Published on July 27, 2023
From building resilient communities to providing essential habitats, community gardening is seeding change.
It might seem like a simple hobby. But dig a little deeper and you discover that community gardening provides some powerful benefits for individuals, the community and the planet.
Community gardens are areas where members of a neighbourhood or community come together to grow food, herbs, native plants or flowers. Beyond the beautiful blossoms and happy harvests, community gardens serve as a remarkable public space solution — from providing essential habitats to building resilient communities.
Here are some of our favourite benefits of community gardens, and a few ways you can get involved in your own neighbourhood.
When individuals come together to collectively plan, design and maintain a garden, they develop a strong sense of ownership over the space. This often has impacts far beyond the garden’s boundaries. It can foster strong social connections, provide a sense of belonging in the community, improve safety and even lead to greater awareness of environmental stewardship in the community.
These gardens, typically located in shared public spaces, also serve as gathering spots for the community.
“Community gardens, where people can garden together side by side, are really the best at bringing people together and starting conversations,” says Olivia Dziwak, Evergreen’s Urban Ecology & Greenspace Lead. “Sometimes condo residents don’t know each other even though they live down the hall from one another. But, when they have an opportunity to spend time outside working on collective tasks, it’s a real opportunity to come together.”
Beginning this summer, Dziwak is leading Evergreen’s urban greening workshops at four Tricon Residential communities, including Maple House at Canary Landing located in Toronto’s Canary District. These workshops will focus on introducing gardening-based knowledge to residents including food growing, native plants and pollinator gardens, container gardens and more.
“We’re going to continue this programming throughout the year, adding houseplant workshops or nature walks in the community,” she adds. “We know how important green space can be in helping create sustainable, livable and inclusive communities.”
As urban populations grow, urban agriculture becomes increasingly important, especially considering that more than 80% of Canadians currently live in cities — a figure that is on the rise. This underscores the urgent need to ensure access to fresh and nutritious food for urban communities.
By growing food locally in underutilized spaces within cities, like rooftops and vacant lots, we can cut down on the “food miles” which food must travel to consumer’s plate. But, urban agriculture also acts as a powerful reminder of the hard work which goes into growing food.
“One of the biggest benefits of community gardening is creating a connection to the environment around you,” Dziwak says. “The lessons learned when we try — and often struggle — to grow crops of our own, emphasizes the value of farms and protected local agricultural land, like the Greenbelt, which are able to produce the scale of food needed to feed cities.”
Beyond growing food, community gardens can play a vital role in providing essential habitats and bolstering climate resilience.
Pollinator gardens, for example, stand out as crucial contributors to biodiversity. These gardens feature an abundance of native flowering plants, and attract and sustain a diverse array of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
You might have seen our new Birds, Bees and Butterflies Pollinator Garden at the Brick Works. Evergreen has designed this new garden to support a wide diversity of pollinators and wildlife. It includes habitat features like nesting boxes for birds, shelter for butterflies and homes for native bees. These complement an assortment of bee friendly native nectar and host plants including the cup plant, new England aster and golden alexander.
Social connections are just the beginning of the health benefits that come from community gardening.
Spending time in nature has been linked to reduced stress levels, improved mood, and increased relaxation. Gardening, specifically, also serves as an escape from the stresses of day-to-day life. A study that looked at community gardening in Toronto found that “one component of this feeling of improved mental health seemed to be that participants found the opportunity to interact with nature relaxing and calming. Participants appreciated ‘[the] opportunity to get out into nature even though I live in the city’. The community gardens were seen to offer spaces of retreat within densely populated neighbourhoods.”
Physically, community gardening involves at least moderate exercise from digging and planting. These spaces were also found to enhance positive dietary habits, such as increased fruit and vegetable consumption, according to another study.
Want to get involved in community gardening in your neighbourhood? Check online to see if your city has a community gardens coordinator or other contact responsible for community gardening on municipal properties. Some city websites — Toronto and Vancouver for example — list community gardens that you can join in your area.
“Even if you don’t have access to a community garden, try reaching out to gardeners in your community. People are just so willing to share advice,” Dziwak says. “You can also look for gardening opportunities in unexpected places. Many parks have a ‘Friends of’ organization attached to it. Don’t limit your idea of what gardening is to a tomato plant in your backyard. There are so many opportunities to get involved.”
We can help you let your green thumb flourish this summer at Evergreen Brick Works. Since 2016, Evergreen’s Garden Circle Volunteer Program has offered volunteers a hands-on opportunity to get outdoors into nature and to make a meaningful difference to our many gardens and greenspaces. The garden circle will continue into the fall.