How Community Gardens Cultivate Health

Community gardens provide vital health resources to a community not only through food education but also with the relationships, fitness, and quality of life they provide.

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Community gardens are more than just great places to cultivate vegetables. They also cultivate relationships and health. When you join a community garden, you enter a space filled with opportunities for new friendships, increased fitness, and a better quality of life.

Improved Access to Food

Many urban neighborhoods are food deserts. These are areas with no grocery stores nearby. The few convenience stores that do sell vegetables offer low-quality items at a considerable markup. In neighborhoods like these, community gardens fill a gap, providing families with fresh produce. Plant-based foods are much healthier than that frozen pizza, and a diet full of them reduces stress. In some areas, community gardens produce enough food, that there’s enough left over for local food pantries and soup kitchen. So, the community surrounding the gardens reap the health benefits from access to fresh produce. 

Cultivating Friendships

Unlike a backyard garden, a community garden is a patchwork of plots connected by pathways and shared resources. Many who sign up for a plot to grow their own food are surprised to find that they make friends with their garden neighbors. The structure of a community garden is designed to bring neighbors together with shared meals, seasonal plant sales, celebrations, and community workdays. 

Meeting new neighbors can be challenging these days. Many of us drive into our garages and close the door, without so much as a wave at the folks next door. The bonds formed over a shared love of gardening make connecting with like-minded people easy. Aside from bringing joy, research shows friendship is good for your health.

Physical Benefits

Adults need 150 minutes of exercise a week – and 80% of us are falling short of that goal. With all the bending, digging, lifting, and pulling, gardening offers a full-body workout. The best part? In the moment, it scarcely feels like work. Working toward a tangible goal, be it pulling weeds or planting veggies, leaves you with a sense of satisfaction. The elliptical machine at the gym can’t compete.

Ask any doctor, and they’ll tell you almost everyone is deficient in vitamin D. The reason? Humans have increasingly shifted over the last century to living indoor lives. Vitamin D helps form strong, healthy bones in children, but has also been linked to the prevention of disease and depression. The more time you spend outdoors, the more likely you’ll boost your vitamin D levels.

Improved Mental Health

Spending time outdoors has many mental health benefits, beginning with lower stress levels. Psychologists have studied the effect of time spent in nature for decades, and all agree time outdoors improves mental health. As little as 20 minutes spent in a park is enough to improve well-being. Some doctors now write nature prescriptions for patients to encourage them to step outside and enjoy a little ecotherapy. For community gardeners, no prescription is necessary. The rows need weeding, and coming home with a basket full of veggies provides an immediate reward.

Getting Started

Don’t wait for your neighborhood association or apartment management to suggest a garden. Start by talking to your neighbors and putting together a list of interested people.

  • Select a plot of land that gets at least six hours of daily sunshine.
  • Find a sponsor or collect donations from participants. (Community block grants are available.
  • Call a neighborhood meeting and set the rules in writing. Include a schedule of workdays and maintenance rules.
  • Consider a community shed where you can provide commonly used garden tools.  
  • Schedule a garden clean-up day with weeding, raking, etc.
  • Assign plots and begin planting.  

Winter is the perfect time to start planning. Start cultivating those relationships now. Come spring you’ll be ready to cultivate your community garden and your health.

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