Community gardens have the potential to improve the lives of people everywhere crossing all boundaries of age, race, gender and nationality. These group effort gardens are making a positive difference one plant at a time.
Just Add Water and Watch it Grow
Have you ever helped a neighbor with a garden? Planted up a small container for an elderly relative? Shared fresh herbs for cooking with someone intimidated by gardening? Fixed up planters of annuals in your town square? Spent a day working with a school group sowing quick-growing vegetable seeds? Joined your coworkers as corporate volunteers weeding, raking, and mulching in a public space? Perhaps you have helped install a wall water fountain or concrete fountain. Then you are already a community gardener, part of a great social movement that has the power to transform neighborhoods, unite people who are different in many ways, and invest in the future of our children.
If this sounds sweeping, it is. Those of us who garden instinctively know why we are out there digging in the dirt, installing water wall fountains but perhaps the bigger picture has stayed in the background. For the community gardeners, the movement is an investment in the future of where they live and in the futures of the children growing up under often difficult circumstances. Through Master Gardener, university extension, and 4-H programs, suburban gardeners come into town and share, their passion with city folks.
And much more is going on here. Many inner-city youths have never left their neighborhoods, and so barriers break down as people from different walks of life work at a common task. Civic pride comes into play as gardens grow and become more beautiful–there is much value in the intense and tangible feeling of pride that a garden brings. Most important is growing healthy food and addressing public health issues such as diabetes and obesity. Increased physical activity and access to fresh vegetables are proven to have a positive effect on health, especially in our modern society, where food travels an average of 1,300 miles from field to table. The gardens may also be serene places to sit since many have flowers, benches and cast stone fountains.
Community Assets Can be Pulled Together to Help a Garden Flourish
You will find many ways to participate in this movement, and they can be as simple as donating money or offering to fund resources, or volunteering time to senior garden programs to help with hard work such as turning soil and spreading mulch. Hook up with a group of gardeners, whether it’s once a week or once a month, and you will get to know and help people that are coaxing vacant lots to life. Very few activities have a nurturing and healing quality that work on our souls and hearts the way gardening does.
Building Community With Community Gardens
1. A community garden yields many benefits to a neighborhood.
2. While an abandoned lot suggests that nobody cares, a garden creates hope through beauty.
3. Connection to nature inspires and soothes even those just passing by.
4. Bees, birds, and butterflies attracted to a garden are great companions, help with pollination and bug control, and remind us that we still share our world with wildlife.
5. Cultural gardening traditions are practiced and shared.
6. Pride in the neighborhood increases.
7. Seasonal food production improves well-being, fosters healthy eating habits, and creates awareness of how food is produced and why that matters.
8. Informal teaching engages active minds.
9. Social gathering spots increase neighborhood harmony.
10. Rainwater harvesting leads to environmental awareness.
11. Gardening connects urban dwellers to their rural roots.
How to Start a Community Garden
Here’s a checklist:
• Identify space that could be donated for a garden. Look at churchyards, school or library lots, housing organizations, or abandoned property.
• Identify resources to help you get started, such as neighborhood institutions.
• Enlist local politicians or organizations to help secure the land for long-term usage at a nominal fee and assist with insurance and other technicalities.
• Create a core group of at least a dozen volunteers to raise funds, work on design, organize volunteers, and establish rules and regulations.
• Organize meetings to identify the people and resources needed. Reach out to those with special skills that might not be directly related to gardening, such as grant and flyer writing, light construction, site searching, and planning.
• Determine what the community wants out of the space: quiet contemplation, a place for children to play, plots to raise food in?
• Establish a core group to maintain the land.
• Appeal to local Master Gardener programs for volunteer assistance.
• Reach out to your local university Cooperative Extension for help securing supplies and resolving bureaucratic issues, such as cleaning up toxins.
Develop a fund-raising strategy that starts with the group and reaches out to local individuals and businesses. This kind of support highlights the importance of the garden to the neighborhood and includes something lovely with a cast stone water feature.