How Does a Community Garden Work?
Produce Growing in Nature
Grow Fresh Foods Yourself
When people go to the supermarket, many do not realize that the produce they buy is likely coming from countries which are far away, when the same fruits and vegetables may be available right near their own homes. As climate change puzzles citizens and scientists, and the expense of fossil fuels grows higher and higher, awareness is also growing as to how far food is traveling before it gets served at the table.
This is reflected in your food shopping budget in rising prices too. Access to locally fresh fruits and vegetables is limited to how much land is available, either in your town or on your own property. If one lives in a condo or townhouse, there is no big yard or place for a garden. Even if people do have the space, many do not have the gardening skills that everyone once had, perhaps nobody ever taught them gardening, or they forgot what they knew when stores made so many food items available. But do you want to live in New Jersey and be buying apples from New Zealand, when there are many apple orchards near your home? It wastes energy to transport the food that far, and by the time it arrives, it is often out of season and not fresh.
When you shop at the supermarket, you can ask any of the managers where any of the food items can from. It can shocking to find that even though there is a field of strawberries down the street, the ones being sold in the store came from California, months ago, while they were still green. At that point, I would encourage a manager to take a look around the area and see what foods are grown closer to home. It's also important to support our local businesses.
Community Gardens Have Health Benefits
These issues have made the old idea of community gardening popular once again. What exactly is a community garden? It is a group of people from the same neighborhood who get together to grow food on public land. Some towns would never use public land for such a venture either, unless there is an environmentally minded group of officials running your city. In our times many of our town officials would prefer to build more condos or attract more businesses to lower taxes, so in that case someone has to donate their own land for such a garden. But if a group of people can come together to grow food on a particular plot of land, it results in less food scarcity, less environmental pollution, less reliance on foreign food markets, and a new hobby or social outlet for the people who get together.
Although I live on a one lane road in a wooded area, I never got too involved in the town’s affairs. When I began to attend town meetings, I was shocked at how resistant some of the community leaders were to new ideas, or old ideas made new again! But the surrounding towns are growing terrific community gardens, and farmers markets, where the vendors are your neighbors and friends, and even sell things like flowers, herbs, pickles and spices.
It is a really nice thing to know you are supporting people close to home. I work with the local food pantry, and realize how difficult it is to always buy imperishable foods to give to the needy. A few people from several area gardens have decided to donate a certain portion of what they grow to charity, and put little flags on the areas of veggies or fruits they wish to donate. A person goes around once a week and collects these items, and food banks can actually have some fresh foods in the summer weather (I live in New Jersey, so we have a growing season from around May-October). It makes the gardeners feel happy that they are helping to feed the needy, and at least the people who need the help can have a little more variety in their diets.
New Projects Empower Us!
Community gardening is not a new concept, even archeologists have found evidence of shared gardens. The state of North Carolina has the oldest community garden that can be found in the U.S., dating back to 1758 in Bethabara Park. Besides helping to feed the hungry, these gardens beautify the neighborhood and bring people together in a social way. The Victory gardens in the U.S. during WWII helped people feed themselves and help supply the Allied troops when there were shortages. It was a feel good thing for families with loved ones far away fighting the war too, as it helped them feel empowered.
So a community garden is any space where a group of people who may have nothing else in common come to work the land. If there is no piece of land the town will offer, plants can be grown in containers on porches or patios, in buckets or in pots. The community can be rural, urban, in the suburbs, or even on a rooftop. The people in the group can be from all kinds of backgrounds, all walks of life.
Most community gardens produce vegetables and fruits, but they can also produce herbs, nuts, flowers, seeds and berries. The tangible results are not the only important things either. A project such as this gives people a sense of community, a chance to meet new people, and a feeling of personal empowerment. An hour of light gardening counts as exercise too. I can attest to this, because after an hour of vigorous weeding a few weeks ago, I had quite a backache the next day, not to mention a nasty case of poison oak. I suggest wearing those inexpensive, disposable latex gloves to avoid any rashes, just be sure to recycle them.
Cheer Someone Up with Locally Grown Flowers!
Spending Time Outdoors is Healthy
The gardens are about more than feeding the poor too. Community gardening results in a response to economic and social change. It helps people feel more secure when the financial future looks scary. A social safety net feels good when the times are changing, greening urban areas, and helping others feel as if they do not live in such isolation can be very comforting. Most community gardens produce vegetables and fruits, but they can also produce herbs and nuts. Community gardens act as a catalyst for neighborhood development, encourage new social bonds and communications between residents who may not normally have gotten to know each other. Studies show that mental health is improved when we get out with friends and other people more often. The learning of new skills is always a good thing, and all that digging, bending and weeding is good recreation.
Being part of a community garden helps improve the quality of life for those who get involved. It helps provide the gardeners with fresh, healthy food at little cost, except for time and energy. It helps reduce reliance on imported goods, and can reduce your monthly food bills. Often little spin off businesses occur once a person sees how much they have accomplished in the garden. They may decide to make and sell pickles, jams and jellies, and herbal teas or creams. These are interesting money making opportunities during hard economic times.
Get to Know Your Neighbors
Share Local Knowledge
The positive environmental benefits which result from community gardens are many. Locally produced foods result in resource conservation. No oil or gas has to be used to transport the goods to a town or country far away. If the garden is in what used to be a vacant lot or ugly piece of property, now it is colorful and pretty. Growing anything helps the air quality by generating oxygen, and shade helps reduce the heat in urban areas. Often when people see an area of town being revitalized in such a way, crime in the area is reduced as well. This is because people are working in the gardens at all different times and so someone is always watching in case someone suspicious is hanging around. When residents are hanging outside more, they are more connected to others and can better see who is around at what times, and it reclaims a bad neighborhood.
One other benefit of community garden is the community itself. It’s not just the social relationships that develop from working side by side, but the sharing of the seeds, gardening tools and techniques the gardeners teach each other. While the garden is growing, so are your friendships! The emphasis is on sharing, cooperation, and community celebration, cooking and eating. It's also a great lesson for your children to see where their food really comes from, and even the younger ones can plant a few seeds or small plant with help. Of course, you will start having potlucks to taste all the great meals you will be able to make at harvest time. With the feeling of increased ownership of the land that is being cultivated, the gardeners get to feel more connected and responsible for their communities. They get to know more area store owners, and collaborate with local businesses more than they used to. Everyone involved gets more civic minded, getting garbage off the streets, and maybe decorating or making nice looking signs for the garden.
This is a great way to connect, feel a sense of belonging, develop new roots in your old town, and increase your feelings of security and happiness. The community garden can also be used as an outdoor meeting place, whether for a real meeting, or just for fun. Maybe there is a carpenter in the group who can make plans for a gazebo, and others to help build it. There can be poetry meetings, or local bands that play there. The community garden is a creative way of living sustainably in your city, a way of building ecologically viable and socially just food systems. Besides the social and economic benefits described, community gardens are a great way to share local knowledge about gardening, about your town’s history and traditions, and it is always great to come together with people when you have a like minded purpose. There really is no down side to community gardening. Bring it up at the next meeting in your town!
Grow Fruit Trees in Your Community
© 2016 Jean Bakula