Community gardens originated in the early 1900s as a way to feed immigrants from rural farmlands to continue to grow their own produce and maintain community connections in their urban settings. During World War I and II, the United States government asked its citizens to plant "Victory Gardens" to support the war effort. Millions of people responded by planting family and community gardens.
Today the blossoming green movement and awareness of our planetary crisis has led to a major resurgence in community gardens. If the idea of this type of gardening is of interest to you, you can search the national database of the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) at http://acga.localharvest.org/ to find a garden near you. If there are no gardens in your area, the ACGA site will walk you through the necessary steps to form your own community garden.
Community gardens can be urban, suburban or rural; they can grow flowers, vegetables or both; and they can be a single community plot, or many indivisual plots. They don't need to be in traditional settings either. Community gardens can be set at a school or hospital; they can transform an abandonded parking lot or neglected boulevard median. They can be gardened strictly for pleasure or with a social mission, such as to generate produce for a local food pantry. The one thing that these gardens have in common is a sense of community, which is more important than even growing the plants.
Once your garden is under way, there are countless creative ways to utilize its gifts while spreading a message about local food and sustainability. You can brainstorm with your fellow gardeners for ideas that will benefit your community. You can host seasonal cooking classes using the produce from your garden, or partner with local school so help them set up edible gardens and teach the kids how to garden.
If you do decide that joining or starting a community garden in your area is a great idea, do consider making it an organic garden. Organic gardening is one way to make your personal piece of the planet reflect the cleaner, greener world in which you desire to live.
Top 10 Reasons to Join a Community Garden
1. Jump starts community development. All those green-oriented people in one place can lead to important improvements in your neighborhood.
2. Creats social bonds. You're in your garden and you're talking gardening. You will make friends.
3. Encourages self-reliance. Grow your own dinner and see how good it feels.
4. Beautifies neighborhoods. What's nicer to look at, an abandoned lot or a thriving garden?
5. Conserves resources by reducing the amount of energy it takes to transport your food.
6. Produces nutritious food, especially if you grow organic. A European study revealed that organic fruits and vegetables have up to 40% more disease-fighting antioxidants than conventionally grown produce.
7. Great exercise. According to the American Council for Fitness and Nutrition, you can burn 150 calories during a 30-45 minute session in the garden.
8. Forges inter-generational and cross-cultural connections. There is no stereotypical gardener. Many community gardens attract a cross-section of the communities they serve, regardless of age, nationality and knowledge.
9. Improves quality of life, especially for gardeners who lack access to a peaceful outdoor space.
10. Saves money!
Excerpted from Mambo Sprouts Messenger, Spring 2009.