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Grow and Eat Local: The Role of the Community Garden

April 1, 2014 

Category:  Programs

Grow and Eat Local:  The Role of the Community Garden

A recent NPR commentary suggested that we should eat like our ancestors – our great grandparents or a generation earlier. In those days, there were many more farmers living in small communities who worked the land, ate locally grown produce, and ate what was in season.

Community gardens can play a major role in the Grow Local, Eat Local movement by providing an avenue for community access to healthy, affordable, local food. Community gardens are collaborative projects where participants share in the maintenance and in the garden produce. These gardens may be located on public or private property and may be operated by a city, county, nonprofit, or a partnership. They vary considerably in size, location, and focus. This blog highlights a few community garden programs that share the bounty of the garden with the broader community, especially with youth, low-income, and minority populations. These programs often provide opportunities for community education.

Innovative National and International Garden Programs

People’s Garden Initiative – This U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program started in 2009 with USDA employees planting gardens and donating the produce to help those in need. Since then, the concept expanded beyond government employees and includes gardens in all 50 states and outside the U.S.  People's Gardens vary in size and type, and are required to have three components:

  • Community benefit by creating recreational space or providing produce for a local food bank or shelter
  • Collaborative partnership of local individuals, groups, or organizations
  • Sustainable gardening practices.

GrowNYC is a nonprofit focused on improving New York City's quality of life through programs that support a clean and healthy environment. For more than 30 years, GrowNYC has addressed the needs of diverse communities and worked to ensure that affordable, healthy, fresh food reaches those that need it most. GrowNYC’s Open Space Greening program builds and sustains community gardens, school gardens, and rainwater harvesting systems. The Phoenix Community Garden in Brooklyn is dedicated to urban agriculture and grows food for Neighbors Together, a local organization that serves over 500 people each day at a nearby soup kitchen.

Incredible Edible Network - This UK program is an umbrella group for members who believe that providing public access to healthy, local food can enrich their communities. It started in Todmorden, a town in England, with small herb gardens and community plots. This network includes a food knowledge hub and fishery at a local high school and market gardens for young people to grow and sell their own produce. The 200-plus global network groups (mostly in UK and continental Europe) typically involve setting up community growing plots, reaching out to schools, and supporting local food suppliers.

Edible Bus Stop™ – London’s unique and innovative community gardening program began as a guerilla garden project adjacent to a bus stop in South London. The program aims to transform neglected sites across London’s transport network into valuable community growing spaces. The objective is to create a network of gardens whereby skills and resources are shared via the Edible Bus Stop™ umbrella organization.

Washington State Community Garden Programs

GRub (Garden-Raised Bounty) is a nonprofit working to empower people and grow good food in Thurston and Mason counties. The cities of Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater support the program, which provides agriculture-based education, employment, and dropout programs for youth. It emphasizes sustainable food and partnerships with youth and people with low-incomes.

Harvest Pierce County is a community garden program that now encompasses 62 gardens and includes the Gleaning Project, Fruit Tree Stewardship, Share the Harvest, and numerous educational and regional food systems. This program supports existing community gardens, helps to build new ones, and educates the community about gardening techniques.

Seattle’s P-Patch Community Gardening Program is one of the programs that implements Seattle’s Food Action Plan to achieve a healthy food system. It includes the Seattle P-Patch Market Gardens, a partnership between in-city gardeners and consumers resulting in deliveries of high-quality, farm-fresh, organic produce during the growing season and a weekly on-site farm stand. The market garden program helps to establish safe, healthy communities and provides economic opportunity through development of community supported agriculture (CSA) and farm stand enterprises in low-income neighborhoods. Seattle’s Community Gardening Program works closely with community councils and neighborhood groups to set priorities for garden management and development. Several gardens in ethnically diverse Southeast Seattle are Community Emergency Hubs that provide emergency preparedness training for gardeners and community members.

Concluding Thoughts

Community gardens traditionally offer physical and mental health benefits by providing opportunities to produce and eat nutritious food, engage in physical activity, and learn about sustainable gardening. As part of a broader urban community program, such as Seattle’s Food Action Plan, community gardens can have an active role in in supporting sustainable food policies. Community gardens can improve access to healthy, affordable local food for local residents, including those in low-income areas.

For Additional Information

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.


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