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A community garden is any piece of land that is gardened or cultivated by a group of people, usually for home consumption. Community gardens are typically owned by local governments, not-for-profit groups, or faith-based organizations; gardens are also often initiated by groups of individuals who clean and cultivate vacant lots. Local governments, non-profits, and communities may support gardens through community land trusts, gardening education, distribution of seedlings and other materials, zoning regulation changes, or service provision such as water supply or waste disposal.
Expected Beneficial Outcomes
Increased access to fruits & vegetables
Increased fruit & vegetable consumption
Increased physical activity
Increased food security
Increased healthy foods in food deserts
Reduced obesity rates
Improved mental health
Improved sense of community
Improved neighborhood safety
Evidence of Effectiveness
There is some evidence that community gardens improve access to and consumption of fruits and vegetables (Girard 2012, Draper 2010, McCormack 2010, Litt 2011, Keihner 2013) and increase physical activity for gardeners (Draper 2010, Gilroy 2011, Wang 2013). Community gardens are a suggested strategy to increase fruit and vegetable availability in food deserts (Wang 2014, Corrigan 2011, Hendrickson 2006, UW IRP-McCracken 2012, CDC-Food deserts), promote healthy eating, reduce obesity (Zick 2013, IOM-Government obesity prevention 2009, TFAH-Levi 2014, CDC-Zoning healthy eating, CDC-Fruits and vegetables 2011), and improve participants’ mental health and social connectedness (George 2013). However, additional evidence with stronger study designs is needed to confirm effects.
Gardening is considered moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and heavy gardening vigorous and muscle-strengthening exercise (US DHHS-PAG). Community gardening may encourage an overall healthy lifestyle by promoting physical fitness, strength, flexibility, and social engagement, and improving cognitive function among participants; especially older adults (Wang 2013, Chen 2012b). Adults and teenagers who work in community gardens report eating roughly half a cup more fruits and vegetables per day than those who do not (Keihner 2013). In a Salt Lake City-based study, gardeners had a lower body mass index (BMI) than their non-gardening neighbors (Zick 2013).
Community gardens can reduce barriers to healthy food associated with transportation, cost, and food preference (Gilroy 2011), and may increase food security (Vitiello 2014). Successful community gardens may also have broad neighborhood benefits such as increased nearby property values, increased community engagement and pride, and improved safety (Voicu 2008, LGC, Teig 2009). Community garden participation is associated with increased levels of social capital, neighborhood engagement, and satisfaction (Alaimo 2010). Interviews with Latino community gardeners in New York suggest that gardens can host social, educational, and cultural events, and in some cases, promote local activism (Saldivar-Tanaka 2004). By providing an opportunity to plant culturally meaningful foods in a social setting, community gardens may also increase community engagement and improve nutrition among resettled refugees (Eggert 2015, Gichunge 2014).
Since residents maintain the land and space often comes from vacant abandoned lots, community gardens are relatively inexpensive (LGC). Placing community gardens in low income areas can reduce disparities in access to healthy foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables (Corrigan 2011, PolicyLink-Flournoy 2005). Community gardening can also reduce food costs for participating families (Algert 2014 PolicyLink-Flournoy 2005, Gilroy 2011). Gardeners can produce high value, high yield harvests especially when planting vertically grown crops such as tomatoes and peppers (Algert 2014).
Numerous municipalities support community gardens. For example, the P-Patch program in Seattle which uses a community land trust to acquire and preserve land, provides educational programming, and distributes materials such as seedlings and compost (Seattle DON-CGs), and the San Francisco Community Gardens Program, run by the city on city-owned land (SF R&P-CGP). Boston and Portland (Oregon) have zoning ordinances specifically for gardens (PHLP-Land Use); cities such as Seattle, Washington DC, Cleveland, San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley have included community gardens in their comprehensive city plans (PHLP-Land Use, OFPC-Plan 2013). Several municipalities have partnerships with land banks that donate property or help develop community gardens, as in Columbus, Ohio (Columbus-CGP); Shelby County, TN (SC TN-CGs), and Kalamazoo, MI (KCLB-CG).
In 2013, California enacted legislation allowing cities and counties to create incentive zones in urban areas for local food production, providing land owners a property tax break for urban agriculture or community gardening activities. Tennessee and West Virginia also enacted legislation addressing infrastructure barriers and liability concerns related to community gardens (NCSL Winterfeld-Obesity prevention 2014).
Community gardens often grow out of public and non-profit partnerships. For example, Chicago NeighborSpace community land trust is authorized to purchase vacant land to preserve it for gardens (Chicago NeighborSpace) and the Detroit Garden Resource Program works toward a city where the majority of fruits and vegetables consumed by residents are grown within the city limits (KGD-GRP). The city of Pasadena, CA partners with Pasadena Community Gardens Conservancy to provide a community garden in Northwest Pasadena, identified as a food desert (CHFCHR-Smith 2014) and the Boston Natural Areas Network works to preserve urban green spaces, including community gardens (Boston-CPI, Trustees-BNAN).
Rural areas and smaller municipalities also support community gardens, as in Hernando, Mississippi, which has a community garden located in walking distance of its most disadvantaged neighborhood (Hernando-Healthy community).
Additional examples of organizations sustaining community gardens include: Nuestras Raíces in Holyoke, MA (NR-MA); City Harvest in Philadelphia, PA (PHS-CH, Vitiello 2009); and the Summer Sprout community gardening program in Cleveland, OH (CCCFPC-Community Garden). The New York City Community Garden Coalition is an example of an organized group of gardeners using education, advocacy, and grassroots organizing to preserve and create community gardens (NYCCGC).
There are many community gardens in Wisconsin. The UW Extension Food and Ecosystem Educational Demonstrations Sites (FEEDs) provide information about 106 community gardens around the state (UW Ext-FEEDs). The Community Action Coalition has similar information about 50 community gardens in Dane County (CAC-WI).
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services provides tools for establishing community, school, and child care gardens (WI DHS-Got Dirt).
- American Community Gardening Association (ACGA). Locate your nearest community garden. Accessed on November 23, 2015
- ChangeLab Solutions. Community gardens for public health: A webinar about how local governments can support community gardens. Accessed on December 15, 2015
HA Davis-Gardening tips
- Davis A. Home landscaping tips for building the perfect garden. HomeAdvisor (HA). Accessed on January 25, 2016
- Rockeymoore M, Moscetti C, Fountain A. Rural Childhood Obesity Prevention Toolkit. Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC). 2014. Accessed on March 1, 2016
MD DOP-Food system 2012
- Maryland Department of Planning (MD DOP). Managing Maryland's growth planning for the food system. 2012. Accessed on March 9, 2016
- PolicyLink. Equitable development toolkit: Urban agriculture and community gardens. 2008. Accessed on March 15, 2016
- US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The people's garden: Gardening resources. Accessed on March 16, 2017
WI DHS-Got Dirt
- Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). Nutrition and physical activity program: Got dirt? Gardening initiative. Accessed on January 20, 2016
Citations - Evidence
- Alaimo K, Reischi TM, Allen JO. Community gardening, neighborhood meetings, and social capital. Journal of Community Psychology. 2010;38(4):497-514. Accessed on March 30, 2016
- Algert SJ, Baameur A, Renvall MJ. Vegetable output and cost savings of community gardens in San Jose, California. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2014;114(7):1072-1076. Accessed on March 9, 2016
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A look inside food deserts. Accessed on December 7, 2015
CDC-Fruits and vegetables 2011
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Strategies to prevent obesity and other chronic diseases: The CDC guide to strategies to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS); 2011. Accessed on March 1, 2017
CDC-Zoning healthy eating
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Zoning to encourage healthy eating. Accessed on December 10, 2015
- Chen TY, Janke MC. Gardening as a potential activity to reduce falls in older adults. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity. 2012;20:15-31. Accessed on March 9, 2016
- Corrigan MP. Growing what you eat: Developing community gardens in Baltimore, Maryland. Applied Geography. 2011;31(4):1232-1241. Accessed on March 9, 2016
- Draper C, Freedman D. Review and analysis of the benefits, purposes, and motivations associated with community gardening in the United States. Journal of Community Practice. 2010;18(4):458-92. Accessed on January 14, 2016
- Eggert LK, Blood-Siegfried J, Champagne M, Al-Jumally M, Biederman DJ. Coalition building for health: A community garden pilot project with apartment dwelling refugees. Journal of Community Health Nursing. 2015;32(3):141-150. Accessed on March 9, 2016
- George DR. Harvesting the biopsychosocial benefits of community gardens. American Journal of Public Health. 2013;103(8):e6. Accessed on March 9, 2016
- Gichunge C, Kidwaro F. Utamu wa Afrika (the sweet taste of Africa): The vegetable garden as part of resettled African refugees' food environment. Nutrition & Dietetics. 2014;71(4):270-275. Accessed on March 9, 2016
- Gilroy A, Sanders B. Urban food zoning: Health, environmental and economic considerations. Portland: Oregon Public Health Institute (OPHI), Bureau of Planning and Sustainability; 2011. Accessed on February 16, 2016
- Girard AW, Self JL, McAuliffe C, Olude O. The effects of household food production strategies on the health and nutrition outcomes of women and young children: A systematic review. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology. 2012;26(1):205-222. Accessed on March 9, 2016
- Hendrickson D, Smith C, Eikenberry N. Fruit and vegetable access in four low-income food deserts communities in Minnesota. Agriculture and Human Values. 2006;23(3):371–83. Accessed on February 17, 2016
IOM-Government obesity prevention 2009*
- Institute of Medicine (IOM), National Research Council (NRC), Committee on Childhood Obesity Prevention Actions for Local Governments. Local government actions to prevent childhood obesity. (Parker L, Burns AC, Sanchez E, eds.). Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2009. Accessed on February 17, 2016
- Keihner AJ, Sugerman S, Linares AM, et al. Low-income Californians with access to produce in their home, school, work, and community environments eat more fruits and vegetables. Sacramento: Champions for Change; 2013. Accessed on March 9, 2016
- Local Government Commission (LGC). Cultivating community gardens: The role of local government in creating healthy, livable neighborhoods. Sacramento: Local Government Commission (LGC). Accessed on November 9, 2015
- Litt JS, Soobader M-J, Turbin MS, et al. The influence of social involvement, neighborhood aesthetics, and community garden participation on fruit and vegetable consumption. American Journal of Public Health. 2011;101(8):1466-73. Accessed on March 14, 2016
- McCormack LA, Laska MN, Larson NI, Story M. Review of the nutritional implications of farmers’ markets and community gardens: A call for evaluation and research efforts. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2010;110(3):399-408. Accessed on March 1, 2016
- Flournoy R, Treuhaft S. Healthy food, healthy communities: Improving access and opportunities through food retailing. Oakland: PolicyLink; 2005. Accessed on May 24, 2016
- Saldivar-Tanaka L, Krasny ME. Culturing community development, neighborhood opens pace, and civic agriculture: The case of Latino community gardens in New York City. Agriculture and Human Values. 2004;21(4):399-412. Accessed on March 30, 2016
- Teig E, Amulya J, Bardwell, et al. Collective efficacy in Denver, Colorado: Strengthening neighborhoods and health through community gardens. Health & Place. 2009;15(4):1115-1122. Accessed on March 9, 2016
- Levi J, Segal L, St. Lauren R, Rayburn J. The state of obesity: Better policies for a healthier America 2014. Washington, DC: Trust for America's Health (TFAH); 2014. Accessed on February 7, 2017
- US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS). Physical activity guidelines for Americans (PAG). Accessed on March 3, 2017
UW IRP-McCracken 2012
- McCracken VA, Sage JL, Sage RA. Bridging the gap: Do farmers’ markets help alleviate impacts of food deserts? Madison: Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP), University of Wisconsin-Madison; 2012: Discussion Paper 1401–12. Accessed on November 18, 2015
- Vitiello D, Grisso JA, Whiteside KL, Fischman R. From commodity surplus to food justice: Food banks and local agriculture in the United States. Agriculture and Human Values. 2014. Accessed on March 4, 2016
- Voicu, I, Been V. The effect of community gardens on neighboring property values. Real Estate Economics. 2008;36(2):241-83. Accessed on November 17, 2015
- Wang D, MacMillan T. The benefits of gardening for older adults: A systematic review of the literature. Activities, Adaptation & Aging. 2013;37(2):153-181. Accessed on March 9, 2016
- Wang H, Qiu F, Swallow B. Can community gardens and farmers' markets relieve food desert problems: A study of Edmonton, Canada. Applied Geography. 2014;55:127-137. Accessed on March 9, 2016
- Zick CD, Smith KR, Kowaleski-Jones L, Uno C, Merrill BJ. Harvesting more than vegetables: The potential weight control benefits of community gardening. American Journal of Public Health. 2013;103(6):1110-1115. Accessed on March 9, 2016
Citations - Implementation
- City of Boston. Community projects & initiatives (CPI) including community gardens, school gardens, and urban orchards. Accessed on March 30, 2016
- Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin, Inc (CAC). Community gardens. Accessed on December 1, 2015
- Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition (CCCFPC). Summer Sprout: Cleveland's community gardening program. 2015. Accessed on January 11, 2016
- Smith R. A garden in Pasadena's "food desert" may help battle diabetes. California Healthcare Foundation Center for Health Reporting (CHFCHR). 2014. Accessed on March 9, 2016
- Chicago NeighborSpace. Community managed open space. Accessed on December 14, 2015
- City of Columbus. The city of Columbus land bank community garden program (CGP). Accessed on March 30, 2016
- City of Hernando, Mississippi. Hernando is a healthy community--Local government promotes healthy living through community gardens, farmer’s market, and Complete Streets policy. Accessed on March 9, 2016
- Kalamazoo County Land Bank (KCLB). Common ground: The Kalamazoo community garden project. Accessed on March 30, 2016
- Keep Growing Detroit (KGD). Garden resource program (GRP). Accessed on March 30, 2016
NCSL Winterfeld-Obesity prevention 2014
- Winterfeld A. State actions to reduce and prevent childhood obesity in schools and communities: Summary and analysis of trends in legislation. National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL). 2014. Accessed on February 29, 2016
- Nuestras Raices. A model for community led “agri-cultural” development. Accessed on May 18, 2016
- New York City Community Garden Coalition. Accessed on March 30, 2016
- Oakland Food Policy Council (OFPC). Plan for action. 2013. Accessed on March 9, 2016
- Public Health Law & Policy (PHLP). Land use and planning policies to support community and urban gardening. Accessed on May 20, 2016
- Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS). City harvest. Accessed on April 6, 2016
- Shelby County Tennessee (SC TN). Land bank redeveloping properties: Community gardens. Accessed on March 30, 2016
- Seattle Department of Neighborhoods (DON). P-Patch community gardening. Accessed on March 30, 2016
- San Francisco Recreation & Park Department (SF R&P). Community gardens program (CGP). Accessed on March 30, 2016
- The Trustees. Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN) works to preserve and protect urban open green space. Accessed on March 30, 2016
- Food and Ecosystem Educational Demonstration Sites (FEEDS). Wisconsin community gardens. University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension (UW Ext). Accessed on November 19, 2015
- Vitiello D, Nairn M. Community gardening in Philadelphia: 2008 Harvest report. Philadelphia: Penn Planning and Urban Studies, University of Pennsylvania; 2009. Accessed on November 10, 2015
WI DHS-Got Dirt
- Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). Nutrition and physical activity program: Got dirt? Gardening initiative. Accessed on January 20, 2016
Page Last Updated
April 3, 2016
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