Farmer Joel Salaton once pointed out, and very correctly, that urban farming is simply a way of coming back to our roots. Before there were grocery stores and frozen food, where did we get all of our meat and produce? Of course, it was locally. We bought our food from nearby farms, or grew them ourselves, or foraged them from the nearby forests. This arrangement was not even that long ago, considering that the first modern-style supermarkets appeared fairly recently, in the 1940’s.
Because we’ve grown so detached from the natural life-cycle of our food, many people in city environments have sought to reconnect with nature and produce their own edibles. All sorts of landscapes and locations among urban society can be used to grow a local supply of food, whether it’s on a rooftop or a vacant lot. If there is abandoned, squandered space that can be put to good use not only to produce food, but also to strengthen the sense of community among the locals, why not take advantage of it? In a sense, this desire to get back to nature and connect with our food has sparked a revolution in both urban and suburban environments to make plants not only decorative, but productive, and has inspired countless community gardens.
This idea of a “community garden” is essentially a plot of fertile land that is collectively maintained and used by local people. These gardens can be on either individually- or collectively-owned private land or on public land. Every garden is different, as diverse as the community from which it is born, but generally-speaking they all have the same value of strengthening community ties.
1. Urban Gardens Help People to Have Access to Fresh Food
Urban gardens tended by the community allow people to enjoy fresh produce at little or no cost, even where such food would be otherwise scarce. Gardeners (or those living in the same household as a gardener) have a tendency to consume more fruits and vegetables than people who don’t grow their own food. A survey that examined residents in Michigan found that over 82% of people in households that didn’t grow their own food had less than the recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, while only about 58% of people in gardening households failed to intake these 5 servings.
2. Urban Gardens Help Build Ties in the Community
In addition to providing fresh, locally-sourced food for residents, community gardens help people come together and work on a common project, where they can build relationships with their neighbors. There is nothing that brings a community closer together than feeling ownership over their shared resources, and the sense of responsibility among local gardeners that this fosters.
3. Urban Gardens Promote a Healthy Lifestyle and Provide an Oasis from a Noisy Cityscape
Since most people now live in urban areas, communal gardens can offer a welcome sanctuary from all the commotion that can be found in a city. Even just the act of gardening on its own can benefit an individual immensely, by offering physical exercise and reduction of stress, as well as increasing a person’s sense of purpose and self-esteem. According to research, the activity of gardening can greatly reduce the risk for dementia, as much as 36%. Some studies have even estimated that gardening can lower this risk by a hefty 47%. (1)
4. Community Gardens Are Good For Local Business & Help Reduce Crime
The economic benefits of community gardens are just as diverse as the people and produce grown at them. There is evidence to suggest that community gardens make communities safer. Two studies in the ‘Journal of Environment and Behaviour’ investigated the impact that nature has on mental fatigue (often an instigator of aggression and violence), and the relationship between vegetation and crime rates in the inner city. The study found that aggression and violence was “significantly lower among those people who lived near some green space than those who lived in more barren conditions”.
They also attract small businesses looking to relocate. Community gardens also foster and can help provide employment, education, and entrepreneurship. They provide opportunities for a wide variety of people, including students, recent immigrants and homeless people. They can also have the benefit of reducing the cost for local councils, as vacant lots can be magnets for litter and criminal activity. All of this often comes at little or no cost to the city. Developing and maintaining garden space is less expensive than parkland area, in part because gardens require little land and 80% of their cost is in labor.(2)
5.Community Gardens Can Have a Positive Effect on Property Prices
Community gardens also have a positive impact on nearby property prices. A New York University study looked at the impact of community gardens on the neighboring property values. The authors of the study, Vicki Been and Ioan Voicu, compared the sales prices of properties within a certain distance from community gardens, to prices of similar properties in the same neighborhood, but not near a garden. By comparing prices in the same neighborhood, the authors hoped to deal with the potential price difference due to neighborhood location. The study found that community gardens have statistically significant positive effects on the values of property within 1,000 feet of the garden. Interestingly, the authors found that these positive effects were strongest in lower-income neighborhoods. Community gardens raised property values by up to 9.5 percent within five years in the poorest neighborhood measured. The effect also increased over time; as each year went by after the opening of a community garden, the prices of nearby properties increased more and more in relation to properties that did not have access to a community garden. (3)
(2/3) from Rethink…Your world, Your future.