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.
The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Published letters are not edited, and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Beacon or its staff. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].