As we’ve grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic the last year, many of us have realized just how important it is to have a sense of community, food security, and a connection to the outdoors. In our yearning for these simple – yet vital – pleasures of life, we’ve stumbled upon the joy of the community garden.
Not everyone has the luxury of a home garden. In many cities around the United States, residents don’t have a yard, patio, or even balcony to plant a garden. And yet there’s often plenty of vacant land that could be put to use for something good. Community gardens, also known as “pea patches,” are turning unused spaces into shared, productive fruit and vegetable plots.
These community gardens come in many shapes and sizes, but all of them offer similar benefits that have them popping up all over the country:
Benefits of community gardens
- Beautify your neighborhood.Turn a vacant urban space from an eyesore into a vibrant community garden.
- Attract pollinators. Bees, butterflies, birds and other pollinators are essential to our food security. We can’t live without them – so give them a place to thrive in your garden. Leave out the chemicals and pesticides and include their favorite native plants.
- Access to healthy food. Community gardens provide delicious, nutritious food to neighbors who may not otherwise be able to afford it. Many community gardens also donate excess produce to local food pantries.
Know your food. There’s peace of mind knowing where your food came from and how it was produced (ethically, organically, and environmentally responsibly). There’s also a sense of control and empowerment when you can grow your own food and provide for yourself and your community – especially since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
- Good for the soul. Especially in urban areas, community gardens provide a welcome retreat from the concrete jungle. Some fresh air, hard work, and collective activity is good for the mind.
Build community.What better way to connect with your neighbors! It truly takes a village to start and upkeep a community garden. Putting in this effort gives you and your neighbors a sense of ownership over your little piece of paradise and makes you more invested in the place you call home.
Store carbon.The plants you grow will absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their stems, leaves, and fruits. Their roots will also help sequester carbon deep in the soil. This helps mitigate the effects of climate change. Bonus: composting in your garden will reduce methane emissions and further sequester carbon!
Collect and filter stormwater runoff.Unlike the surrounding concrete, the permeable soil in your community garden will absorb runoff and filter pollutants before that water enters streams, rivers, and groundwater.
Types of community gardens
Pea patch.AKA “P-patch” if you’re in Seattle. These are small plots of urban land used for communal gardening and plant raising.
Planting strip. This is the unpaved area between the sidewalk and street. Planting here has all the benefits above, plus provides a natural buffer between pedestrians and vehicles and can increase your home’s curb appeal.
Food forest. An old tradition that’s new for the United States. They’re semi-natural agricultural systems designed to mimic natural ecosystems (yep, that means they’re super low maintenance). Atlanta’s Urban Food Forest at Brown Mills has trees, shrubs, and agricultural crops interspersed across a 7.1-acre former farm. Learn how to plant one here.
Front-yard communal patch.If your neighborhood is short on common space and you want to share your sun and soil, consider turning your front yard into a community garden, like this family from Portland, Ore.
Get started! Find or build a community garden
Check out the American Community Garden Association (ACGA) to find out if there’s already a community garden in your area. They also provide information on how to start your own community garden.
If you’re starting a new garden, you’ll need to start a conversation with your neighbors to garner support for your project and to find out what type of garden would be most beneficial for your community. Your municipal government may also be able to help you identify an area to start your garden and connect you with other resources – including funding – to ensure its success. Try to find an area where you can easily hook up hoses to water your garden.
Once you’ve got a site picked out, map it out! All good gardens start with a plan. Community gardens typically include:
- Compost bins
- Communal tools and a shed to store them in. (start with the basics: a set of rakes, a handy bulb planter, a tiller, and a hand shovel)
- A hose reel for watering
- A picnic table or bench for gathering
- A fence to protect from pets, pests, and vandals
- A kid zone (great for educating and sparking interest in the younger folks!)
- Ground rules (for funding, membership, and maintenance)
Patience gets rewarded
Starting a community garden is a lot of work! It also takes time to plan, plant, and cultivate. With a little patience, though, you – and your community – will see the rewards. So get out and get your hands dirty!