By Staff Writer Susanah Kopecky.
Being a part of a neighborhood can be a socially healthy choice, and a garden can provide health benefits through the myriad fruits of its citizens’ labor. But what some may not consider are the ways in which such gardens are being utilized in some communities to better the overall health of residents.
The Benefits of Community Gardens
The American Community Garden Association (ACGA) points to the broad definition of a community garden. According to the ACGA ,this entity can be identified by the many benefits it can offer, including encouraging “social interaction,” improving “the quality of life for people in the garden,” producing “nutritious food” and the helping to reduce expenditures for “family food budgets.”
Local, socially driven gardens may indeed perform many important and beneficial health functions, not the least of which include fostering a sense of respect and understanding for nature and the ways in which we benefit from it; providing a place for fresh fruit and vegetables to be grown and grown with pride; and providing an avenue through which members can build a stronger sense of unity.
Community gardens are a perfect example of putting words into action and turning an abstract notion into a real product, with very tangible benefits. A properly cared for green space may illustrate how to care for land responsibly, and as a benefit, the greater the respect individuals have for the land, the greater thought they may put into their usage of its products. Even by simply deciding to start a garden, organizers already have decided to create a sacred natural space, for the benefit of the neighborhood at large. These gardens can be set up rather simply, and would-be gardeners can learn how to take care of gardens through many easily accessible and free useful resources.
Tools To Get Started
The ACGA offers a plethora of tools and tips on how to plan a community garden, and how to start actually building and caring for one, from start to finish. According to the article “Community Gardens: Lessons Learned from California Healthy Cities and Communities” by Joan Twiss et al., the many recognized benefits of starting a community garden included its presence as instrumental in helping to influence meaningful and significant policies, including those pertaining to “interim land use and complimentary water use,” and those that “promote the role of public health in improving quality of life.” (A very tangible benefit, indeed, for those who would sneer at the idea of a garden as a source of more than just lovely greenery.) A community garden can show individuals how to take fate into their own hands, and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.
Creating Bounty in Areas of Need
Another benefit which may be more obvious to the eye is that an effective garden can provide fresh fruits and vegetables. For communities that may otherwise not have easy access to a high amount of affordable fresh fruit and vegetables, and/or simply don’t have residents who tend to purchase and eat many vegetables and fruit for lack of availability or affordability, a chance to grow healthy food presents a chance both to better the lives of locals but also gives agency to the growers. Those involved in the city adopting such a garden may then take their future into their own hands, and decide, through the observation afforded through a community garden, if growing certain beneficial foods is something they would like to continue to do, for the benefit of the community.
Imagine a community in which fresh fruit and vegetables simply isn’t a reality; by taking matters into their own hands, a community can effectively change the very way its members eat, recognize nutritional needs and perhaps even the way community members look at eating and the connection between health and food consumption. Community gardens have been seen to encourage individuals not just to become proficient gardeners, but to engage in gardening for physical benefits and better learning to appreciate the time and skill it takes to successfully grow a plant, fruit, vegetable, shrub, bush or tree.
Physical and Relational Health
A garden may also foster healthier community interactions, and thus better the relationship community members have with one another. According to the Dallas organization Gardeners In Community Development, such green endeavors “increase a sense of community ownership and stewardship.” The successful upkeep of a garden may become a point of pride for the motivated community. And what community doesn’t want the opportunity to show off (its green thumb) a little bit?
Community gardens can also help to bring members closer together, as they learn precious details about caring for their town and the precious land on which they live. The study (“Community Gardens”) also notes that community gardens may help to “elevate” the collective “public consciousness about public health.” Cities which have been brought together by a common love and respect for their public garden have also benefited from what Twiss calls “strengthened community building skills.” Caring for a garden may actually influence the caregivers to care more about their fellow man: is this not an incredible notion? The study also found that such an activity may create “opportunities to organize around other issues and build social capital.”
Other benefits ascribed to community gardens in terms of positive contributions to society include the idea that successful community gardens may help to create “culturally appropriate educational and training materials, and [strengthen]… community building skills.” These same gardens have been known for many decades to have the ability to “build and nurture community capacity.”
Community Gardens: A Ripple Effect, Worth the Effort
In essence, the community garden can provide an endless list of good things for a community. Beyond providing a space in which community members may learn a new skill, develop a deeper respect for the land which nourishes and sustains us, and ultimately inspiring communities to come together for this overwhelmingly positive endeavor, there is nearly no end to the benefits a community garden can offer its citizens. All it takes is a little research, a lot of motivation, and a firm desire to be involved with something positive, and come to the table ready to get a little dirty for a great cause. There are just too many benefits of not to consider adopting the practice and starting one or getting involved in one, in your own community!