Across America, spring has sprung—except on the East Coast, where the memo to Mother Nature was apparently lost in transit. Cue the arrival of little league games, long afternoons at the park, and flower buds popping up in the garden.
What better way to usher in the season than by getting your hands dirty and planting some tomatoes, strawberries, or herbs? Not much, apparently—the statistics show that more of us are gardening than ever. The National Gardening Association reports that 42 million American households—35 percent of homes—grow food either at home or in a community garden, a figure that has climbed 17 percent between 2008 and 2013.
Of this number, the fastest-growing segment of gardeners are joining community gardens—shared, public growing spaces with memberships ranging from just two or three to hundreds of gardeners. Since 2008, 2 million more of us have joined community gardens—a huge jump of nearly 200 percent.
So exactly why are community gardens so popular? These five reasons might help explain it.
1. They strengthen neighborhood relationships
Perhaps the biggest draw (and benefit) to community gardening is right there in its name: community. We’re seeing a resurgence of common spaces and activities everywhere (even in "sharing economy" businesses like Uber and Airbnb) as Americans slowly resist hyper-individualism in favor of communal connection. Community gardens, with their racially and socioeconomically diverse memberships, are ideal connecting points for neighbors wanting to get to know one another.
2. They help members learn new skills
When we grow food in our backyards, alone, we make mistakes. Sometimes fatal ones (for our plants, that is). Growing food with other people—some of whom are bound to be more seasoned gardeners than we are—provides a network for sharing advice, tips, and tricks. The built-in accountability also means community gardeners are less likely to let their garden plot get overrun with weeds than backyard hobbyists.
3. They mitigate climate change
Two of the best ways we can alleviate the effects of climate change are through installing green spaces and rehabilitating the soil. Community gardening does both, with the indirect benefit of contributing to local food systems—another environmentally friendly side effect.
4. They give locals control of the land
Though often overlooked, perhaps one of the biggest perks of community gardens is that they give local residents some control of land and public spaces. These gardens make use of unused parcels of land that would often, under different circumstances, be developed into homes, liquor stores, or paved parking lots.
5. They encourage a healthy lifestyle
Don’t listen to the reports that fail to find a correlation between community gardening and public health. It's just common sense that when we’re growing more of the food we eat—especially nutrient-dense produce—outdoors, that benefits our health.
If you’re not already gardening in a community, chances are there’s one nearby you could join (search options in your area here). What’s your excuse?
Photo credit: Paul Delmont