Community Gardens: Their Benefits and How To Start One

Image by Kurt Bouda from Pixabay

Gardening as a practice has been around for millennia. It has allowed people to grow plants for sustenance and ornamentation; for scientific and aesthetic purposes.

Aside from their practical uses, gardens also offer various benefits to one’s physical and mental health. It can serve as a form of exercise and reduce stress. 

Community gardens are far from a new concept. They have been organized and cultivated in cities and neighborhoods worldwide for years.

This post will discuss community gardens, their benefits, and how you could start your own.

Community Gardens Defined

What is a community garden? It is a parcel of land cultivated by a group of people. Depending on the type of community garden, the site could be divided into individual plots or tilled collectively. Each person would then be entitled to a portion of the harvest that they could sell or use for their consumption.

Community gardens are usually open, public spaces created and managed by community members instead of a separate entity. In a community garden, people are empowered to develop an agricultural/botanical area and build stronger relationships with one another.

There are no hard and fast rules defining what a community garden is. One community garden can differ vastly from another. Below are the most common community gardens you can find in spaces around you.

Plot gardens

A common way to organize a community garden is to divide it into smaller plots. These smaller plots, usually around 100 to 500 square feet, would be assigned to individuals or families. 

Depending on the community garden’s rules, the person or group responsible for a particular plot could claim the harvest.

Sections could also be used to grow larger crops that won’t fit in the individual plots. Common crops in this category include watermelons, pumpkins, corn, fruit trees, etc. Members could share the responsibility of growing these crops and the upcoming harvest.

Cooperative gardens

In a cooperative garden, the members manage the entire space as one large garden. Community members would be assigned to perform specific tasks on designated schedules to care for the whole garden.

The produce harvested from the plot would then be distributed to all members. The crop could sometimes be used or donated to soup kitchens or food banks. Service organizations, civic groups, or churches often manage communal gardens for this purpose.

Entrepreneurial gardens

As the name suggests, entrepreneurial gardens grow crops for the gardeners to sell. Garden members would use their plots to grow the food they can sell to local restaurants and stores.

Participating in an entrepreneurial garden is an excellent way for community members to supplement their income. Often, the garden’s organizers would guide each gardener through the process—from planting crops to finding customers and selling their produce.

Youth gardens

Many schools launch youth gardens to support their educational training, especially in subjects like science and nutrition. Aside from being a source of food or income, the youth garden becomes a learning laboratory.

Science educators from South Australia have found community gardens to be helpful teaching tools. Engaging students in gardening projects allows them to learn scientific concepts and address local issues such as organic food production.

Therapeutic gardens

Therapeutic gardens are community gardens focused on offering horticultural therapy. This therapy uses plants to help improve the overall well-being of the gardeners and their families, friends, and caregivers.

Horticultural therapy can help its participants improve on the following:

  • Socialization
  • Cognitive abilities
  • Language skills
  • Memory
  • Physical health
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Independence

You can usually find therapeutic gardens in nursing homes, hospitals, assisted living facilities, and retirement communities. 

These gardens often incorporate structures or designs to ensure accessibility for their gardeners. These accommodations could include raised beds, wheelchair pathways, Braille signage, and tools for participants with limited mobility and strength.

Benefits of a Community Garden

Starting and participating in a community garden offers several benefits. Aside from the actual harvest, working in a community garden can help improve various aspects of your life. 

Community gardens help you socialize, improve physical and mental wellness, learn new things, and bond with your community. Below are five benefits you could enjoy from participating in a community gardening effort.

Gives access to fresh produce

Affordable fresh fruits and vegetables can sometimes be difficult to access, especially in urban areas. For this reason, not many people enjoy a well-rounded and healthy diet, especially if they lead busy lives.

A community garden is an excellent way for neighborhood residents to access fresh produce easily. They take home newly-harvested crops without putting unnecessary strain on their time and finances.

Improves air and soil quality

Dedicating a community space to serve as a garden can help improve your area’s air and soil quality. Gardens are not only pretty to look at but also benefit the natural environment.

Plants effectively improve air quality by taking in carbon dioxide from the air and breathing out oxygen. They also absorb rainwater and help lessen the pollutants that can reach lakes and rivers.

As for soil quality, plant and tree roots help prevent erosion by physically holding the soil together. Organic farming, composting, and rotating crops can also improve the soil’s quality and fertility over time.

Promotes a healthier lifestyle

Community gardens offer easy access to fresh produce, which can help people improve their diets. 

A balanced diet includes a regular intake of fruits and vegetables, which have several health benefits. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and digestive problems.

Gardening can also serve as a form of exercise. Walking, planting crops, weeding, watering, and other gardening activities can help people get used to moving their bodies.

Aside from helping one’s physical health, gardening can also improve mental wellness. It can help relieve stress by slowing down and connecting with nature. Many people enjoy gardening as a hobby as it improves their mood and boosts self-esteem.

Provides learning opportunities

Not everyone has a green thumb. Participating in a community garden can help people learn new things. It can help you develop a new skill or learn scientific concepts.

People who participate in community gardens can come from various backgrounds. Some might already be experienced gardeners, while others may be complete beginners. 

This diversity is an excellent ground for knowledge exchange. Gardeners can teach one another the best ways to grow their plants. They can share supplies and techniques to help improve their crop yield.

Aside from sharing practical skills and gardening knowledge, community gardens are a perfect space for discussing local issues. Participants can discuss food security, climate issues, and other topics related to the community.

Image by Ekaterina Ershova from Pixabay

Strengthens community bonds

Community gardens require consistent care, allowing community members to come together regularly. These enable community members to talk and connect in person.

More than being a space to grow food and other plants, community gardens are a social setting. People who might lead solitary lives can have the opportunity to get to know their neighbors and foster a social life.

How to Start a Community Garden

A community garden is quite a significant undertaking and will require some work. However, these gardens are rarely built alone. With the help of other community members, you can start your garden through the following steps.

1. Meet with interested parties

The first step to organizing a community garden is finding other people interested in the project. These people could include neighbors, government officials, church leaders, or civic organizations.

In this initial meeting, you could decide on a potential structure, the types of plants you want to grow, and other people you plan to invite. You could also list down the resources you need.

2. Form a planning committee

After meeting with interested parties, you can assign people to form the planning committee. These people will spearhead the planning and organizing process of your community garden.

If you can, involve your local government and other community organizations. They can offer resources and staffing in setting up the garden. 

The planning committee can then form smaller action committees to address different requirements, such as permits, materials sourcing, etc.

3. Choose a site

Make sure to choose a suitable area for your community garden. An ideal site would be a parcel of land that receives adequate sunlight and is near a reliable water source. It’s also best to perform a soil test to ensure quality.

4. Find a sponsor

Sponsors can be extremely helpful in ensuring your garden gets a good start. They can provide funding, materials, training, and other resources to support your garden.

You can begin by exploring your current networks. The members of your planning committee might have connections to individuals or organizations that could sponsor specific parts of the project. You can also draft request letters and send them to prospective sponsors.

5. Organize the garden

After you have your site and resources in order, it’s time to organize your garden. The way you handle this step will depend on the type of garden you plan to create. 

Will you be dividing it into individual plots? What plants, crops, or trees do you plan to grow? How many people will be working in the garden? Do you need to assign a manager or administrator? 

Talk with your committee to organize your community garden in a way that fits your needs.

6. Lay down some rules

Before every participant gets to work, setting guidelines to ensure everyone works well together is essential. Put these guidelines into writing and make sure everyone has a copy. 

You can set some rules concerning the following topics:

  • Monetary dues
  • Required working hours
  • Schedules
  • Task assignments

7. Maintain communication

Once everyone has begun working on the garden, you must maintain communication. Reliable communication helps participants connect and share information concerning the plot they’re tending.

Choose a method that works best for everyone. You could set regular meetings, create a group chat, or communicate via email.

A community garden can take a lot of work to set up. However, the rewards are well worth it. Not only can it provide material sustenance, health, and environmental benefits, but it also strengthens and unites communities.