Looking for an activity to help the environment while you reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle? Try getting your hands dirty in a community garden. Connecting with nature can lower your stress level and lift your mood. Digging in the dirt gives your muscles a workout while your plants nourish the planet.
Community gardens are growing (no pun intended) across the country. The shared green spaces are ideal for anyone who doesn’t have room to grow at home, and they’re a great way to develop new skills. No experience with plants? No problem! You’ll be surrounded by experienced gardeners with tips to share. Look for community gardens in schools, universities, churches, housing complexes, and parks.
Neighborhood gardens improve access to affordable, nutritious food. It’s easy to adopt healthier habits when nourishing options are available. Dining on food grown close to home is one of several eco-friendly benefits of community gardens.
Reduce your “food miles”
Locally-grown produce cuts down on “food miles” — the distance from the farm to your table. Does that pepper have a passport? If your chili pepper came from Chile, it racked up costs to the environment and your grocery bill. Fuel prices and transportation costs ultimately affect the prices you pay in the store.
When food travels on a plane, train, or truck requiring fossil fuel, it uses more energy and increases pollution. Dining from your garden costs you less, saves energy, and helps us all breathe a little easier.
You can keep pests at bay the natural way
Growing your own herbs, fruits, and vegetables puts you in control of the chemicals going into your soil and your food. You don’t have to limit yourself to organic gardening to realize the benefits of a more natural approach. Strawberries top the list of produce with the highest pesticide residue. Avoiding weed killer, and pesticide ensures your strawberries taste more like … strawberries.
Gardening with fewer toxic chemicals adds fewer pollutants to the environment and, ultimately, our water supply. You’ll grow healthier plants in healthier soil while limiting pollution. Pesticides can kill beneficial insects, such as bees and butterflies, that play an essential role in our food cycle.
You protect the pollinators that drive our food supply
Community gardens with colorful plants attract bees and butterflies. These little pollinators play a vital role in our food supply. As they feast on nectar from flowering plants, they transfer the pollen and seeds that allow plants to reproduce.
It’s estimated that nearly one-third of global crops depend on cross-pollination. Honey bees in the U.S. are credited with more than $1.2 billion in agricultural productivity. Without bees and butterflies to aid nature’s production process, many crops would die off. Adding local, native plants to your community garden helps pollinators protect our future food sources.
Plants improve our air quality
You may recall from science class that plants take in carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas associated with global warming — and release oxygen. Participating in a community garden reduces your carbon footprint by giving oxygen back to the environment. Gardens also absorb rainwater to reduce the amount of runoff carrying pollutants into rivers and lakes.
Growing green minds
Gardening is also a rewarding family activity. Kids see the results of cooperation, hard work, and patience when they finally taste the fruits of their labor. Neighborhood gardens foster a sense of community and stewardship of the land. Along with healthier fruits and veggies, you’ll also be growing the next generation of eco-friendly eaters.
Emily Hummel is a freelance writer and journalist in Austin, Texas. Her garden is full of fresh herbs, peaches, and pollinators.