“Going green” doesn't just have to mean buying reusable shopping bags and turning out the lights when you leave a room. Interest in a new green activity is growing, and this one involves having a green thumb: community gardening.
More than 18,000 community gardens have popped up across the country, and the number is increasing rapidly. The gardens are becoming so popular because of the benefits they have in communities where they are planted. Community gardens educate people about healthy eating, they provide convenient and inexpensive access to nutritious food, they offer the opportunity for exercise by working in the garden, and they beautify the communities in which they're planted.
Some of the biggest benefits of community gardens are related to improving health and fitness. Good nutrition is a major force in combating the chronic diseases associated with obesity in youth and adults. It's easy to be fooled by what restaurants and grocery stores advertise as “healthy” options. Food advertised as fat free is often full of sugar and chemicals; food that has reduced or low fat might have increased carbohydrate in the form of simple sugar or high-fructose corn syrup; snacks that are sugar free include many artificial ingredients. A can of fruit cocktail might seem like a healthy choice, but the fruit lost most of its nutritional value when it was peeled and while it sat in the can soaking in a bath of thick, sugary syrup.
In contrast, the food that comes from community gardens is always fresh, nutritious, and tasty. Gardening also is a great way to exercise. Depending on age and size, a person can burn around 200 to 300 calories per hour doing general gardening. The health benefits of tending to community gardens are obvious.
In addition to physical health benefits, community gardens provide intellectual benefits. Gardens planted close to a school or recreational facility can become a destination for field trips to broaden children's exposure to and knowledge of the foods. That knowledge can help kids make good nutritional decisions for the rest of their lives. Additionally, the National Wildlife Federation reports that spending time in the garden can help children to become high-performance learners and to score higher on standardized tests.
Finally, community gardens bring civic benefits. They beautify their neighborhoods and even reduce heat from city streets and parking lots. Creating lower grocery bills, they reduce financial burdens on families in the area. A growing number of city officials and community groups recognize that community gardens can lead to reduced crime, increased citizen involvement, higher property values, and opportunities for connections across generations and cultures.
Gardening is not just a hobby anymore. No matter the intended purpose of a community garden, it always will create opportunities for recreation, exercise, therapy, and education. It allows the community to become happier, healthier, and more closely bonded.