The therapeutic benefits of community gardening

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Around eight years ago, the urban outreach community center, Cameron (in Rochester) was granted permission to use an empty lot to beautify the local area for horticultural purposes. These citizens began by planting a few plants, but such was the success of the project that around three years later, three adjoining lots were purchased, a Teen Center was built, and the garden project, now called The Peace Garden, was expanded. Today, it is a lush oasis filled with produce, flowers, trees, herbs, and more. For those who head to this garden to get their hands dirty, till the soil, and provide extra love and care to the myriad of plants that grow there, there are many benefits beyond entertainment. Read on to discover some of the most therapeutic effects of community gardening for Rochester residents. 

The physical benefits of community gardening

Gardening involves a host of physical activities, including lifting bags of soil and other products, digging, and harvesting, all of which can boost muscular strength, cardiovascular fitness, and mobility. Because a community garden is a supportive environment, gardeners can undertake tasks that align with their physical fitness and age, as well as those that take into account any health conditions they may have. For instance, community gardens often contain a blend of ground produce and container-grown produce. As such, community members in wheelchairs, for instance, can still undertake their tasks while working on produce and plants in a raised bed or container. 

Gardening and mental health

There is a good reason why so many public places and workplaces respect biophilic design principles. From indoor living walls to a bevy of plants hanging at all lengths indoors, from outdoor water fountains to the use of natural materials, a wide range of features are blurring lines between indoor and outdoor living. Study after study has shown that being in the midst of plants, trees, flowers, and herbs has a plethora of therapeutic effects on mental health. A 2018 study found that spending time in green areas or gardening reduced stress, anger, fear, and sadness. It also decreases the heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. In a groundbreaking study by environmental psychologist, Robert Ulrich, it was discovered that patients recovering from surgical operations enjoyed big mood improvements when they had views of plants and trees. There is something quite special about gardening, however, as it involves direct contact with plants and an active role in their ability to grow and thrive. 

Gardening and cognitive health

Some studies indicate that regular gardening can help to reduce the risk of dementia by 50%. Two studies of people in their 60s and 70s found that gardeners were between 36% and 47% less likely to develop dementia than those who did not tend gardens. This is thought to be linked to the fact that gardening boosts oxygenation and provides gardeners with a light cardiovascular workout. The increased blood flow feeds all the organs, including the brain.  

Gardening and happiness

If you speak to Rochester community gardeners, many will most probably tell you that gardening gives them a kind of buzz that is incomparable to other activities. Researchers believe that a harmless bacterium called Mycobacterium vaccae has something to do with it. This bacterium is found in soil and researchers have found that when it is injected into mice, they experienced a marked rise in serotonin—a chemical that controls mood and cognitive function. Of course, the joy factor also has something to do with the sense of community and companionship that many residents find when they work alongside others. In many ways, community gardens provide similar benefits to those encountered in group worship. Working on a communal project allows one to feel connected to something larger than oneself, and as such has a spiritual benefit. For elder community members or teens facing life challenges, being in the presence of others and making meaningful connections can change their lives in positive ways.

Jackie Edwards

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2 thoughts on “The therapeutic benefits of community gardening

  1. The Rochester YMCA system has a community garden at most locations as part of the “Mind, Body, Spirit” mission of the Y. It is a joy to those of us who participate. Don’t forget the obvious benefit, a regular supply of super fresh organic veggies! All members who are willing to help grow the crop are welcome to enjoy the fellowship, exercise, fresh air, sunshine, and great food! Contact the director at you branch to join the gardening group.

  2. Jackie’s comment about community gardening hit all the nails on the head regarding the all the beneficial values of this wonderful way for urban and urban people to engage with Mother Earth. Thanks for sharing Jackie!

    I can attest to all of Jackie’s variety of benefits people can gain from community gardening. I’ve had plots in community gardens for over 10 years in several different communities where we have lived. In anticipation of selling our home in Rochester and moving to an apartment, I was shocked and upset when I realized that I would no longer enjoy the pleasure of gardening in my own backyard. Fortunately, I was able to land 2 good sized beds in the then newly founded community garden in Penfield. Our son, who had moved out of our house earlier, landed a spot in the Brighton Community Garden and another in a City of Rochester community garden. After several years, when we became Florida residents and “snow birds”, I had a bed or two in one of the community gardens in Sarasota. When our son “loaned” us part of his Brighton garden bed, we enjoyed gardening year round. I was able to grow garlic in Brighton and tomatoes, lettuce, and Tomantillas in Florida. Two years ago, we moved to Norfolk VA to be near our grandchildren and their parents, I was fortunate to get a plot in a very unusual community garden where members specialize more in growing pollinator flowers than vegetables or fruit. Our entire garden features swarms of Monarch butterflies from Spring to Fall. The climate is such here that we have four distinct, but mild seasons. I’m presently growing Spinach, Beets, Broccoli and lettuce for harvesting throughout the Winter.
    Finally, the social benefits have been consistent with Jackie’s descriptions among all the places we’ve had gardens. Not only do we care for our individual plots, we also work together on garden-wide issues like mowing the paths, working up compost piles, helping to water neighbor’s gardens when they’re away, and sharing our harvests with each other.
    It’s a wonderful lifestyle and hobby that I’ve had the pleasure of sharing with my children and grand-children. It’s an activity that my parents taught me.

    Why not consider a community garden plot where you live?

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