The Many Benefits of Community Gardens

community_gardenGreenleaf Communities believes that urban agriculture can be beneficial to the environment, and to the health and wellbeing of community members. The introduction of community gardens may be able to reduce the impact of food deserts in low-income areas and allow residents greater access to nutritious food that is necessary to live a healthy life.

Community gardens can mitigate some of the problems that plague urban areas. They can be a beneficial addition to many communities by increasing the availability of nutritious foods, strengthening community ties, reducing environmental hazards, reducing food miles and creating a more sustainable system.

Community gardens can help reduce negative environmental impacts by promoting sustainable agriculture; reducing food transportation costs and reducing water runoff. Humans, plants and animals can all benefit from urban agriculture since it creates habitats and improves the ecology of the area.

Community gardens:

  • Help improve air and soil quality [1]
  • Increase biodiversity of plants and animals
  • Reduce “food miles” that are required to transport nutritious food
  • Can replace impervious structures and improve water infiltration [2]
  • Can reduce neighborhood waste through composting [3]
  • Positively impact the urban micro-climate [4]

Poor nutrition and obesity are both challenges to low-income neighborhoods. Low accessibility to nutritious foods can cause health problems to residents located in food deserts. The addition of gardens to these areas may improve nutrition and increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Community gardens:

  • Increase access to fresh foods
  • Improve food security [1]
  • Increase physical activity through garden maintenance activities
  • Improve dietary habits through education
  • Increase fruit and vegetable intake
  • Reduce risk of obesity and obesity-related diseases
  • Improve mental health and promote relaxation [5]

Social ties are important to the wellbeing of people in a community since they can bring positive health effects and community involvement. Community gardens allow for the creation of social ties and build a greater feeling of community. These connections help reduce crime, empower residents and allow residents to feel safe in their neighborhoods.

  • Gardens in urban areas are positively correlated with decreased crime rates [5]
  • Vacant lands can lead to crime which can detrimentally impact the health of residents
  • Residents in areas with high crime rates may experience cardiovascular disease and mental health disorders
  • The consequences of vacant lands are decreased property values, drug use, and the illegal dumping of litter, tires and chemicals [6]
  • Gardens can improve economic opportunities by training volunteers and selling food at farmers’ markets [1]
  • Urban agriculture can teach residents useful skills in planning, food production and business
  • Improving vacant lots increased property values in New Kinsington, Philadelphia by 30% [3]

Gardens have been an important aspect of many cultures in history. In the past, community gardens were commonly used to provide food for families year-round. During WWII, victory gardens were an important source of food for American families. Recently, there has been a resurgence of community gardens to help mitigate the impacts of food deserts and as a use for the increased number of vacant lands present in urban areas. Community gardens can provide fresh, healthy produce for residents and allow them to reduce their food bills. [7]

Many cities and organizations provide opportunities for residents to become involved with community gardens. The USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service has implemented a grant program to help decrease the impact of food deserts in low-income communities. They strive to provide long-term food security by supporting local agriculture projects while also improving economic, social and environmental problems. For successful programs, it is important that the community becomes involved with the project and to work with the community to develop solutions. Soil contamination and acquiring land can become a challenge in implementing a community garden.

The Chicago Park District along with People’s Gas help provides resources to community gardens. These gardens rely on volunteers and include both native edible and ornamental plants. The program supports close to 70 gardens in parks across Chicago.

Find a garden here: http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/facilities/existing-community-gardens/

The Chicago Botanic Garden is also offers urban agriculture opportunities for students and adults to receive training and work on maintaining urban gardens: http://www.chicagobotanic.org/community/

Other community gardens across Chicago are located here along with information on joining an existing community garden: http://greennetchicago.org/gardens/community-gardens

 

[1] University of Wisconsin Madison

[2] Howard, 2012

[3] EPA, 2011

[4] RUAF

[5] Bellows et al, 2004

[6] Garvin et al, 2013

[7] Adam, 2011

 

References

Adam, K. L. (2011). Community Gardening. National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, Retrieved from https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=351

Bellows, A. C., Brown, K., & Smit, J. (2004). Health benefits of urban agriculture. Community Food Security Coalition’s North American Initiative on Urban Agriculture. Portland, OR: Community Food Security Coalition. http://www.co.fresno.ca.us/uploadedFiles/Departments/Behavioral_Health/MHSA/Health%20Benefits%20of%20Urban%20Agriculture%20(1-8).pdf

EPA, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. (2011). Land revitalization fact sheet: Urban agriculture (EPA 560-F-11-009). Retrieved from website: http://www.epa.gov/landrevitalization/download/fs_urban_agriculture.pdf

Garvin, E., Branas, C., Keddem, S., Sellman, J., & Cannuscio, C. (2013). More Than Just An Eyesore: Local Insights And Solutions on Vacant Land And Urban Health. Journal Of Urban Health90(3), 412-426. doi:10.1007/s11524-012-9782-7

Howard, B. C. (2012). Urban farming is growing a green future: Green Gotham. National Geographic, DOI: Howard, B. C. Retrieved from http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/photos/urban-farming/

Urban agriculture literature review. Urban and Regional Planning Department, University of Wisconsin Madison, Retrieved from http://urpl.wisc.edu/ecoplan/content/lit_urbanag.pdf

Why is urban agriculture important? RUAF Foundation. http://www.ruaf.org/node/513