Before I begin, it seems appropriate to mention what exactly community gardens are… Firstly they’re not places “where old folk hang out” as has been suggested by a couple of people – far from it 😉
Community gardens attract people from the entire social economic spectrum, irrespective of race, gender, religion or age. I’ve talked on several radio shows including our local KCLR and Kilkenny City Community Radio stations as well as Dublin FM’s Sodshow about the differences between community gardens, allotments and community gardening allotments. In short, a community garden is where people come together to grow food and flowers, they share all the work and they share the produce.
But don’t just listen to me, read the facts. There’s been a great deal of research undertaken on the benefits of this form of collective gardening.
1. Community Gardeners Weigh Less – Yes, it’s true (oops, better hide that biscuit tin…!!). At a time when obesity is very much in the headlines the University of Utah published a report in 2013 with findings that community gardeners have a significantly lower body mass index than their non-gardening neighbours – up to 11lbs in women and 16lbs in men!
2. Community gardens help to reduce stress – I know it and anyone else who gardens knows it, I’ve written numerous blog posts about it too, but there are several research studies that now prove gardening is great for our mental well-being, self-esteem and overall mood. A report published in 2011 by van den Berg and Clusters provided the first experimental evidence that gardening can promote relief from acute stress, either by working on or just being in an allotment (community) garden.
3. Community gardeners eat better – A study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour showed that adults with a household member who participated in a community garden consumed fruit and vegetables 1.4 more times per day than those who did not take part, and they were 3.5 times more likely to consume fruits and vegetables at least five times daily.
4. Community Gardens are Social Levellers – It doesn’t matter whether you’re a teacher or a technician, a farmer or a forester, a managing director or a maintenance worker, once in a garden we’re all the same. I’ve seen people working alongside one another for over a year before they’ve found out what their gardening neighbour does outside of the garden. Why has it taken that long? Because once you’re in a community garden it’s all about the fresh air and the soil, nature, cooking, fresh food that’s been grown without chemicals, the environment and beautiful plants and the community at large.
5. People Learn how to garden – growing your own in a quiet allotment or your back garden can be quite a lonely existence until you find other like-minded souls to chat with about their experiences. When you join a community garden you’re surrounded by people of all abilities – from complete beginners to lifetime growers and they’re all happy to share their experience and knowledge. Community gardens often have gardening tutors on site or run courses to help gardeners increase their skills and knowledge – they’re rarely left to figure it all out on their own.
Still not sure? A Reuters video explains why people are community gardening in the U.S. and why it’s so popular there. What do you think, would you like to see a community coming together to grow and share here in Ireland?