Positive effects of community gardens

Community Gardens

Improving food security in Del Paso Heights, California. Available at: http://www.lgc.org/case-study-1
According to Local Government Commission’s Web site,

“The Sacramento neighborhood of Del Paso Heights is an ethnically diverse, low-income community with limited access to healthy foods. Many of the residents are from cultures that value farming, but lack access to gardening space.
To address the area’s poor access to fresh fruits and vegetables and the significant increases in obesity, a task force comprised of community and local government organizations convened in 1994 and decided to develop a community garden as their first project.”

Case study: gardening in the San Diego School District. Available at: http://www.lgc.org/case-study-2

“Students at Rosa Parks Elementary School in the San Diego, Calif. can enjoy the benefits of a community garden right on their school’s campus. The school is located in the City Heights neighborhood where residents are predominately Latino, African-American and Southeast Asian, and 54.5 percent of families earn incomes below the federal poverty level.”

Case study: food policy councils sow seeds for better health. Available at: http://www.lgc.org/case-study-3/

“Oregon’s Portland/Multnomah Food Policy Council (FPC) was developed in 2002 by a joint action of the city of Portland and Multnomah County. Housed in Portland’s Office of Sustainable Development, the FPC provides research and recommendations to the city on institutional food practices, citizen food awareness, hunger and food access, urban land use policies, business and economic issues and environmental impacts on the food system.”

“A RESOLUTION adopting a Five-Year Strategic Plan as guidance for the expansion of Seattle’s community gardening program and adopting the policies and procedures necessary for the implementation of the plan.”

Berkeley, California’s general/comprehensive plan/inclusion of community gardens. Available at: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/contentdisplay.aspx?id=494.
Berkeley, California’s general plan states that the city will “encourage and support community gardens as important open space resources that build communities and provide a local food source” in the open space element. Berkeley’s general plan lists action steps, which include pursuing community gardens in specific new developments and high-density areas. The General Plan’s Open Space and Recreation Element states in part:

“There is also a growing demand for additional community gardening sites. There are currently 17 community gardens in Berkeley. The City owns five of the sites, the Berkeley Unified School District owns four, the University of California owns two, and the rest are owned by a variety of nonprofits and private organizations.”

Tauber M and Fisher A. A guide to community food projects: community food security coalition. 2002. Available at: http://nesfp.org/sites/default/files/uploads/guide_to_community_food_projects.pdf . The guide provides examples of successful community garden projects that are funded by the Community Food Projects Program.

Got Dirt? Gardening Initiative. The Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Service’s Nutrition and Physical Activity program provides a garden toolkit to encourage healthy eating and increased physical activity. Available at: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/physical-activity/foodsystem/gotdirt.htm, and

The City of Seattle, Washington, Department of Neighborhoods’ P-Patch Program provides organic community garden space for residents of 70 Seattle neighborhoods. Serving all citizens of Seattle with an emphasis on low-income and immigrant populations and youth, the community based program areas include community gardening, market gardening, youth gardening, and community food security. Available at: http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/ppatch/.

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Why make your school garden a community garden? Such partnerships enrich academic learning, nurture relationships, and create a positive neighborhood environment that enhances students’ lives outside of school.

A community garden is a garden that is planned, planted, maintained and sustained by individuals within a community. The “community” may be defined by physical location, such as a neighborhood or a city, or as individuals linked by a common organization or cause, such as a church or food bank.

Community gardens come in all shapes and sizes. They can be as small as a raised bed in front of a town hall or library or as large as a couple of acres outside of town. They may be located on empty lots, on land owned by nonprofits or government agencies, or acreage owned collectively by the gardeners. In some community gardens, each gardener has his/her own plot to maintain; in others, gardeners work cooperatively on group plots and then share in the harvest; some offer both options.

Individuals come together to work towards a common goal and create a focus on an activity with positive outcomes. These include:

  • Beautification – This makes the community a more pleasant and relaxing place to live in and improves the value of surrounding real estate.
  • Reduced crime – Research shows that the presence of community gardens result in decreased vandalism, littering, and crime.
  • Food security – Community gardens can increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables — especially important in areas with limited access to grocery stores and farmers’ markets.
  • Environmental improvements – In urban areas, gardens add to community green space, which can reduce stormwater runoff and provides habitat for pollinators and other wildlife.
  • Economic benefits – Community gardeners can supplement their incomes by selling produce from their plots.
  • Improved health – Gardening has been shown to contribute to participants’ mental and physical health.

Schools are often physical and logistical centers in communities. The difference between a school garden and a school-based community garden is that community members are more than just school volunteers: They’re actively engaged in the organization, planning, decision making, and day-to-day maintenance of the garden. Beyond the benefits listed above for school-based community gardens, you’ll also have:

  • A broader support network – More people mean more networking connect–ions especially important when you’re seeking funding and donations of supplies.
  • Many hands – There will be more people to maintain the garden — a big help when school is out of session.
  • Intergenerational connections – Through positive interactions, adults and kids develop mutual respect.
  • Security – More eyes on the garden, especially when school is closed, decreases the likelihood of theft and vandalism.
  • Parental involvement – The community garden is a place to spend family time. It also gives parents who aren’t comfortable or available for volunteering in the classroom or coaching sports another option for getting involved in their children’s education.


  1. Get administration permission – There can be a number of challenges to starting a community garden on school grounds. Are individuals allowed to be on grounds after hours? Are gardens accessible? Is there water available? Is safety a concern? Your first step should be to find out your school district’s policies on use of school grounds and have your idea approved by administrators.
  2. Engage your community – Schedule brainstorming sessions, offering multiple times and dates to attract individuals with different schedules. Advertise meetings at local restaurants, businesses, and in newspapers. Send notes home with students and e-mail appropriate contacts. Ask local organizations to include an announcement in their newsletters. Get the word out as widely as possible. These initial meetings can help you gauge community interest. Does your community want a garden? Is there enough interest to begin a garden and keep it going? How should it be organized? What would you want to plant?
  3. Organize your group – Dream big as a group, but also elect a smaller committee to be responsible for guiding the project. Members must be willing to take on specific responsibilities and share the load because planning a community garden is too much for one person. It’s a good idea to have at least 10 families initially who are committed to your project for successful implementation and to ensure sustainability. This planning committee can later transition into a body responsible for overseeing the garden and keeping it running.

8 Things to Know about Community Gardens

1. They’re good for us, and our communities!

Community gardens are about more than just growing food. By increasing the number of local community gardeners and available garden space, families and individuals are able to grow fresh, healthy produce for very little money, green previously underused areas, increase local food security, get to know and interact with their neighbours, and work together to enhance the communities where they live.

2. There are a lot of them locally!

There are 43 community gardens throughout the County and the City of Peterborough. You can find them in municipal parks, on church, school and community housing properties, at post-secondary institutions, on federal and provincial land, on private properties, at several workplaces, and in communal boulevards.

3. It takes a lot of people to run them:

The success and sustainability of community gardens relies on community support and on people getting involved. Locally, over 700 people work hard to maintain, organize and coordinate these gardens. This includes neighbours, co-workers, students, families, and teachers. Despite their differences, they share a common love for their gardens, and, by and large, they are all volunteers.

You don’t have to have a green thumb to be a part of a community garden. Hundreds of citizens get involved by providing land, donating tools, seeds and plants, by building sheds, composters and water systems, by leading workshops, throwing garden parties and in countless other ways. Why not join them?

4. Allotment Plots

Although each community garden is organized a bit differently, they are predominantly established as allotment plots. Allotment plots are based on the British system of allotment gardening, which simply means: a plot of land made available for individual, non-commercial gardening or growing of food plants.

The majority of community garden plots belong to families or individuals who rent the space and buy the seeds and plants, as well as water, maintain and take-care of the plots.

5. They produce a lot of Food!

Local community gardens are producing a lot of food. As a result, they provide a crucial opportunity to increase local food security. Since the majority of plots in community gardens are allotments, most community gardeners are growing food for themselves or their families.
Similarly, community gardens allow individuals greater control over the quality and type of food they consume. They also increase consumption of healthy, fresh foods, especially fruits and vegetables.

6. They build up the communities around them

Community gardens provide space for people to work together to create beautiful, productive spaces. Local gardeners report that by getting involved in community gardens, they spend more time outdoors, interact more with neighbours, meet new friends, and experience improvements in their mental and physical health.

Many communities also report decreased crime rates, as well as increased pride and community ownership over these spaces. Research has also shown that the creation of community gardens can lead to an increase in neighbourhood property values.

7. Community Garden doesn’t mean any visitor can pick the produce.

Community gardens are great places to visit. They’re beautiful, peaceful, and inspiring. When visiting community gardens, it is important to treat these spaces with respect, enjoy them with your eyes, ears, and nose, but not by touch. Harvests are the much-anticipated result of a season full of hard-work that gardeners look forward to throughout the season.

Many local community gardens donate a portion of their harvests. Some gardens have designated plots that are collectively maintained, and harvests are donated to local community food organizations. Others have plots that allow community members to pick from and enjoy freely. Unless signage clearly indicates it is okay harvest the plants, please do not pick the food or flowers from community gardens.

8. You can get involved!

Good news! If you’re inspired by our great community gardens, love locally grown food, and want to get involved, we can help!

Get in touch if you would like to:

  • Find a plot in a local community garden
  • Start a community garden
  • Learn how to grow your own food
  • Share your skills
  • Cook, preserve or even donate your harvest.

For information on you how you can get involved, contact us by calling us at 705-743-3526 ext. 115, by email at [email protected] You can also follow us on social media by checking us out on Facebook and Twitter.

At The Community Garden, It’s Community That’s The Hard Part

One of the community gardens divided up into individual plots run by Denver Urb Gardens. Courtesy of Denver Urb Gardens hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Denver Urb Gardens

You may think that the great historic debate between communism and private property is over.

Well, it’s not. Not at your local community garden.

Take, for example, the experience of Campos Community Garden in Manhattan’s East Village.

Eight years ago, the garden was decrepit and abandoned. Beverly McClain walked by it all the time, on the way to her daughter’s school. And one day, she and a motley group of fellow gardeners decided to revive it.

“It was neighborhood people; it was parents from the school; people from the project across the street who had seen it be a hellhole for way too long,” she says.

After they carted in lots of fresh, clean soil, they decided that they were not going to stake out little individual garden plots. They’d work on the whole thing together.

“I liked that people could just show up and join the garden, as opposed to being on a wait list,” says McClain.

But there were debates about this over the years. McClain wanted to keep it a community enterprise — as Karl Marx once put it, “From each, according to his ability, to each, according to his need.” But others thought there were too many days when it seemed that because everybody owned the garden, nobody really did. And there were days when it seemed that too many people assumed that somebody else would do the work.

“It’s just really hard when you’ve got a whole lot of stuff going on and only one or two people have shown up , and they’re expected to take care of everything,” says McClain. “In August, when it’s really hot out, it’s just kind of hard.”

So last year, the Campos Community Garden laid out some boundaries of personal responsibility: Individual plots where people get to plant and pick their very own vegetables. McClain says she has to admit that it’s helped.

Of course, if you’re an economist like Russell Roberts at George Mason University, you can say that this was completely predictable.

“Collective farming does not have a great historical record,” Roberts points out. “Collective farming is probably the main reason why the Soviet Union had about 70 years of bad harvests.”

And even if you just talk to veteran community gardeners, many of them will warn you away from communal arrangements.

“Our experience is, it’s an unequal participation, and an unequal sharing,” says Judy Elliott, who’s the Education and Community Empowerment Coordinator for Denver Urban Gardens. And Ryan Mitchell, with Friendship Gardens in Charlotte, N.C., says he has often seen how “when people realize that they have to do a lot of hard labor in the middle of the summer when it’s hot and humid, about half the group just drops off.” The rest then feel overworked, resentful, and discouraged. Some of them may then leave, too.

So in Denver, Charlotte and across the country, in fact, most community gardens are divided up into individual plots. It means less drama and less discouragement. If some of your neighbors start shirking their responsibilities, it’s not really your problem.

And still, the debate continues. Because there are still a lot of people doing communal-style gardens. And they say it may be true that the most troublesome part of a community garden is the community. Yet if you can pull it off, the community that forms around a garden is, in fact, far more valuable than the vegetables.

In Detroit, 400 or 500 new community gardens have started over the past 10 years. Almost all of them are communal. Ashley Atkinson, director of Urban Agriculture and Open Space for a nonprofit called The Greening of Detroit, says people meet their neighbors at the gardens. “That’s really, really, beneficial in a city like Detroit, where neighbors are more and more isolated, as crime goes up and people feel less safe. It’s important for people to be outside getting to know each other, particularly elders and young people,” she says.

Right outside Detroit, meanwhile, in the city of Grosse Pointe Park, Betsy Fortuna helped start two gardens called Grayton Gardens and Backyard Community Garden, where everyone works together and all the members can pick vegetables pretty much whenever they want.

Despite all the annoyances of community — “You know. It brings up a lot of almost childhood stuff — you know, ‘He took more than me!’ ” — Fortuna says it’s completely worth it: “It really was a blighted corner, and now there’s action there, there’s neighbors helping neighbors, people getting each other jobs, and all kinds of good things.”

Just knowing everybody, she says — knowing that if she needs something she can go ask anybody on the street: It changes everything.

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