Community gardens are becoming more and more popular as the economy crumbles. Spending time with neighbors and growing food seem like old-fashioned values, but we are reverting to a basic lifestyle again as our resources dwindle. This is a good thing.
Urban areas are seeing a surge in agriculture, whether that means a small backyard vegetable patch, container gardening, city beautification projects or stormwater management. Nature in the city means improved quality of life and increased morale for residents, reduced heat island effect, improved air quality, community building and education.
Community gardens in various forms
In areas that have no gardening space, such as high-rise apartment buildings, a city may offer public space for a community garden. Vacant lots can produce food for residents, reducing food budgets. Some community gardens, where food and flowers are grown for market, create an income opportunity. Other gardens grow food for food banks and other charities.
Community gardens can be rural, too. There is one in my town of 10,000 people. It used to be very active, but it has lain fallow for a few years. Now someone has taken the initiative to give it new life this year! As soon as he announced it, people swarmed to a meeting. The need is obviously there, and he is satisfying it. I’m so glad to see this resurrected.
The benefits of a community garden
- social interaction
- nutritious food (and usually organic)
- food security
- builds self-reliance
- reduces food budget
- cross generational
- cross cultural
- income opportunity
- increased green space
- wildlife habitat
What you can grow in a community garden
Volunteers in community gardens grow vegetables, fruit, perennials, ornamental shrubs and trees. They also tend beehives. Some gardens are open to the public as educational centers. Others also have meeting places. The variety in community gardens is as diverse as any city.
Urban programs for community gardens in Seattle
The P-Patch Community Garden Program, part of the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, covers about 23 acres and serves over 2300 households. It provides food security along with culturally appropriate food for immigrants through a sustainable system. This program serves low-income families, teaching them self-reliance. By growing their own food, they also eat nutritiously and reduce their food budgets.
There are almost 40 gardens that are food-giving. Produce is donated to food banks and charities that serve the needy.
Market garden in Seattle create income for 53 low-income households. CSA shares (Community Supported Agriculture) and on-site farm stands bring in money for the participants. Residents are proud of their work when they make money by gardening.
Seattle also has 30 gardens for youth up to age 24, who can learn community building, gardening, nutrition, cooking and basic life skills. Schools or organizations supporting children must apply for these plots.
“Green Thumb” community gardens in New York City
On the east coast, another comprehensive and thriving community garden program is Green Thumb in New York City. During the city’s financial crisis in the 1970s (I was there. It was real!), volunteers started gardening in vacant lots and other pieces of abandoned land.
Today, neighborhood residents in all five boroughs manage 500 gardens! Green Thumb holds monthly workshops where volunteers learn farming, gardening, grant-writing and community organizing. This is also the source for supplies and support.
Learn more about community gardens
For more information, visit the American Community Gardening Assoc (ACGA), where the definition of community gardening is “any piece of land gardened by a group of people.” This is very broad, allowing municipalities and volunteers to create what they need where they need it.
Find a community garden in your area, or learn how to start a community garden. Either way, get involved!