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Public Health Benefits of Community Gardens

April 14, 2024

According to the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA), communities across the United States and Canada cultivate an estimated 18,000 community gardens. The versatility and widespread use of these outdoor spaces speak to their popularity, but public health benefits of community gardens also exist. Individuals interested in promoting public health can explore the definition of a community garden, the types of crops best suited to various climates, and how community gardens can help promote positive community involvement and overall public health.

What Is a Community Garden?

At its most basic, a community garden is any outdoor space available in a community for growing vegetables, fruit, and/or flowers. Community members typically manage and cultivate these spaces, but organizations outside the community can also organize them.

Organizing a Community Garden

Gardening may appear to be a simple pastime, but bringing a community together to plan, cultivate, and maintain a garden requires careful planning and organization. Here are some basic steps to organizing a garden to promote improved public health:

  1. Identify a leader or leadership team to organize the project.
  2. Select a site and prepare it for gardening.
  3. Organize garden volunteers.
  4. Create a sign-up process for community members.
  5. Spread the word about the garden to foster community support.

Some community gardens allow individual members to reserve a small space for their own gardening, while others give a team of volunteers a space to cultivate together. 

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Selecting a Garden Site

One of the benefits of community gardens is that they can be installed in a broad range of spaces and communities of all sizes. Garden sites do not have to cover acres, blocks, or even full city lots to be valuable additions to the area. There are, however, a few measures to consider when selecting and cultivating a garden site:

  1. Identify a plot of land available for gardening.
  2. Review the soil quality and water access.
  3. Secure the necessary permits and approval from city leaders.
  4. Create an accessible, easy-to-access garden design.

Best Types of Crops for Community Gardens

Access to nutritional, locally grown food starts with understanding the types of crops suited to community gardens. Many factors affect the best crops for each garden, including climate zone, soil conditions, and available space. According to the Plant a Seed & See What Grows Foundation, most gardens in moderate climates can successfully grow the following crops:

  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Radishes
  • Kale
  • Snow peas

These crops are nutritionally rich, relatively easy to grow, and hardy enough to survive in most moderate climate regions. Best results rely on specific knowledge of local soil and weather patterns, as well as routine care by gardeners.

Public Health Benefits of Community Gardens

Gardens that gather the community together can offer several personal and public health benefits. While a BMC Public Health systematic review of the benefits of community gardens reports a lack of verified evidence, communities and supporting organizations most commonly report several benefits.

Increased Vegetable and Fruit Intake

One of the most obvious benefits of community gardening is providing produce to community members. Individuals living in areas with a lack of affordable, healthy food options, commonly known as food deserts, can benefit from access to produce grown at community gardens. Community members can often enjoy this fresh produce for little or no financial investment, helping to give back to the local economy.

Access to Local Food

Community members can consume vegetables and, in some cases, fruits grown in a community garden, increasing fresh produce intake. This is particularly true for communities in which individuals tend to not have a healthy or nutritious diet.

Growing food in the community can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and waste from the total life cycle of food production. This is because it does not contribute to polluting food production practices, and the food does not have to travel across the city, state, region, or world to reach consumers. Compared with commercial farms, it is easy for community gardens to avoid pesticide use, creating a more sustainable and environmentally friendly food source. Community gardens also often practice composting, which can help reduce waste.

Community Beautification

Many neighborhood gardens are cultivated in vacant lots. This can help make use of vacant spaces, which may contain garbage or other hazardous materials and are sometimes unsafe areas in communities. Gardens create eye-catching spaces where not only residents enjoy spending time but also birds and beneficial insects can congregate.

Educational Opportunities

Gardening provides a host of learning opportunities. Community members of all ages can learn to prepare the soil, tend to seedlings, and care for growing plants. Physical activity and hands-on experience support learning to care for the environment. As a communal activity, gardening also opens up opportunities for mentorships among community members.

Enhanced Sense of Community

Unlike personal gardens, successful community gardens are designed to be collaborative projects. Coming together to plant seeds, weed rows, and pick fresh produce can all foster a sense of ownership in the community. Members who cannot participate in a garden can still benefit if leadership organizes a garden share program to distribute produce.

Explore More Ways to Promote Positive Community Change

The benefits of community gardens make them a positive addition to the tool kit of any public health professional. For more ideas on how to promote positive change in a community, explore Tulane University’s Online Master of Public Health program

Learn how you can turn your passion into starting or advancing your career through a hands-on approach to community-based programs and training methodologies.

Advance Your Public Health Career with an MPH Program

Pursue Your Degree Online From Tulane University
Find Out More

Recommended Readings

Community Health Promotion in Rural Areas

Strategies for Community Health Advocate: Roles and Responsibilities

Community Health Educator: Salary and Job Description


American Community Gardening Association, Resources

American Journal of Public Health, “Community Gardens: Lessons Learned From California Healthy Cities and Communities”

BMC Public Health, “Community Gardens and Their Effects on Diet, Health, Psychosocial and Community Outcomes: A Systematic Review”

Los Angeles Community Garden Council, “7 Benefits of Community Gardening”

Plant a Seed & See What Grows Foundation, 5 Plants That Respond Well to a Community Garden Environment

Soil Science Society of America, Community Gardens

Stein Learning Gardens at Saint Sabina, The Many Benefits of Community Gardens