Teaching people about healthy eating is important, but they cannot put that knowledge into practice if they do not have access to healthy food outside of class. Community gardens are a fantastic way to promote healthy eating. They can help teach people where their food comes from, and give them a chance to connect with their neighbors. Gardens can be small or large, but even a small garden can have a large impact on the health of your community.
Community Gardens for physical activity
Gardening not only produces great, healthy food; it provides a place for people to engage in physical activity. An hour of light gardening can burn as many calories in the average adult as spending an hour walking 3.5 miles. Gardening can increase physical activity in children, and has also been linked to greater physical activity and life satisfaction in seniors. Keep this in mind as you develop and use your gardens.
Creating a community garden
Building a community garden takes some planning, but does not have to cost tens of thousands of dollars. There are grant opportunities available (see resources), or a variety of potential funding partners (schools, hospitals, nonprofits, etc.). Before you begin, there are two things that must be considered: is there enough neighborhood interest in supporting a garden, and what need will it address in your community. Once these parameters are established, a location should be selected.
Selecting the proper site is critical to a garden’s success. The site should have proper light and drainage. Accessibility to the site and within the site is an important consideration- especially if you are target seniors and/or those with limited mobility. The garden should be centrally located so the gardeners will be able to get to the site easily. Also, consider using raised beds or container gardening to provide as inclusive of a gardening experience as possible. For more details of planning a community garden, check out the resources section.
Having a maintenance plan in place prior to the opening of the garden will help ensure its long-term success. Consider partnering with other organizations (such as nonprofits in the community) to aid in the maintenance of the garden. On the American Community Gardening
Association website (see resources), there are a variety of sample rules and maintenance plans that you can use for inspiration.
When a garden is used by many people, there is greater risk of food contamination. However, this issue can be mitigated through proper site selection, safe water sources, proper compost and fertilizer application, and food handling procedures. The USDA has a great food safety tip sheet for school gardens that can also apply to community gardens. NC Cooperative Extension's community garden food safety guide includes diagrams for proper location of water stations, as well as tips for sanitizing tools and managing volunteers.
Adding healthy eating programs to existing community gardens
Gardening is not the only thing that can be done in community gardens. If you have an existing garden, or want to introduce more citizens to your gardens, consider adding some programs based around or located in the garden. In the resource section, there are several links to a variety of programming ideas, including physical activity, nutrition, plant science, and arts and crafts. Most are geared toward kids, but some are applicable to all ages.
When you are done with this project, share the results with us. And creating a community garden is just the beginning. To achieve their potential, gardens must have constant use and care. To promote community gardens as a resource for healthy food at fitness in your community, consider one of these ideas:
- Include gardening in your after-school programs
- Partner with your local school system to put community gardens in every school (this could be a great first step in developing a joint-use agreement with you school board).
- Have a community dinner or other event that promotes gardening where some of your harvest is shared with other citizens.
- Workshops for garden users on freezing or canning excess harvest.
Planning, funding, and creating gardens:
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