Sustainable Living » Community Gardens

Community Gardens are springing up across the nation! Also referred to as Garden Collectives, they are the result of a cooperative effort where a single piece of land is gardened by a group. They have become popular in urban settings where dense housing means there are fewer opportun-
ities for individuals to experience gardening. In a number of cases, they have been started in order to combat urban blight growing both flowers and food. Schools are also participating in collective gardening projects. Rural communities, with their rich history of community gardening, continue to demonstrate the important values of these collec-
tive efforts. They provide a solution to our nation's obesity problem by making nutritious food and physical activity more readily available to people of all ages. They promote healthier eating and physical activity while enhancing community involvement and pride.


The history of the Community Garden dates back to the early days of America. During the industrial revolution, immigrant families from agrarian societies with strong farm or gardening backgrounds brought seeds and cuttings from their own countries to America. These were shared with others in the gardens they collectively grew. Common land for working people was scarce but every available corner was used and the need to come together in community and work the land was strong.

World War II saw the birth of the victory garden with neighbors in suburban and urban areas growing fruits and vegetables for a common goal.

Community Gardens then entered a lull until the 1960s and 1970s when the loss of a sense of cohesive community was recognized. Areas of urban blight were reclaimed and transformed into productive green mini-farms for poor and working class neighborhoods. The idea spread to the suburbs with the intent of building closer community and fostering better nutrition. The environmental awareness of this last generation and the back-to-the-land organic movement has fueled the growth of community gardens.

The Community Gardens of today are a vital force in sustaining and building community involvement. The idea of eating the fruits of our labor still resonates with America and is a rallying cry for those who promote healthier lifestyles.

Gardening: A Healthier Pastime for All

Community Gardens have become a growing trend in the United States. The American Community Garden Association has registered 2000 gardens and other sources indicated that there are more than 15,000 operating gardens with hundreds more being started each month. This is not a completely new phenomenon: While the Victory Gardens of the 20th Century were most often gardened by private parties on private land, some were collectively operated. Community Gardens enhance the lives of those who cultivate them by providing a source of healthy food, physical activity, social well-being and the sheer visual beauty of a colorful harvest.

Community gardening activities improve quality of life for all ages by providing a catalyst and focal point for neighborhood and community development. These gardens stimulate social interaction and beautify neighborhoods. And importantly, they also produce nutritious, healthy food while reducing family food budgets. Community gardening activities help to conserve resources, create opportunities for recreation, exercise, therapy and education. They also encourage self-reliance. These are truly for the benefit of the whole community when they also provide equitable access. This means for the physically disabled or those with limited mobility, progressive gardens are being designed with accommodations: Ramps rather than steps, wider pathways, and raised garden beds, trellises and even vertical garden designs are being incorporated.

The National Gardening Association is another organization whose goals include public education and community health. Their mission is to promote gardening as a means to renew and sustain the essential connections between people, plants, and the environment. School gardens are being planted that bring students and community members together in order to teach life skills, to help create the sense of community, and to educate children on healthy food choices. The Edible Schoolyard is a program established by Alice Water's Chez Panisse Foundation in Berkeley California. Started on a one-acre plot of land, for more than ten years, the organic garden and kitchen have been the center of an innovative educational program. Each year, the program hosts over 1,000 visitors, including educators, health professionals and international delegates. It has inspired countless kitchen and garden programs. Other community-based programs seek to make gardening possible for residents particularly from low-income families. They improve nutrition, increase access to fresh, low-cost produce, offer gardening education, and encourage cleaner and greener communities.

Community Gardens in urban settings have become an important resource: In the economically-challenged Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco, even a median strip has been converted into a garden with vegetables planted and harvested. It is not only providing the visual enhancement of color and beauty, but these gardens can be critical in providing an accessible source of fresh produce to residents in the more economically-challenged urban settings. These collective gardens are being looked at as grassroots revitalization initiatives.

Community Gardens have even been started especially for promoting healthy lifestyles for Senior Citizens. Following the recommendations of both the CDC and US Department of Health and Human Services, cities across the Country have developed Community Gardens specifically for senior citizens as a multipurpose remedy: These gardens provide meaningful activity yielding savings in food budgets, exercise for health benefits, and social stimulation which is critical for mental health as well.

From urban to suburban environments, from the youthful to the physically disabled and senior participants, Community Gardens are providing a rich harvest coast to coast.

Starting a Community Garden

For those who are interested in bringing the benefits of a collective garden to their own community, America is Growing recommends visiting The American Community Garden Association and reviewing their comprehensive planning resources.

Learn more about Community Gardens in America by visiting New York City's Clinton Community Garden here. Or check out the Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis which has been continuously cultivated since 1943 here. Take a peak at First Lady Michelle Obama's White House Kitchen Garden here and here.

Food for Thought

"Building a world where we meet our own needs without denying future generations a healthy society is not impos-
sible, as some would assert. The question is where societies choose to put their creative efforts."

Christopher Flavin
Worldwatch Institute President

Sustainable Living