Why Community Gardens Are Good for the Environment

Community gardens are pieces of land looked after by multiple people – it can be split up to give each person their own plot or the garden might be shared.

They can add a lot of benefits for the local community, like growing vegetables or adding space for recreation. But how do they help the environment?

Community gardens can create and maintain ecosystems by providing habitats, cleaning water, and even cleaning the air. By planting native plants, community gardens help local pollinators. They can even reduce reliance on synthetic fertilizers by providing a space for a compost heap.

How do community gardens help the environment?

Community gardens come in a variety of types, including neighborhood gardens, allotments, communal gardens, and more. They may be used to grow food, native plants, or just to provide a comfortable place to sit

According to the nonprofit Greenleaf Communities, community gardens can help improve air and soil quality, improve water filtration, reduce neighborhood waste, reduce food transportation miles, and increase the biodiversity of plants and animals. Changes to the local environment can provide additional benefits to the surrounding area, such as reducing air pollution and smells.

Community gardens can provide valuable ecosystem services like cleaning air and water, promoting biodiversity by providing habitats, and enabling environmental education in the local community. By repurposing abandoned or neglected land, community gardens can restore vacant land and ecosystems, as well as promote social inclusion.

A case study into community gardens and sustainable land use planning identified that exclusively planting native plant species is “expected to have a positive impact on local biodiversity”.

By planting native plants, biodiversity is supported and sustained, as ecosystems can be strengthened. Biodiversity, or biological variety of life, requires and supports strong ecosystems.

An ecosystem consists of plants, animals, and other organisms and requires the right conditions – including weather and landscape – to sustain itself. All parts of the ecosystem rely upon another, so invasive plants or a lack of native plants can dramatically change a local ecosystem, which can then endanger animals.

Community gardens that focus on native plants or vegetables indirectly or directly influence ecosystems. They can provide habitats for organisms or be used as a food source by local wildlife.

Audubon advises that native plants require little maintenance, as once established they benefit from the ecosystem. Birds, butterflies, moths, and other pollinators benefit from native plants in community gardens, as well as other wildlife and organisms.

Community and home gardens are recognized as hotspots for pollinators in cities. According to the USDA, “one third of all agricultural output depends on pollinators”, especially in growing fruit and vegetables. Plants like blueberries and cherries are even 90% dependent on honey bee pollination.

Pollinators include bees, butterflies, flies, beetles, wasps, moths, bats, and birds. Bees are considered the most important pollinators, especially as wild bee populations are in decline.

Providing plants for pollinators in community gardens not only helps local pollination but can also promote the growth of pollinator populations.

Community gardens also have an impact on food waste and sustainable agricultural practices, such as compost heaps and reduction of synthetic fertilizers. Having a place outside for the whole community to compost food waste allows everybody to have a source of natural fertilizer (the compost) or else use the compost on the garden’s plants.

Are community gardens sustainable?

Community gardens are largely sustainable, though all participants should be aware of unsustainable practices to avoid, such as the use of synthetic chemicals.

Some principles of sustainable gardening include:

  • Generating less waste and returning waste to the ground (such as compost heaps)
  • Managing resource use
  • Planting native plants which require low maintenance
  • Educating others and encouraging participation
  • Refusing to use synthetic products like pesticides and fertilizers
  • Using only solar lighting where needed, or none at all
  • Trimming with shears, not machines

Community gardens that grow fruit and vegetables also help reduce transportation emissions for food.

Environmental benefits of community gardens

The environmental benefits of community gardens affect both ecological and social aspects of the environment.

The environmental benefits involve:

  • Encouraging biodiversity
  • The creation or promotion of ecosystem services (like water filtration)
  • Educating the community
  • Sustainable agricultural practices
  • Reduction of food transportation
Photo by Steve Adams on Unsplash

Who benefits from a community garden?

Everybody in the community benefits from a community garden.

Community gardens reduce isolation, enable socialization, encourage mental well-being, promote physical activity, and more.

Children benefit from being involved in community gardens, as they encourage healthy eating and physical activity.

Adults can benefit from being closer to nature, which lowers stress levels and strengthens immune systems. This can be attributed to more exposure to fresh air and sunlight, which can also relieve pain in elderly people.

Easy access to vegetables from a community garden assists in better nutrition and culinary knowledge, whether the food is grown for household or communal meals. This is especially a benefit for people who cannot regularly afford vegetables.

Sustainable agricultural practices can also raise the nutrition of vegetables compared to shop-bought vegetables grown in depleted soil.

How can a community garden help me and others?

Community gardens can benefit individuals and groups in a variety of ways.

Gardening has long been considered beneficial for its effects on physical and mental health. It can reduce depression and stress, build self-esteem, promote healthy hearts, and improve your immune system.

So it’s no surprise that community gardens can add more benefits.

Being a part of a community garden might even have more benefits, as you’re not the only one responsible for the plants and you can socialize with fellow gardeners.

A study conducted by the city council in Barcelona found that community gardens (or urban vegetable gardens) have “major social values” for people who take part. These benefits include connecting people, improving quality of life, and promoting environmental education.

What are the benefits of a community garden for the community?

Community gardens have many benefits for the community at large. They could even help reduce crime and allow residents to feel safe in their neighborhood, though vandalism is still a possibility.

A community garden can be used as a place for social gatherings, enabling more connections between community members. This can lead to more engagement and involvement in gardening, from gardening lessons to nutrition classes, or simply sharing knowledge between participants.

Having a shared goal can further connections between members of the garden, whether it’s maintaining the garden or working together to provide food. You could even run a community event, like fundraising or getting kids involved.

Growing food can improve food security and provide access to fresh food. This can then improve dietary habits because it’s easier to include vegetables in meal plans.

How can community gardens help with food insecurity?

Food insecurity is a lack of reliable access to affordable, nutritious food. This can be caused by poverty, low income, or unemployment, as well as chronic health conditions, lack of affordable housing, and discrimination. Rising living costs and supply disruptions can worsen food insecurity across areas.

Community gardens have a big role in times of crisis. They helped “alleviate food insecurity” and “provide social support and emotional well-being for community residents” during the pandemic.

Over 60 million people in the US relied on food banks and community programs to eat during 2020, according to Feeding America.

By providing food through community gardens, easy access to nutritious food can provide food security and help those who may be struggling more than their neighbors. This is especially true of places that have enough room in the community garden to provide for many households.

Even if the garden produces more food than is needed by the community, volunteers can sell excess food to a wider community at low prices, such as in farmers’ markets. This reduces food waste and helps others who need it.

Do community gardens save money?

Community gardens can help save money by buying seeds and growing your own food. By using food waste from everybody involved to create compost, you don’t have to buy compost and can put more nutrition into the soil.

The USDA calculates that 0.60 pounds of vegetables per square foot is typically harvested from conventional farming, but citizen scientist gardeners can harvest an average of 0.75 pounds of vegetables per square foot. Per plant, an average of 2.55 pounds of food can be produced by community gardens, the equivalent of $435.

High-value crops like tomatoes and peppers can save even more because they grow vertically and take up less ground space.

While the amount of money saved varies, it’s clear that community gardens can save money over seasons and years by reducing waste and using up everything the garden produces.

For community gardens that don’t grow food, money can still be saved on maintaining the garden through a community compost heap. It can also reduce vehicle emissions by having an outdoor space in an urban area easily accessible and within walking distance.

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