Usually a community garden is started because there are people in the community that don’t have access to a spot where they can grow their own fruits and vegetables. So, the community garden is first and foremost place where they can have their own plot and grow some produce that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.
Another reason that a community garden may be developed is because a community may have an empty lot or an unused parcel of land that is attracting crime, trash, or other problems. They want to reclaim it and make something useful out of the lot. So, a community garden can provide benefits by making the community a better place to live.
A community garden, beyond just being a place to grow food, it can also quickly become a place where community relationships will develop. Neighbors that perhaps had never talked to each other, or people from different cultures that haven’t gotten to know each other can, through a community garden, share an experience and work together on a project that will make the community more tight-knit and allow them to deal with other issues that may come up.
A great side effect of a community garden in a neighborhood is the additional fresh produce, which the neighbors may not have access to in other situations. So, they would see health benefits from increased produce in their diets – especially fresh produce. But also, just getting out gardening, and being outside and doing physical activity that’s innate in gardening will have some health benefits as well.
Sometimes a community, rather than growing vegetables just for themselves, may decide to start a garden where everyone works together, and the produce is donated to a food pantry or a soup kitchen, or just to neighbors in need, rather than being grown just for the individual gardener’s use.
There are many reasons and benefits to starting a community garden, but each community really needs to assess their own strengths and needs before they go out and start a community garden.
This was a targeted area for us because of the high crime. We wanted to have a project where we could bring in community people and community police officers, and social service agencies all in one spot together so that we could come together and create a presence in the neighborhood, and hopefully reduce crime.
The benefits have been, we’ve been sharing information with each other. We’ve had a lot of elderly, particularly Hispanic people in the neighborhood, say that their grandkids don’t know how to grow anything. And, they want to teach them. So, we’ve had some grandparents here teaching their grandkids, and teaching their great nieces and nephews.
The greatest benefit for me is visiting with the people that walk by. Most of our gardeners live within eight blocks of this garden, and they’re here frequently. Every night there are at least a few gardeners here. And in the morning, that’s when I like to come, there are a few gardeners here at that time.
I’ve picked over 120 cucumbers off of my little trellis. I know that there have been lots of yellow squash. There aren’t very many tomatoes. No one has very many tomatoes this year. There are lots of peppers. We have twenty different kinds of peppers planted in this garden. We have sweet potatoes which a communal thing. We planted sweet potatoes to share. We have winter squash, and we’re attempting corn. Hopefully our soil will be in better shape next year, and we’ll have more produce.
This feature story prepared with Rebecca McMahon, Kansas State University Research and Extension Horticulture Agent, Sedgwick County and Cindy Galstad, Community Mobilizer for Wichita. For more information, visit your local county extension office or visit our website at KansasGreenYards.org.