Marvin Dunn (third from left), is one of our Garden Crusaders. He started the Overtown Gardens in Miami, FL, in 1994 and is expanding his Roots in the City program into neighboring Coconut Grove.
When you grow a garden, you not only cultivate your own patch of soil, you also connect with fellow gardeners — both in your neighborhood and across the globe. What would the world be like without gardens?
We've been helping people grow more gardens for 30 years, and we'd like to share some news we've learned about the impact of gardening.
Community gardeners in Burlington, VT, prepare raised beds for school planting projects.
Each patchwork piece of tended land creates a haven for the gardener, and brings joy to passersby. Who knows how many people you've cheered with the plants you lovingly tend in your yard, porch or stoop? An individual garden may seem insignificant, but collectively, these gardens create a more beautiful world. We conducted a survey of 25,000 customers and almost 70 percent report that they "enjoy spending time outside and around plants." When asked why, respondents cited: relaxation, peace of mind, and feeling connected to nature. Twenty-five percent even said that gardening made them feel young.
Have you considered spreading the joy by joining in a town beautification project? Perhaps you could organize neighbors to spend a few hours tidying up an empty lot or local park. Is there a town green, library or senior housing project that cries out for a new flowerbed or two?
In Burlington, VT, a teenager in the Healthy City Youth Initiative sells produce to neighborhood residents.The initiative is a hands-on farm-to-school program designed to teach basic cooking and gardening skills, boost physical activity and increase healthy lifestyle choices for students in Burlington schools.
The benefits of community gardening can't always be measured quantitatively, but research shows that community gardens can reduce crime and increase property values, especially in urban neighborhoods. Gardens also bring a community together, providing an opportunity to connect people who might otherwise never get a chance to meet. According to Healing America's Cities, a report published by The Trust for Public Land, a police precinct in Philadelphia reported that burglaries and thefts dropped by 75 percent after officers helped residents clean up vacant lots and plant gardens.
If your gardening opportunities at home are limited, consider joining a community garden. With thousands scattered across the country, chances are you will find one nearby. And if there isn't one, consider starting your own. The American Community Gardening Association has helpful information for anyone interested in starting a community garden.
Volunteer gleaners harvest surplus produce from farms to be distributed to income-eligible residents the next day. To learn more, read Gleaning: An Ancient Idea for Modern Times.
Anyone who's tasted a freshly harvested tomato or strawberry knows that there's no comparison to bland supermarket fare. When backyard gardeners donate a steady supply of fresh produce, it can make a big difference for neighbors in need. The demand for hunger assistance has dramatically increased by 70 percent in recent years, and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one in eight households in the United States experiences hunger or the risk of hunger.
Many of us take for granted that we can buy fresh produce at farmer's markets or local grocery stores. But in many parts of the country, access to fruits and vegetables is very limited. Sometimes called "food deserts." these areas may be teeming with fast food restaurants and convenience stores, but lack nutritious fresh food – especially fruits and vegetables.
Plant A Row for the Hungry was founded in 1995 to encourage home gardeners to plant an extra row of produce for their local food shelf. More than 18 million pounds of produce — resulting in 72 million meals — have been donated by American gardeners. All of this has been achieved without government subsidy or bureaucratic red tape — just people helping people.
The Camden Children's Garden in Camden, NJ, is an example of the power of community gardens to motivate change. According to the US Census, Camden is the poorest small city in the country — and among the most dangerous. Most families live below the poverty level, half of its residents are under 20 years old, and 60 percent of its young people don't graduate from high school.
In contrast, according to a 2009 study by the University of Pennsylvania, Camden is one of the fastest-growing community garden sites in the country. Camden's community gardens grew more than 30,000 pounds of food in 2009 — that's 139,000 servings of fresh produce.
To learn how you can help provide hunger relief, read Sharing the Harvest.
Backyard gardens create wildlilfe corridors for many pollinators, such as this great spangled fritillary. The butterflies feed on the nectar of many flowering plants, but their caterpillars can only eat violets (Viola species).
Across the country, what were once large swaths of grasslands, woodlands, deserts and other natural habitats have been fragmented by urban areas, suburban development, farms and other human activity. This development has forced wildlife to find refuge in the isolated pockets of remaining habitat, rather than ranging freely. This habitat fragmentation is especially hard on migrating species.
A small backyard garden may seem insignificant, but when gardeners choose wildlife-friendly plants and growing practices, they create small havens. Collectively, backyard by backyard and neighborhood by neighborhood, these havens create stepping stones that connect formerly isolated habitats. Biologists call these wildlife corridors and they're critical for species to find the food, shelter and breeding opportunities they need to thrive. Every backyard, no matter how small, becomes part of the solution.
Ecosystem gardening caters to wildlife biology. But it also provides much more than the basics of survival — gardens are a place to quench the thirst of a butterfly, fill the crop of a visiting bird with seeds and berries, and provide shelter for other wildlife.
According to our survey of 25,000 customers, 70 percent garden to help preserve habitat. That's great news for backyard wildlife. To learn how you can help, read Attracting Wildlife and visit the National Wildlife Federation.
Gardening is a lifetime activity that has health benefits that extend beyond the nutrition found in the food that is harvested.
While our survey respondents understand the power of gardening for peace of mind, here's some information on the effects of gardens on serious health conditions.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, a 2005 study published in the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation indicated that cardiac rehabilitation patients in a one-hour gardening class had lower heart rates and better dispositions than patients who received a generic patient-education class. In another study, published in 2008 in HortTechnology, residents of an assisted-living facility showed a significant increase in self-rated health and happiness after participating in four horticulture classes. Practitioners say that gardens and plants offer an important respite.
Learn more at the American Horticultural Therapy Association.
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