community garden

Any group of people that come together to garden is a _community garden_. Every community garden is different and is determined by what the gardeners themselves want.
Community gardens can be large or small, on the ground or on rooftops, in plots or in planters. And they can be a mix of all of these things. Some are communal, where everyone shares the work and the harvest. Some have separate, individual plots (allotments) for each gardener, and some are a combination of these two styles, encouraging gardeners to join together to grow some of the crops communally, either to donate to a food bank or to maximize space for plants that need lots of room.
Gardens can be created for a specific ““audience””, such as children, seniors, single parents, people with disabilities or they can be all inclusive and accommodating for many different types of use. The community gardeners can decide what they want to grow as a group or it can be left up to the individual. Gardens can be focused on vegetables, flowers, native plants, herbs, or some combination of these things.
There are as many types of community gardens as there are people. The only hard and fast rule of what a community garden is and how and what is grown comes from the participants. That’’s what makes it a community garden.


The ability to plant a seed, to harvest food from that seed, and to return the leftovers to the earth is a true and fundamental value. Making compost from the spent plant materials and then using that compost to enrich the soil for the next year’’s harvest connects us to the cycles of life on our planet and reminds us that not only are we dependant upon nature for our existence, we are a part of nature. The farther away we get from the earth, the more concrete there is under our feet, the more imperative it is that we can find a bit of earth to plant. There is a community in that need that brings us together.
We move further and further away from growing our own food as a daily activity as our lives have become urban. Our children think that food comes from factories and stores. Why should they think any differently? Pull a carrot from the ground and the typical eight year old will think that you are playing a joke on them. If we don’’t want our children to inherit a world in which their food really is manufactured in a lab or factory, we had better start now, even in a small way, to create opportunities for all of us to participate in and appreciate the enjoyment and power (yes, power) of growing our own food from seed, in the real earth of our planet.

The benefits of gardening, especially community gardening, send ripples through the individual, family and community:
- physical exercise - stress relief and mental relaxation
- sense of community belonging
- increased self-confidence
- more affordable produce
- increased consumption of fruit and vegetables
- greater control over food quality
- opportunities for social exchange
- time with kids and family
- connecting with nature
- a chance to protect the environment
- acquaintance with different foods and cultures
- cooperative experience
- improved gardening skills & food preservation techniques
- a chance to share surplus produce
- a chance to learn marketable skills,

Researchers have found at least three distinct ways in which community gardens and other community greening activities contribute to community development. They provide a more livable environment by controlling physical factors such as temperature, noise and pollution; they help create a community image that is perceived as positive by both residents and outsiders; they create opportunities for people to work together to improve communities in many ways.
These three factors translate directly into tangible economic and social benefits, such as a reduction in crime and violence, higher property values, greater availability of nutritious food, and increased business activity, all because the neighbourhood is more attractive and the people within that neighbourhood are more involved with each other.
Here are additional ways that communities benefit from encouraging community gardens:
- greener cities and towns
- increased food security
- diversion of kitchen waste from landfills, through composting
- chemical-free food consumption
- improved population health
- reduced transportation-related food costs
- community economic development
- reduction in neighbourhood crime
- community beautification
- sense of community empowerment
- participation in local decision making processes
- cross-cultural sharing, exchange
- greater self-sufficiency
- flower pollination
- wildlife habitat protection/restoration

- Community gardeners consumed a greater number of fruits and vegetables compared to national averages :7.5 servings per day in the fall, and 6.3 servings in the spring.
Of the gardeners surveyed, 70-80% consumed at least five servings of fruit and vegetables daily.
- In addition, 74% of gardeners preserved produce from the garden (through freezing, canning, pickling, and drying)
- and 95% shared produce with neighbors, emergency food service providers, and others
- Those involved with community gardens are more likely to eat and continue in the off-season to eat more fruits and vegetables making them more likely to meet "5 to 10 A-Day" goals.
- Of those families and individuals who participated in garden projects, 89% ate more fresh vegetables than usual, 96% planned to eat more fresh vegetables all year round, and 79% learned a new way to prepare fresh vegetables

  • Source of the above data:
-Ohri-Vachaspati P and Warrix M. Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Among Urban Gardeners. Ohio State University Extension. As published in the 1999 SNE Annual Meeting Proceedings, page 33.
-Savoie KA. Growing Good Nutrition: EFNEP Improves Dietary Behavior Through Gardening. University of Maine Cooperative Extension. 1998

These days stress relief is a high priority for us all. Never before have humans had to cope with such as wide variety and type of stressful situations. While many people seek artificial ways of relieving stress, quietly tending your garden can be a real stress-buster, helping relieve feelings of anxiety and giving you a break from the general rush of life. Believe it or not, simply looking at a plant can reduce stress, fear, and anger, and lower blood pressure and muscle tension. Studies have found that prison inmates in cells with windows overlooking greenery need less medical care and report fewer symptoms of stress, such as headaches. Hospital patients whose rooms have windows that overlook trees and other plants spend less time in hospital than those who overlook parking lots. Other researchers have documented that people shown urban scenes with some vegetation recover more quickly from stress than people exposed to urban scenes without vegetation. A visit to even a small community garden can offer a person the feeling of being away from a stressful setting.
- Gardening is the second most popular physical activity in Canada, attracting 72% of Canadian adults. Gardening contributes to healthy active living. Numerous studies have shown that regular physical activity reduces your risk of premature death, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, adult-onset diabetes, osteoporosis, stroke, depression and colon cancer. Gardening activities like raking, hoeing, pushing a wheelbarrow and carrying leaves draw on your endurance, flexibility and strength, and will help weight control.
- Endurance activities help your heart, lungs and circulatory system stay healthy, and they give you more energy. Digging in the garden, raking and gathering leaves, hoeing, spreading mulch and pushing a wheelbarrow keep you on the move and bring endurance benefits. - Flexibility activities contribute to easy movement. They allow your muscles to stay relaxed and your joints mobile. Bending and stretching to plant, weed, prune, mix potting soils and water plants by hand are all great activities to help you stay flexible.
- Strength activities keep your muscles and bones strong, and assist in maintaining proper posture. Digging in the garden, turning compost, carrying wood, hauling branches and other clean-up activities help keep you strong.
- As a general guide, 3-1/2 hours of gardening or yard work ‘‘burns’’ about 1,000 calories.
Community gardens are places where individuals work side by sideneighbourhood children, businesspeople, artists, single parents, and newcomers to this countryeveryone all at once. They share stories and shovels, laughter and water, and slowly they build relationships that extend beyond the garden and into our larger community.
On any given day, the gardeners toiling side by side in any of Toronto’’s 100 community gardens may include Vietnamese, Russians, Eritreans, Tamils, Ukrainians, Filipinos, Italians, Cambodians, Iranians, Greeks, Jamaicans, Somalis, Czechs, East Indians, Chinese, Lebanese, West Indians……and many more. Some Canadian-born participants speak English, some French, others Inuktitut. Somehow, from this huge mix of languages and cultures, we are able to find enough in common through our love of gardening to create communities.
The mix of gardeners means many are meeting some foods for the first time. Callaloo, mustard greens, bok choy, edo, water grass, bitter melon, fava beans, Lebanese cucumbers and Bengali beans are unfamiliar to most North American-born participants. In turn, newcomers are getting acquainted with swiss chard, strawberries, rhubarb, Jerusalem artichokes, kohlrabi and sunflowers.
New friendships bloom as gardeners swap tips and ideas, share labour, or stop to chat and rest in the shade. A midsummer potluck dinner features dishes the gardeners made from their own produce. There will be workshops to help them preserve what they and their fellow-gardeners have grown, through pickling, freezing and canning. Many say they share the harvest with friends and family and that on average, seven people eat from each plot.
Here’’s what some gardeners have to say about it all:
" Gardening is good for body and soul."
““ My children will now eat vegetables because they grew them themselves.””
" Gardening helps me save money for something else."
““ I just love spending time in the garden--it gives me something to look forward to every day.””
" The garden plot helped my family relax and have fun together.””
““ Before we didn’’t know any of them and now we’’re friends, almost like family.””
-Creating a successful community garden begins with the people. Sure, having land is important, but it isn’’t the first thing that you need. Begin by cultivating the group and you will be assured of a successful garden. Spend the time now, before spring is at your door, to find and involve members, create a steering committee and cultivate leadership. The garden’’s members must be involved in all decisions, every step of the way. If you try to do it all yourself, you can guarantee burnout within 3 years and your garden group will not have the skills to keep it going without you. Week #2 is entitled "Growing The Group" and there you’’ll learn the skills to help you with this most important, and often overlooked, aspect of starting a community garden. And we’’ll keep saying it over and over again——it’’s that important.
-Why should this community garden exist? What’’s the community need? Is it for food, beautification, social interaction, neighbourhood safety, contact with nature, or just plain funask each member of the group and you’’ll be surprised at the variety of answers. Try to reach consensus on the most important reasons. There can be many equally important reasons and you shouldn’’t feel that you have to come up with just one. When you have consensus, then write a ““mission statement””. This will help at every step of the wayto set goals, to make decisions easier, to prioritize, to fundraise, etc.
Everyone likes to feel that their voice matters, that what they say and think is acknowledged on an equal basis with everyone else. Good communication is the key to ensuring this. There are often many major decisions to be made in the development of a community garden, especially at the outset. It may sometimes seem easier for one or two people to make decisions for the group, but this usually backfires, especially at the beginning before everyone has had time to get to know each other’’s strengths and weaknesses. A good garden coordinator will recognize this and give people the opportunity to express their opinions before decisions are made. Obviously there are some things that the coordinator can and should decide independently, or why else have a coordinator. But it is better to err on the side of caution than to pre-empt discussion for the sake of (often imagined) expediency. In addition to regular group meetings, a notice board in the garden is a good way to keep everyone informed about important issues, as is a regular newsletter. And so that no one person is overburdened with the task of telephoning, it is best to set up a telephone tree system.
Involve as many like-minded groups and individuals in your project as possible. It is not necessary to be a gardener in order to enjoy and participate in a community garden. Create a ““Friends of the Garden”” membership category for those people who want to help the project but aren’’t able, for whatever reason, to take a garden plot. Actively seek out local politicians and other community leaders, members of the media, health professionals, the landscape industry, anti-poverty activists, and anyone else that could help. The more people that feel a personal attachment to the project, the better.
As important as a good coordinator is, it is equally important to have a good organizational team. The success of the project should not rest on any one person’’s shoulders. If the garden is associated with a community center or other institution, the coordinator is often a staff member of that organization. But what happens when that person moves on to another position? Without the active involvement of a committed team, the entire project could go into a rapid nose-dive.
A good garden coordinator is all things to all people. She or he is dynamic, enthusiastic, inspiring, a diplomat, a veritable garden encyclopedia, tireless, devoted, able to deal with any problem with ease...and just about impossible to find. Since that’’s the case, make sure that the candidates fully understand the scope of the job and that as many garden members as possible are involved in the selection process. You may decide that the job is too big for one person (especially if it is a volunteer position) and want to have 2 or 3 people share the coordinator’’s tasks. If so, just make sure that each person knows where her job begins and ends.
Taking on too much at the start of any project usually results in burnout after only a short time. You can always expand in the years to come. Most people are very enthusiastic gardeners in the spring, when that heady combination of sunshine, warm temperatures and sweet smelling soil is too intoxicating to resist. By mid-summer that enthusiasm has waned considerably as the less than glamorous garden chores, like weeding and deadheading, compete with swimming, baseball and other summer fun.
Look for a site that is visible, safe, centrally located, in an area that will benefit from a community garden, has plenty of sun, good access, both by foot and for deliveries, and has the support of the neighbours. Other physical features, such as soil and drainage can always be improved upon, if necessary.
Vegetable gardens often have the reputation of being less than attractive. This is usually the result of haphazard maintenance by the people rather than an aesthetic shortcoming on the part of the plants. Don’’t give any would-be detractors ammunition against the garden. Let the gardeners know what is expected of them with a clearly defined, written set of garden by-laws. Keep the grass trimmed, common areas neat, the beds weeded (or better yet, mulched), pick up trash daily, locate the compost area out of sight as much as possible, plant flowers around the edges of the site as well as within the plots, and try to design the site with imagination––there’’s no rule that says a garden has to be laid out in perfect 10’’ x20’’ rectangular plots.
Not all, or even most, of the participants will be knowledgeable gardeners when they join the garden. A wise coordinator will understand that a first time gardener’’s enthusiasm is linked to a successful harvest. That doesn’’t mean that the first year has to yield a record bumper crop, but it can be very demoralizing if nothing does well. Many novice gardeners will benefit from a bit of guidance from a more experienced gardener, either formally, as in a workshop, or informally, from the life-long gardener in a nearby plot. Actively encourage these opportunities, if necessary.
Most community garden projects don’’t start out with this elusive quality already intact, unless the group has come together before for other projects. Quite often most of the gardeners have never met before, or are the all too common kind of neighbours who say hello to each other but never really get beyond that. A community garden provides an excellent setting in which to get to know other people without many of the normal barriers to communication that we, unfortunately, create. It’’s hard to develop respect for someone when you don’’t have the opportunity to get to know him or her for who they really are. When people are working together for a common cause, enjoying the fresh air, with their hands in the soil and the beauty of nature all around, things like how much money they make and where their grandmother was born don’’t seem to matter as much as they did before.
When we can come together to create something with other people, especially something that adds beauty to our lives and helps us to feel that we are contributing something positive, a very special bond can begin to grow. And with careful nurturing it can blossom into that essential ingredient to human happiness: connection, a sense of belonging, a feeling of community.
- To get off on the right foot, you need to involve the potential members from the beginning. That means having a meeting with all those who might be interested before any decisions are made. It may be a slower way to do things but believe me, it will make for a better, stronger, longer lasting community garden.
- Decide, with the group, why this garden should exist. Without all members having understanding of the garden’’s reason for being, you’’ll have a collection of allotment plots, rather than a community garden.