Why get involved – what are the benefits of community gardening?
Providing open space, a place to grow organic food, healing centres for people with mental and physical disabilities, as well as creating opportunities for recreation, exercise, therapy and education, community gardens are an immensely valuable resource to neighbourhoods across the country.
What is a Community Garden?
Community gardens are ideal for individuals who live in flats or homes that don’t provide enough space for personal gardens or have a bit of a garden but have no idea how to begin to grow food in it.. It is also a wonderful way of revitalizing a downtrodden section of a neighborhood, like a vacant site or contested space. Getting involved in a gardening community allows individuals who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to grow their own plants and vegetables to do so.
Community gardens may differ from area to area. Some may solely grow flowers while others grow vegetables, or a combination of the two. The common thread, however, is that community gardens are actively maintained by the gardeners themselves.
According to the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA), the benefits of community gardening are not just limited to growing and eating your own produce. Many other factors come into play, such as enhanced social interaction, improved quality of life, neighborhood beautification, lower family food budgets, conservation, better eating habits, even crim
What’s different about a Grow Community Garden?
Very Simply, it is:
Any piece of land gardened by a group of people for the benefit of the group and the wider community – so the emphasis is the community and group aspect.
Grow’s definition of a community garden is one that focuses on community through gardening. Unlike other community gardens which could be just about gardening or where individuals can have individual plots – at Grow our gardens are worked communally by a group – this could be a group of individuals recruited from a local community as in the Waterworks Community Garden, or it could be a community of interest for eg our first garden targeted people suffering from stress or depression.
In our gardens we don’t divide up plots and allocate them to individuals – we believe that would defeat our purpose. Rather we grow together, dividing up tasks every week, learning from one another.
Our gardens grow community, the group, individuals and vegetables, fruit and flowers!
Our gardens can be located at a vacant site, in the middle or an estate, at a school or hospital and can be urban, suburban or rural area.
Benefits of being involved in a Grow Community Gardens:
- 1. Improves the health and wellbeing of those involved – Many people who come to our gardens talk of the garden relieving the stresses and strains of everyday life. Our gardens are designed to cater for people with a range of mobility and we work together to make sure that everyone can be involved.
- 2. Improves the quality of life for people in the garden – People report feeling happier and healthier through their involvement in the garden.
- 3. Connects people to their community – Many people talk of never seeing their neighbours, not feeling part of the community, having no say in what happens in their community – being involved in a Grow community garden enables people to connect with their community in a meaningful way – one that respects difference and promotes diversity
- 4. Provides a catalyst for neighbourhood and community development
- 5. Stimulates Social Interaction – Many friendships are formed at the garden and there are many examples of care and attention which those involved show to one another – last year one of our participants was away from the garden for a number of weeks – suffering from depression – off their own bat a number of the participant community gardeners made up a box of produce from the garden with a note about how he was missed from the garden. This was brought to his house and he was back the following week.
- 6. Encourages Self-Reliance – We work together to find solutions to challenges in the garden. Everyone is encouraged to make suggestions and undertake all sorts of tasks from making benches, planting trees, pruning tomatoes plants, organising an event to cooking something for our teabreaks the following week.
- 7. Beautifies Neighbourhoods – With a keen eye to transforming contested and disused space, Grow works hard to beautify a space which may have been an eyesore in a neighbourhood. We don’t do this in any convoluted way, rather work with local people to decide what is best, maximise flower planting at the edge of a site, keep hard surfacing to a minimum, plant trees and generally think long term with regard to neighbourhood renewal and biodiversity.
- 8. Produces Nutritious Food – Food costs have risen significantly in recent years. Organic food is often beyond the reach of many, especially those in receipt of pensions, disability allowances or benefits. Being able to grow and cook fresh organic produce makes a real difference to diet and health. Many people who would have limited the range of vegetables they would have used, tend to increase the range and quantity of vegetables and fruit they cook with every week as result of involvement in the garden. Children involved with the project begin to identify and eat vegetables they would have never considered before.
- 9. Reduces Family Food Budgets – Not only do those participating every week benefit from a reduction in the cost of buying food but we have also been able to donate surplus food to a range of organisations including Bryson Asylum Seeker Service. Many asylum seekers receive vouchers instead of money and often cannot afford to buy fresh produce.
- 10. Creates opportunity for recreation, exercise, therapy, and health – The health and wellbeing benefits of community gardening are well documented for e.g. Studies (like the one conducted by Lackey and Associates) have shown that community gardeners and their children eat healthier, have more nutrient rich diets than do non-gardening families • But one health benefit that you might surprise you relates to asthma in children – where a recent study of community gardens in the US found that ‘Eating locally produced food reduces asthma rates, because children are able to consume manageable amounts of local pollen and develop immunities.
Gardens can be areas for recreation and exercise. According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the “creation of or enhanced access to places for physical activity combined with informational outreach” produced a 48.4 percent increase in frequency of physical activity in addition to a 5.1 percent median increase in aerobic capacity, reduced body fat, weight loss, improved flexibility and energy
All of Grow’s participant gardeners report a reduction in stress through their regular community garden participation as well as a general feeling of wellbeing. Exposure to green space reduces stress and increases a sense of wellness and belonging (Bremer et al, 2003, p. 55). “A ten percent increase in nearby greenspace was found to decrease a person’s health complaints in an amount equivalent to a five year reduction in that person’s age”
- 11. Preserves Green Space – 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 labour. • Community gardens provide a place to retreat from the noise and commotion of urban environments and can often renew interest in an unused brown field urban site, transforming it into a vibrant, green hub of a local community
- 12. Food Production – Community gardens allow families and individuals without land of their own the opportunity to produce food. Oftentimes gardeners take advantage of the experiential knowledge of elders to produce a significant amount of food for the household.
Urban agriculture is 3-5 times more productive per acre than traditional large-scale farming.
Local agriculture conserves resources by shortening the commodity chain, saving on fuel demand.
- 13. Provides opportunities for intergenerational and cross-cultural connection – Community gardens offer unique opportunities to establish relationships within and across physical and social barriers including:
- Inter-generational exposure to cultural traditions
- Cultural exchange with other gardeners
- Access to non-English speaking communities
- A recent study found that compared to residents living near barren areas, those closer to green common spaces, are more likely to use them and as a result more likely to interact with neighbours.
How to get involved
There are many ways and levels of involvement with Grow Community Gardens
Core Group – It’s your garden – attend every week over a growing season
Get involved as part of the core groups who attend each week. Demand has been very high and we keep at waiting list for participation. If you think you might like this level of involvement email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send you a short application form. We will then be in touch to have a chat. We have found this to be the best way of ensuring a good match. It means that generally people have a good think about whether they can commit to this level of involvement.
By being part of the core group you gain all the benefits of involvement and you get to share produce from the garden!
We welcome those who just want to drop in and see what we are doing, share a cup of tea, take a tour of the garden and pick the brains of our budding community gardeners.
Cooking – Healthy Eating workshops at the garden
Once we begin to harvest our produce we have regular cooking sessions followed by sharing the food cooked. This year our first cooking workshop took place on Good Friday. We harvested our first salad leaves so we had briuchetta with wild garlic pesto. The wild garlic was harvested from the Cavehill.
We will advertise our cooking sessions on the website/facebook and if you feel like coming along just drop us a text or email so we can make sure we have enough seats and food! Places are limited and will be on a first come first served basis.
Get involved in community discussion and action days
As you will now have realised – Grow community gardens are much more than just about groing veg. The community involvement is a really important one. Depending on the wishes and needs of the group, we facililitate discussions on a wide range of topics including good relations, neighbourhood issues, park cleanup, area developments, anti racism workshops, meeting local representatives.
These workshops are both informative and very empowering and many people take up a wider community involvement following these discussions.
We like to learn from others and share our experiences too. Last year we facilitated a number of groups and organisations visits to our gardens. We also took to the road ourselves. We organised visits between our gardens, a trip to the organic centre in Leitrim. This year we will visit the garden festival Bloom at the phoenix park in Dublin.
Our priorities for these visits are the core groups and local residents. However we often have additional places available and will offer them out to the wider community. Keep an eye on the website or face book or indeed if you are very with it – follow us on Twitter.
What is it?
The Waterworks Community Garden is a shared space for local people to come together to grow their own food, get their heads showered and generally connect with others in their community. It’s open to anyone over 18 and currently our youngest participant is 21 and our oldest is 82.
We advertise for and recruit participants in March/April of each year and they sign up for the full growing season, coming once a week. The weekly sessions are led by a Community Gardener who works with the group to plan and plant the garden.
Is it just about gardening?
No, not at all. It’s as much about you feeling part of your community, your health and wellbeing, making friends and having craic.
During the year we run a range of workshops as diverse as cookery demonstrations using produce from the garden, good relations, fruit tree pruning, permaculture, sustainable development, healthy eating and nutrition.
When is it?
This year we are running two groups;
- Friday – 10-1
- Sunday – 10-2
We also run community days where we invite the wider community to come and meet the community gardeners, take part in cookery demonstrations, learn more about what we do and share any surplus plants or produce. Keep an eye on the blog for upcoming events.
Where is it?
We are located right at the top end of the Waterworks at the Westland Gardens entrance.
What does it cost to join?
Nothing but time, commitment and some hard work.
Each year Grow seeks funding to run the garden and ensure that it is open and accessible to as many people as possible, particularly those on a limited budget.
How do I join?
Each year we have been heavily oversubscribed and we now have a waiting list to join. The best thing to do is to email email@example.com and we will send you and application form. Once you complete this and return it we will place your name on the waiting list for next season.