What if our area communities could play a role in helping residents respond to sharply higher food costs? And what if we could improve the physical and mental health of our area residents while boosting our sense of community at the same time?
Pie in the sky?
Not at all. Studies from all around North America have demonstrated that the creation of community gardens provide these and many other benefits to nearby residents. Adults who participated in a community garden reported eating more fruits and vegetables than people who didn’t take part, and that means improved health. Community gardens help make fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable for residents, and that’s especially important at a time when general inflation and the increased concentration of ownership in the food industry is pushing food prices through the roof.
Studies have also demonstrated that community gardening is good for our mental health, and that’s especially valuable at a time when so many people are struggling emotionally from a wide range of issues, from the isolation of the pandemic to economic and environmental despair. Studies have shown that the stress hormone cortisol noticeably drops in people after 30 minutes spent working in a garden, demonstrating that gardening can promote relief from acute stress. It wasn’t just time spent outdoors, either. Just spending time sitting outdoors, for example, didn’t provide the kind of stress relief offered by gardening.
Community gardens provide benefits beyond the individuals who utilize them. Studies have found that community gardens strengthen social connections, increase mutual trust and cooperation, as well as encourage further civic engagement. That’s good for the community. And it’s been shown that community gardens, particularly active ones, actually improve property values and discourage blight. They also help to generate economic development, since they add to the quality of life that makes communities attractive to new residents.
Given such benefits, community gardens would make an excellent organizing focus for community leaders in our area. While there’s been talk of community gardens in the past, we’ve yet to see those discussions come to fruition. Every community in our area has a spot that would work, an under-utilized patch of reasonably level ground that could be transformed into a remarkably productive use.
While not everyone is in a position to garden for themselves, community gardens could provide space for local growers who wish to grow for more than themselves. That’s produce that can be given away to neighbors who can’t otherwise grow for themselves, or sold in one of our local farmers markets.
It doesn’t necessarily take much to create a community garden, although a bit of infrastructure, like water for irrigation, can make a big difference. Some fencing to discourage the deer and other critters from garden raids would be important as well. Funding sources are out there, and a community garden is almost certain to attract volunteers for things like tilling, subdividing garden spaces, and erecting fence.
There are several steps involved in creating a garden, first of which is organizing a meeting of interested people. From there, you can form a planning committee that develops the concept and identifies potential partners. Then find a sponsor. That could be the landowner, which might be the city, a church, or a business that has some land that’s sitting idle. The city of Tower, for example, has been looking for good uses for the Tower-Soudan School’s former football field. Right now, the city just ends up paying to keep the area mowed all summer, so a community garden could help reduce that chore for the city’s public works department, while providing the opportunity to develop a significant public asset.
With a site in hand, some tilling, a soil test, and a garden layout to establish plots is all you really need to finish the job and get the community planting. A tool shed would be a handy addition, and you might be able to find a business willing to donate funds to buy or build a small shed and, perhaps some community tools, for use at the site.
Plenty of folks have talked about creating community gardens in our area. Let’s quit talking and start doing.
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