Growing fruits and vegetables at home is an opportunity that many of us take for granted. Sadly, for many individuals—like renters, apartment dwellers without balconies or residents of neighborhoods with restrictive homeowners associations—gardening at home might not be a viable or legal option. For folks living in urbanized areas, community gardens can provide an important chance for individuals to stay connected to the earth, growing vegetables in small plots alongside neighbors.
Community gardens bring healthy fruits and vegetables to local tables, help preserve open space in urban landscapes, offer a great source of exercise for garden volunteers, and can grow a tight sense of community, bringing together diverse groups of people interested in gardening and nature. The demand for community gardens has been growing for the last few decades, with gardens springing up in unexpected places, like on high schools or college campuses. Teachers and administrators see community gardens as an important tool to help connect digitally minded students with an analog activity, helping teach young adults vital hands-on lessons about responsibility, sustainability and our place in the local environment.
Communal gardens can also offer important insights into local communities. Whenever I am traveling, I make a special effort to visit the local community gardens to get a feel for the seasonal variation and popular crops being grown in different regions of the world. Last summer, I visited Seattle and San Francisco on a work trip and visited several active West Coast gardens and farmers markets. My favorite stop was the Fort Mason Community Garden in San Francisco. Set on a high point above the city with spectacular views of Alcatraz Island, this garden was a showpiece highlighting the complex cultural interaction of city residents with a bewildering array of vegetables, flowers and fruit trees originating in Asia, Central America, Europe and the United States. The downside to popular community gardens like Fort Mason is that the waiting list for a plot can be quite extensive.
To find a community garden in your area—or where you are traveling—visit the website of the American Community Gardening Association’s website, which contains an updated listing of local gardens throughout the United States. If there are no gardens in your area, the ACGA website also offers helpful factsheets on organizing and maintaining community gardens.