Community Gardens: Urban and Suburban Community Building Blocks
By Jennifer Cummings, M.Ed.
Community gardens can be found around the country. Based on the WWII 'victory garden' concept, community gardens are areas or plots of land where many people from different areas of a community can come together to work on individual and group gardening projects. While some gardens have flowers that beautify and others grow vegetables to sustain the workers, all community gardens serve and additional purpose- they bring people together.
Suburban community gardens may be the most traditional types of gardens to think of. Often, a local municipality, land trust, or conservation group donates a piece of fertile land where people in a community can rent out space to grow their favorite plants each year. These places can allow people with limited personal space to have a source of fresh vegetables and can allow older people to enjoy the benefits of gardening without the hassle of owning large pieces of land. Regardless of the individual benefits, many people use the opportunity of using a part of a community garden to socialize and become active participants in the community.
But suburban areas are not the only places that community gardens thrive. Urban areas as large as New York and Los Angeles are the sites of some truly inspiring community gardens. Urban planners often need to be more creative in finding space, but community gardens have become reality in previously vacant lots, on rooftops, and on connecting patios. By using previously underused space, community gardens in urban environments serve not only to sustain the gardeners, but renew the vitality of the urban environment.
Regardless of the location, joining a community garden as a family can be hugely beneficial for everyone. Parents learn to take the time to work together with their children on a project with a common goal. Children learn the beauty of learning to interact with the natural world as they plant, cultivate, and harvest plants that they cared for. Families also get to know other members of the community that all too often are shut away from each other by hectic schedules and geography.
Taking part in a community garden is also a way for families to help give back in their community's most humble residents. Well cultivated and cared for gardens are a source of pride and beauty for everyone in the community. If flowers are produced, consider sharing them with the residents of a local nursing facility to bring the beauty of nature inside. If veggies are more your style, bring that overload of fresh tomatoes or squash or cabbage to the local food pantry or shelter; many of these places rely heavily on donations and fresh produce is always appreciated. Families that not only use what they produce, but share their bounty with others, gain the most from their labors.
How can your family join a community garden? Contact your local town or city hall, conservation commission, community center, or land group. Many of these groups interact and share information about the services each group offers, and they may have information about where the closest community garden is located. None in your area? Start one! Community gardens can start as humbly as two neighbors collaborating on a container gardening project on a porch or over a fence; over time, invite others to join or approach others for ideas on how to expand your garden. Though it can be some work to maintain, the benefits of community gardens will benefit families, friends, and neighbors for years to come. Use the fall and winter months to plan ahead for the coming spring to make opening year a success.
It's Positively Green!
Welcome to Positively Green! It's a column dedicated to bringing you new ways of saving, interacting with, and using the natural world with activities that both help the environment and help you grow healthy families and healthy communities. Each month will feature information for your family about a positive green activity, book, program, or community idea. So c'mon, join the fun and go Positively Green!
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