Community Gardens Benefit Neighborhoods

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Lawn & Garden

Residents of cities around the world are creating gardens on balconies, rooftops, and small patches of land. According to a study published in Ecology Letters in March 2023, urban gardens not only provide food and outdoor space for cultivation but also offer benefits for humans, insects, and animals who live in these green sanctuaries amidst city life.

The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, which are not typically considered ideal habitats to study the relationship between people, plants, and pollinators. When people think of agriculture, they often picture vast fields with one type of crop. However, a small garden in a bustling neighborhood can bring a different story to mind.

Stacy Philpott, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and one of the study’s authors, said that “there are many studies that claim that food production conflicts with preserving biodiversity and other ecosystem services,” which are the benefits that nature provides. “However, our study did not support these previous findings,” she added.

Evaluating the Impact of Gardens


Kaz Werner (right) and her daughter Rose Werner (left), 2, check on vegetables and fruit growing in their planter at The Community Garden during a visit April 15, 2021 in Santa Clara, California. San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images

Philpott and her colleagues collected data from 28 community gardens along California’s central coast over five years to demonstrate how cultivating green space can create a thriving ecosystem, even in a city. In addition to counting beneficial insects such as pollinators and pests’ predators, the researchers cataloged the number of trees and flowers, types of ground cover, and the amount of natural habitat surrounding each plot.

These data helped the researchers determine if natural trade-offs occurred among ecosystem services such as food production, pollination, pest control, water conservation, carbon sequestration, climate regulation, and human well-being.

The researchers asked questions such as whether certain plants had a positive or negative effect on the number of pollinators present and whether biodiversity was low if food production was high. They also examined the natural habitat surrounding the gardens and assessed whether it influenced trade-offs or synergies among ecosystem services. Philpott stated that “we asked whether certain garden features tended to promote some ecosystem services but not others.”

Gardens Offer More Than They Take


Monarch butterflies found a new home at the Rinconada Community Garden in Palo Alto, California. Large populations of the butterflies were seen breeding for the first time in the urban San Francisco Bay peninsula, many frequenting the Community Garden. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The researchers discovered that there were more synergies and fewer trade-offs, and ecosystem services tended to connect positively with one another. Philpott stated that “this means that carbon sequestration, water conservation, or biodiversity conservation in a garden doesn’t need to come at the expense of food production.”

A community garden can provide food for its gardeners and support their well-being while also serving as a habitat for a diverse range of life.

The management of gardens can have both positive and negative impacts on the ecosystem services they provide. For example, adding mulch to a bed can increase carbon sequestration but decrease pollinator activity. Interestingly, the study found that plant diversity was less important for promoting beneficial insect biodiversity when there was more natural habitat in the surrounding landscape. The study highlights the importance of conserving natural habitat, including weeds, to attract pollinators and predators of garden pests. Urban gardeners can use their small patch of land to contribute to their neighborhood’s biodiversity and improve their own well-being. Planting more plants and allowing some untidiness can lead to physical and mental health benefits. It’s encouraging to see a study focusing on the urban environment as it’s where most people live.

FAQ

1. What are community gardens?

Community gardens are plots of land that are tended by a group of people in a neighborhood or community. They can be on public or private land and are usually divided into smaller plots that individuals or families can use to grow their own vegetables, fruits, and flowers.

2. What are the benefits of community gardens?

Community gardens provide a number of benefits to neighborhoods and communities. They bring people together and foster a sense of community, provide access to fresh and healthy food, promote physical activity, and can even help reduce crime and graffiti in the area.

3. Who can participate in community gardens?

Anyone can participate in community gardens, regardless of their age, background, or level of experience with gardening. They are great for families, individuals, and even schools or community organizations.

4. How do community gardens benefit the environment?

Community gardens benefit the environment in a number of ways. They can help reduce air pollution, provide habitat for pollinators and other wildlife, and promote sustainable gardening practices such as composting and using organic fertilizers.

5. Are community gardens expensive to start?

Starting a community garden can require some initial investment for materials such as soil, tools, and seeds. However, many communities have programs or grants available to help cover these costs. Additionally, once a garden is established, it can become self-sustaining and even generate revenue through the sale of produce.

6. How can community gardens help address food insecurity?

Community gardens can provide access to fresh and healthy food for individuals and families who may not otherwise have access to it. They can also help build food skills and knowledge, and promote healthy eating habits. In addition, community gardens can donate excess produce to local food banks or other organizations that serve those in need.

7. How can I get involved in a community garden?

If you’re interested in getting involved in a community garden, start by reaching out to your local government or community organization to see if there are any gardens in your area. You can also look online for resources and organizations that support community gardening. Finally, consider starting your own garden with friends or neighbors – it’s a great way to build community and get involved in sustainable food production.

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