social benefits of community gardens

Community gardens hold widespread appeal for several reasons. Gardening together builds community across generations, nationalities and cultures.

Support network

Community gardens often serve as a support network for participants. They may offer camaraderie and assistance in times of need. 

Shane Brill of Washington College is an avid permaculturist and Director of the Campus Community Garden at Washington College in Chestertown, MD. “Urban and suburban community gardens help individuals of all ages and economic backgrounds experience a sense of belonging in a larger community of life,” he says.

Shared diverse knowledge 

PBS recently reported that gardening connects groups from many religious and cultural backgrounds, including indigenous gardeners and newcomers. Immigrants may share permaculture tips, vegetable recipes or sustainable agriculture methods from their homelands. In turn, they may pick up tips from neighbors about cold frame designs to extend the growing season.

Hands-on collaborative learning

Gardening in a shared garden plot provides a hands-on learning environment where people of all backgrounds can learn valuable gardening skills. Newbies learn from experienced gardeners, gaining practical knowledge in planting, cultivating, and harvesting crops.

Budget-friendly local produce

Community gardens offer a budget-friendly alternative to store-bought groceries. By growing their produce, participants may reduce their grocery bills while enjoying access to fresh, organic fruits and vegetables that didn’t spend hours getting shipped a long way.

At the same time, these gardens may offer individuals the chance to learn about little-known varieties of fruits or vegetables their fellow gardeners may plant and even natural plant food tricks for a more bountiful harvest.

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Personal and neighborhood benefits

The benefits of gardening go beyond simply planting seeds and watching them grow into food. Community gardening offers health perks for people and the environment, and this idea resonates particularly well with younger generations.

“Millennials grew up knowing about climate change, can see the benefits and challenges of rapidly evolving technology,” says Brill. “They tend to appreciate the relationship between food quality and personal well-being.”

Exercise and stress reduction

Gardening requires gentle movement, including bending, digging and planting. This exercise offers obvious physical benefits, yet it may also help with emotional and mental health. Multiple studies have shown that gardening can lower stress.

In addition, growing vegetables and fruits like tomatoes and lettuce give communities easy access to fresh produce. This produce, right from the garden, is packed with nutrients essential for health.

Biodiversity and reduced carbon footprint

The greenery and flowers of a community garden may improve the appearance of a neighborhood and enhance its charm. While serving as a gathering place for humans, it can also be a haven for diverse species. By introducing various fruits, herbs, vegetables and more, community gardens invite bees, butterflies and birds to the area.

Even better, local food production cuts down on emissions linked to transporting groceries across vast distances. Growing food locally reduces carbon footprints and attracts beneficial species and like-minded people.

Collaborative thinking 

Running a community garden has challenges. Limited space and resources pose significant challenges, especially in urban areas. 

Innovative solutions like rooftop gardens or shared spaces address this issue, maximizing available land for cultivation. Additionally, adapting to climate challenges offers the opportunity for collaborative thinking and creative approaches, like composting for better soil and rainwater harvesting for watering gardens.

When planning a garden, community organizers may use greenhouses, raised beds and select climate-appropriate plants to thrive in diverse weather conditions. These strategies ensure year-round productivity and sustainability, empowering communities to overcome environmental obstacles and continue reaping the benefits of communal cultivation.

Community garden initiatives

To get involved in community gardening, search for local gardens through social media, websites such as the American Community Gardening Association, or even your city council website.

Beginners can benefit from workshops and tools provided by these gardens. When joining existing projects, sign up for newsletters and offer your skills in gardening or other areas like social media or photography.

Community gardens grow more than vegetables; they help to sow seeds of connection in an increasingly disconnected world. They provide an opportunity for real-life social interaction and learning between diverse individuals. 

As Brill says, they foster community. “Urban and suburban community gardens help individuals of all ages and economic backgrounds experience a sense of belonging in a larger community of life.”

Sarita Harbour is a long-time business and finance writer. She created An Off Grid Life to help people become more self-reliant.

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