Cultivating better communities through community gardens

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:23 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — What is a community garden? Any group of people that comes together to garden can create a community garden. Most often, the gardens are neighborhood open spaces managed by and for the members of the community.

The gardens come in various shapes and sizes. Some are communal and others have individual plots for each gardener. Gardens can be focused on vegetables, flowers, herbs or a combination of these things. There are as many types of community gardens as there are people.

Community gardening offers a variety of benefits, one of which is an improvement in one’s health and well-being. Gardening programs encourage regular exercise, increase access to fresh vegetables and promote a healthier lifestyle.

Involvement in gardening can improve self-esteem, lower blood pressure and relieve stress, which in turn helps to reduce rising rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Raking, hoeing and pushing a wheelbarrow help to build endurance, flexibility and strength. This endurance will help the heart, lungs and circulatory system as well as contribute to higher energy levels and muscle and joint flexibility.

Another benefit of gardening is being able to be in harmony with nature. The sights, sounds, textures and scents that go along with tending a garden can promote positive feelings as well as a personal connection to nature. Simply looking at a plant can reduce stress, fear and anger as well as lower blood pressure, so even a small community garden can give people the feeling of getting away from hectic situations.

Community gardens offer a safe environment to interact with neighbors and to develop lasting friendships. By creating accessible garden spaces, people of diverse abilities can enjoy gardening together.

Another benefit of community gardening is that communities that offer school gardens provide a rich environment for hands-on lessons in science, math, social studies and language arts. Youth gardening programs make community and family ties stronger and help children to become more conscious of the environment.

Community gardens are also an affordable way for people of different backgrounds to participate in a local food system. Self-reliance and a sense of belonging are developed as these gardeners work side by side with each other. Community gardens offer a place where cultural traditions can be practiced by elders and passed down.

Communities themselves also benefit from having community gardens. They receive a greener city or town, increased food security, chemical-free food consumption, improved population health, diversion of kitchen waste from landfills through use of composting, community beautification and a sense of community empowerment.

Community gardens are places where people work side by side — children, the elderly, single parents, students and recent immigrants to our country. These people share stories as well as water and tools, and they slowly build relationships that extend beyond the boundaries of the garden, further strengthening the community.

Columbia has its own non-profit gardening organization. It is the Community Garden Coalition, and it manages several garden sites in the city. There is a community garden on Ninth Street close to Columbia College and the main garden on Claudell Lane. There are also a variety of smaller gardens sprinkled throughout the community, one of which is the school garden at New Haven Elementary School.

Each gardener is given a plot of land, plants, seeds, tools and water.

The coalition is made up of enthusiastic gardeners and volunteers, all who want to make a difference in their community.

For more information about community gardening in Columbia, contact the Community Garden Coalition at

Barbara Michael has been a Master Gardener since 1993, and she serves as the Master Garden liaison to the Community Garden Coalition as well as serving on its board. She enjoys container gardening and houseplants. She can be reached at

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