What if you could grow more than 3 tons of organic produce, flowers and herbs annually for an entire community on less than an acre of land? Sound impossible? There are community gardens all over the country doing just that. Often called the ‘new’ green space, community gardens have been around for hundreds of years, and they benefit the volunteers who work in them as much as the people they feed.
Not only do community gardens draw people to together from various backgrounds regarding their age, race, culture and social class, they also grow more than food – the involvement in social community usually leads to long term relationships among people that might not ordinarily ‘network.’ The seeds of change are planted in the ground, but also through fostering new generations of mindful individuals. Like the guerrilla gardener, Ron Finley of LA says, “if children plant kale, they eat kale.”
I recently spent an entire Saturday afternoon at one of my local community gardens, one of a dozen or more scattered throughout the city proper and one of literally a hundred or more spread throughout nearby suburbs. In the United States, there are currently over 18,000 community gardens, and the number is growing.
I was surprised to learn the other benefits of community gardening that weren’t so apparent upon first glance.
Community gardening reduces crime rates. Take one community in North Philadelphia that was once full of vacant, rundown buildings and plagued with crime, drugs, trash and derelict people as much as derelict infrastructure. A group of women decided to build the Las Parcelas Cummunity Garden and Kitchen. Not only did it improve crime rates, it caused a ripple effect and people started taking care of their own properties, looking out for one another and completely transformed their neighborhood.
Community gardening provides organic food to some people who might not otherwise be able to afford it. At the community garden I volunteered at, I found out that entire immigrant families supplemented their food bills with organic produce from their ‘family’ plots, about 5-foot by 7-foot of soil, made to grow everything from spinach to onions, winter squash, kale, turnips, edible flowers, and so on. They even grew enough to give ‘extra’ to their neighbors. They learned organic gardening skills, complete with water catchment, companion gardening and other skills.
Community gardens give elders in the community a voice for their knowledge and expertise in areas we have often forgotten due to urban living.
Community gardens teach younger generations the importance of sustainability and being sovereign. If you can grow your own food, it won’t matter so much that Monsanto is trying to poison you.
Many reports are showing that urban agriculture is up to five times more productive per square acre than large scale farms, where items like GMO corn, soy, sugar beets, etc are grown.
Eating locally grown organic vegetables reduces seasonal allergies and asthma because individuals are exposed to the pollen from their area, thus increasing their immunity to local flowering plants and trees.
Many studies prove that people who raise kids in community gardens eat more healthfully. In an age where obesity is even now affecting children, this makes a huge difference in the overall health of a society, as well as lowers health care costs.
Being in green spaces has proven to reduce stress.
Community gardens provide a place to compost many items that would normally end up in landfills, like paper cups, paper towels, leaves, grass clippings, food scraps, etc. Putting these organic wastes back in the soil make the use of fertilizers unnecessary.
Community gardens reduce air pollution.
In many cases, it is cheaper to maintain a community garden with a volunteer staff than it is to maintain a park.
Property values increase with community gardens.
Not only did I shut down my active thoughts, but a form of meditation ensued when I dug in the dirt, planted seeds, and hauled soil back and forth in a wheelbarrow. I felt inspired while I was gardening, knowing that the mulch I put down for eggplant would soon yield a crop for many people’s dinner tables. I even went home with some fresh sage, rosemary, and basil that would have easily cost me $30 or more at my local Whole Foods Market. That was just the cherry on top of a perfect day. I met grandmothers and children who were passionate about gardening. I learned about how to make compost tea and lay down newspapers to prevent weeds. I’m definitely going back. I got a great workout, and my mind felt refreshed after several hours of digging in the ground. While I have gardened off and on over the years depending on where I lived, even growing some vegetables in patio containers, I’ve come to realize that community gardening is my new love. There is so much more to learn.
You can check out the American Community Gardening Association if you live in the US, and there are similar websites throughout the world. If you don’t have a community garden in your community, think of starting one.
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Christina Sarich is a musician, yogi, humanitarian and freelance writer who channels many hours of studying Lao Tzu, Paramahansa Yogananda, Rob Brezny, Miles Davis, and Tom Robbins into interesting tidbits to help you Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.