Growing your own food — at least what you can — cuts household food expenses and drives you to use recipes that focus on fresh produce. Unfortunately, not everyone has the yard space to plant a full garden, and some don’t even have a yard at all. That’s precisely where community gardens come into play. The environmental, economic, and health benefits of this sustainable practice on a neighborhood are far beyond the grocery budget.
As compared to park land, garden space is less costly to maintain, requiring mainly labor from volunteers instead of employees that regularly mow and patrol the area. However, like parks, the green space of expansive community gardens helps to reduce stormwater runoff that is caused by rain unable to soak into paved areas. Reducing runoff in turn reduces erosion and the spread of pollution.
Reduces Food Waste
“Within the US, discarded food is the biggest single component of landfill and incinerators,” The Guardian reports. These gardens help to reduce food waste in two distinct ways: First, when consumers invest their own time and energy into growing produce, they’re less likely to forget that it’s in the refrigerator and pantry. (Homegrown vegetables are typically also more flavorful than those bought in stores, helping to motivate consumers.) Secondly, most community gardens use composted material as fertilizer, often with compost bins on-site. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that food scraps make up 20% to 30% of all garbage, meaning taking that waste out of our garbages and putting it into compost bins could significantly reduce the material entering our landfills.
Higher Yield, Fewer Harmful Emissions
Urban agriculture has the potential to be about four times more productive than large-scale farms because the smaller area can be much more “intensely” managed. And, since the vegetables are grown in the same neighborhood they’ll be consumed, local ag saves the expense and emissions created by transporting produce around the country or across oceans. Although transportation only accounts for 11% of the greenhouse gas emissions related to food production, taking that out of the equation is beneficial.
Increases Physical Activity
Adults are recommended to get 30 minutes of medium to intense physical activity on most days, and children and adolescents require about 60 minutes. About 40% of adults fall short of this goal, presenting yet another opportunity for community gardens to prove their utility. In getting children and adults active in their own food production — lifting, carrying, digging — the gardens are providing exercise alongside nutrition.
These are just a few of the benefits that community gardens provide. (For example, we haven’t yet mentioned how greenery reflects up to 25% of sunlight away from the Earth’s surface, lowering air and surface temperatures.) As their popularity continues to grow and more communities make them available, shared gardens’ wide-ranging benefits will become even more apparent.
Sam Radbil is a contributing member of the marketing and communications team at ABODO, an online apartment search service. ABODO was founded in 2013 in Madison, Wisconsin. And in just three years, the company has grown to more than 30 employees, raised over $8M in outside funding and helps more than half a million renters find a new home each month.