A community garden – a common space where people can come together to grow food and flowers – is a valuable addition to any neighbourhood. Community gardens are equally feasible in large urban cities, suburban subdivisions, or outlying rural districts. Creating an accessible space where people in your local area can garden together has more benefits than just producing delicious food. In fact, a neighbourhood garden can become a vibrant and vital cornerstone of your community.
Get To Know Your Neighbours
The practice of working together on a common project can help your neighbourhood become more of a community. Odds are good that you often see your neighbours out walking, heading home from work, or rushing to the grocery store, but you probably don't have the time to stop and chat. A common garden space provides an excellent opportunity to get to know each other better. Gardening together helps to build a sense of community, encourages people to make connections, and provides a way to welcome new people to the neighbourhood. Community gardens, because of their ability to gather people together, offer an opportunity for neighbours to discuss local issues and brainstorm other ideas for improvements – the garden is just the beginning of the projects that can develop. Plus, once you know your neighbours better, you'll know who to go to if you ever need to borrow a cup of sugar!
Of course, a key benefit of starting a community garden is the chance to learn from other community members. You will be surprised by how many people have gardening experience, and are willing to share what they know with others. The nice thing about gardening is that it's easy to learn and there's a task suitable for everyone. Even accessibility challenges – such as language barriers or mobility issues – are really an opportunity to learn new things, like how to create a space and a group that is as accessible and welcoming as possible. Getting children involved in the garden is a chance to pass this knowledge on to the next generation.
The wonderful thing about learning opportunities is that the things you learn are often completely unexpected. Opening up a garden space to a community means you'll get contributions from a variety of people. They may hail from other places, have different gardening techniques, or offer food suggestions you have never tried. When you are all in the garden in August, staring with pride and a little bewilderment at your mountain of freshly harvested kale, it's likely that someone will have a delicious recipe handy for you to try. In return, when the pumpkins are ready, you can share the secret of your grandmother's scrumptious pumpkin pie (that is, if everyone is very nice to you!).
Eat Really Local Food
Having a community garden also means that you'll have access to nutritious local food for a good portion of the year. You will be able to enjoy the benefits of eating seasonally. This practice keeps you in touch with the earth's rhythms, and allows you to eat food that tastes amazing because it is naturally ripe and in season. You and your family will be motivated to include more fruits and veggies in your diet, a definite health bonus. Local food is fresher and less polluting than food transported halfway across the country, and you have the added benefit of knowing where it came from and how it was grown. You, as the farmer, will have control over soil additives and pesticide use. You'll also have the opportunity to try growing heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables. These are varieties that are often ideally suited for your local growing conditions, and they keep you connected to the history of the area. Finally, being part of a community garden that eats what it grows means that you'll always have great stories up your sleeve. When serving dinner, for instance, you can tell tales that begin, “I remember when this very tomato was just a wee seedling...”
Gardens Are Gathering Places
Finally, in addition to all these benefits of having a neighbourhood garden, the space itself provides a great place to hold other community events. You can help sustain knowledge from the past by holding canning and preserving workshops, or jam making and pie baking work parties. You can offer lectures or roundtables on gardening topics of particular interest. You can brainstorm with your community to come up with events that will encourage people to spend time at the garden – canvas your local talent and invite musicians to play weekend concerts, artists to sketch in the garden, or historians to recount the history of the area. By expanding the mandate of your community garden to become a focal or gathering point, you will be able to reap the maximum benefits of creating a cooperative garden site.