What is a community garden?
Community gardens are places where people come together to grow a variety of vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers. They do this by renting individual or shared plots of land within the community garden. In Waterloo Region, community gardens are run by churches, neighborhood associations, non-profit organizations, community agencies, clubs, private landowners, municipalities… just about anyone.
Benefits of community gardening
Community gardens offer people and the community many benefits. They provide opportunities for both recreational gardening and food production, in underutilized spaces. Community gardens are also great for the environment. Food grown locally reduces green house gases produced by long distance transportation of food. Gardens also contribute to biodiversity of species and help to support populations of pollinators. Finally, community gardens bring people together and may reduce crime rates in the neighbourhood by increasing visibility and engaging citizens in positive initiatives
Community gardens contribute to a healthy lifestyle by:
- providing fresh, safe, affordable herbs, fruits and vegetables
- helping to relieve stress and increase sense of wellness
- getting people active, which improves overall physical health
- providing social opportunities that build a sense of community and belonging
- giving people an opportunity to learn and share knowledge on gardening, nature, and cooking
Community gardens benefit the community as they help:
- build welcoming, safer communities
- improve the look of neighbourhoods
- reduce pollution by sequestering carbon and reducing the shipping of food over long distances
- support pollinator habitats that are necessary for community well-being
- reduce food insecurity
- connect people to nature
- educate people on where food comes from and provide opportunity for people, especially in urban spaces, to engage with their food system
- provide an inclusive meeting area where people of all ages and cultural backgrounds can come together to share experiences and knowledge
To support community gardens and temporary farmers’ markets in our cities, please check out The Food System Roundtable's Food Spaces, Vibrant Places campaign.
Community Gardening Storytelling Project
In 2013, Region of Waterloo Public Health completed a Community Gardening Storytelling Project that demonstrated how community gardening is a valuable health promoting and community building activity. Community gardens contribute to creating high quality urban and rural gathering spaces and they support people’s efforts to stay healthy. This stoytelling project interviewed 84 gardeners in an unstructured format to learn about the meaning of gardening in their lives. The stories shared by these gardeners revealed eight main reasons for gardening which were grouped into three themes: health, inclusion, and learning.
The Three Main Themes
Some gardeners spoke of how gardening helped them address mental stress, specifically describing how the role of gardening helped to decrease current stress and heal past trauma or anxiety. Gardeners spoke about the health benefits the act of gardening provided, such as increased physical activity and greater consumption of healthy food, including eating more produce and eating more of different parts of the plant. Many gardeners commented on the financial benefit of growing fruits and vegetables and for some, they gardened specifically to save money on food. These stories clearly showed the benefit community gardens have in promoting healthy eating, physical activity, and good mental health.
The gardeners interviewed shared comments about community building, which occurs when people connect over a common activity and build a personal social network. Gardeners spoke of the importance of involving children in gardening as a way to spend time with them and have them appreciate food. As well some gardeners mentioned how community garden plots contributed to preserving culture by supporting people to maintain traditional foods, skills, and language that linked them with their birth country. Community gardens lend themselves to including people from a variety of cultural backgrounds, ages, income levels and needs.
Gardeners shared stories of how they first learned to grow a few vegetables but then this spread to a curiosity about other vegetables or fruits and how to grow, prepare, and preserve these different foods. Their increasing knowledge led them to ask more questions which led to an increased respect for farmers and a growing concern about the environment and issues in the food system. Many gardeners spoke about how learning to garden increased their sense of control and confidence and expressed great excitement and pride about the rewards of their labour and learning.
If interested, you can read the full report, "Not Just a Passing Fancy" How Community Gardens Contribute to Healthy and Inclusive Neighbourhoods.