The Reward of Community Gardening

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The Reward of Community Gardening

Thank goodness for community gardens. If it were not for them, some of us wouldn't even have a garden at all.

Yet ironically, I even know a few people that have plenty of space in their own home gardens, but choose to spend more time cultivating a small plot of earth blocks or even miles away. Simply the chance to share some time outdoors with kindred spirits is just one of the primary draws of breaking dirt on common ground.

Indeed, the social interaction of a shared passion is one element of appeal to a community garden. Yet besides the physical place these gardens offer to get your hands in the dirt, there are many benefits provided by these unique environments.

There’s a magnetic quality that seems to draw people into a garden. Strangers become friends and neighborhoods come together in a community garden. It often becomes the catalyst to stimulate social interaction and community development. Quality of life improves and neighborhoods are beautified. And what better way to enhance an unadorned space while creating a place to connect people across intergenerational and multi-cultural boundaries.

Personally, I enjoy how much we learn from each other. Even as an experienced gardener myself, I always benefit from the contribution of others. On the other hand, what a joy it is to be able to share a personal bit of wisdom with a budding fellow gardener. I never tire of the chance to help improve the skills on anyone hungry for more information. And it’s a wonderful opportunity to start an ongoing dialogue with a new friend.

But community gardens take more than the dedication and determination of its visionaries and caretakers. When it comes to providing the equipment and funding for the start up and ongoing costs involved, individuals and neighborhood groups often chip into the pot. It’s also possible that grants for these plans might be available from the city, state, or federal government to subsidize such a project. Even some corporations with an interest in gardening often set aside money and their own employee resources to promote community gardening efforts.

Fiskars is one such corporate example. Their grant program, code named “Project Orange Thumb” was started in 2003. The company helps provide community garden groups with the tools and materials they need to reach their goals, from neighborhood beautification to horticultural education. Through 2007, the project has provided over $200,000 to more than 100 community groups, providing everything from gardening tools to the seeds and plants to get started. Most recently, the Project Orange Thumb initiative has installed five large turnkey community gardens in Chicago, Orlando, San Francisco, Toronto and Atlanta. Two more are scheduled this year in Baltimore and Charleston.

Grants like these from generous corporate and private donors make it possible for groups of all ages and interests, without regard to financial means, to become involved in a meaningful activity, make friends and get their hands in the dirt, all in the name of gardening! Best of all, community gardening provides an opportunity for everyone to give back; from beautifying a run down or neglected space, to unifying a neighborhood or community, to donating some of the harvest to a local food bank or shelter. Gardens do bring out the best in people and community gardens are a great place to bring it all together.