Cultivating Health and Fitness: The Benefits of a Community Garden
The community garden, a growing trend that has taken root and is quickly branching out, proves to yield bountiful rewards for all involved. These sustainable green spaces provide fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables for the locale in which they are cultivated and they are sprouting up throughout the nation (and worldwide) in urban, suburban, and rural communities alike. The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) defines a community garden as "any piece of land gardened by a group of people." The community garden requires a collaborative effort by all sectors of the public. It is a means by which members of society learn to work together in order to meet the health and nourishment needs of the community.
The concept of the community garden is not new. Historically in the United States, community gardens (in one form or another) have been around since at least the 1800's (some sources date their existence back to the 1700's). Modern day community gardens typically place an emphasis on sustainable living and locally grown produce. Their design serves to foster a healthy lifestyle by planting the "seeds" of nutrition and fitness into the surrounding community.
The benefits reaped from community gardens are as varied as the crops that are sown and harvested from them. These include:
- Community and neighborhood development
- Neighborhood beautification
- Social networking/camaraderie
- Connection to nature/food source
- Increased awareness of the importance of fruit and vegetable consumption
- A means by which physical activity is increased
- Increased accessibility to nutritious food
- Improved health and well-being
- Preservation of green space
- Reduced family grocery bills
- Decreased crime rates
- Spiritual "connectedness"
- Enhanced mood
Last week, I had the opportunity to witness volunteers from the MSUE Master Gardener Volunteer Program in action at Bittersweet Farm Plant-A-Row Community Garden in Clarkston, Michigan. I learned about the program from a friend, Kim Penokie of Earth Groomers Inc. - a landscape and home improvement company - who went through MSUE's program last fall. She and others worked to prepare the land for planting this year's seeds and starts.
Kim Penokie, Master Gardener Volunteer.
Bittersweet Farm owner, and Master Gardener himself, Bob McGowan states that this community garden is in its 19th year and is part of the Garden Writers Association (GWA) Plant-A-Row for the Hungry initiative that calls upon gardeners to "plant a little extra and donate the produce" to entities that serve those in need. Over the last several years, the Bittersweet Farm Plant-A-Row Community Garden has donated over thousands of organically grown fruit and vegetables to Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan, with more that 4,200 pounds donated from the 2008 season alone.
Plot to be cultivated at Bittersweet Farm Plant-A-Row Community Garden in Clarkston, Michigan.
As the nation attempts to combat the current overweight and obesity epidemic it faces, a greater emphasis is being placed on increasing the awareness of the important role fruits and vegetables play in promoting health and preventing disease. Action is also being taken to provide easy access to fresh produce, particularly in areas that the government has classified as "food deserts." McGowan notes that there is a growing emphasis being placed on "the amount of nutrition being delivered to the community, not just the amount of food." Attempts are being made by food banks and other sectors of the public to increase the percentage of food delivered to those in need that comes from fresh produce rather than from prepackaged items that tend to be of a higher caloric content and lower in nutrients. Community gardens can help to meet this need.
If you would like to volunteer at the Bittersweet Farm Plant-A-Row Community Garden or would like to learn more about community gardening, you can contact Bob McGowan at (248) 620-0111.
Bittersweet Farm Plant-A-Row Community Garden in Clakston, Michigan
Earth Groomers Inc. (248) 299-0883; email@example.com
Garden Writers Association
American Community Gardening Association
The Michigan Master Gardener Volunteer Program Michigan State University Extension