Gardens as a Community Development Tool

Community and school gardens are a lot more than just growing fruits, vegetables and flowers.  The process of designing, building, maintaining and sustaining a community garden requires many elements of a community to work together across many seasons and years to achieve the individual and collective goals of the garden.  When viewed as a community development tool, community and school gardens offer substantial social, educational, economic, environmental, and community-building opportunities for every aspect of community or school.

SOCIAL OPPORTUNITIES

  • The social interaction involved with a community garden promotes teamwork, sharing, communication, conflict resolution, patience, and other useful social skills.
    • Helps shape the social maturation of youth through interaction with adults
    • Transitions participants from self-involvement to community involvement, from consumers to cultivators
    • Involves several generations together on a project with real meaning to all
  • Community gardens cross over all societal lines – age, ethnicity, language, religion, economic standing, mental and physical abilities – allowing gardeners to regularly interact in a simple environment that nurtures both individuality and community.
  • The many comforting and nurturing benefits provided by a community garden to its gardeners ultimately ripples through the greater community, positively influencing many people outside the garden.
  • Community gardens act as a social science laboratory, offering social scientists an opportunity to learn a great deal about individual communities, interaction between communities, and the larger human community.

EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES

  • Community and school gardens offer many educational opportunities for youth and adults, with direct application to all educational testing, including Virginia’s SOL (Standards of Learning):
    • The Sciences – Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Ecology, Climatology, Horticulture
    • Health, Nutrition and Physical Fitness
    • Arts and Humanities
    • History
    • Social Studies
    • Architecture and Engineering
    • Business Planning and Management
    • Culinary

ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES

  • Community gardens produce food and plants that support the economy and the underserved of the greater community, while reversing the trend of the depletion of natural resources.
  • Skills and education gleaned from working in community gardens offers gardeners new vocational pathways as the greening of America puts more emphasis on local food production as well as gardening and horticulture expertise.
  • Community gardens will enable more people to eat healthier food, leading to a reduction in health problems like obesity and diabetes which will have significant positive economic implications, locally and nationally.
  • The cooperation and collaboration learned and practiced in community gardens will spill over into daily work environments, leading to a more efficient and effective community which will have significant positive economic implications.
  • The many comforting and nurturing benefits provided by a community garden to its gardeners enhances their quality of life, translating into greater productivity in the workforce, ultimately strengthening the economy of the greater community.

ENVIRONMENTAL OPPORTUNITIES

  • Community gardens provide a number of environmental benefits:
    • Release oxygen, provide cooling, prevent soil erosion and rain run-off, absorb compost destined for landfills, promote soil testing and enhance soil fertility, increase pollination and teach alternatives to petrochemical soil amendments
  • Community gardens help mitigate the impact of climate change.
  • Community gardens teach gardeners the importance of being good stewards of the environment, leading to enhanced awareness of the environment outside of the garden, leading to more recycling, more composting, more conservation and other benefits to the environment.

COMMUNITY-BUILDING OPPORTUNITIES

  • Community gardens transition participants from self-involvement to community involvement, teaching the value of interaction with others and collaboration, with benefits rippling through the greater community.
  • Direct interaction between a collection of community gardens helps strengthen relationships between communities as they share garden resources, secrets, expertise, seeds, recipes, designs, tools, innovations and energy.
  • Direct interaction between a collection of community gardens promotes learning about the similarities and differences between communities, scientifically and socially:
    • Scientific – soil content, climate, what is grown, when and why
    • Social – what is grown and why, how it is prepared, how it is displayed, cultural and historical considerations