Buying my condo was both a big achievement and a bit of a disappointment. Of course I was excited to have a place of my own and to start paying off a mortgage instead of paying a stranger rent, but I was also sad to buy a home without a yard. I’d been dreaming of gardening for years, and it seemed like that dream was being put on hold in a major way.
Luckily, a home garden isn’t the only way to grow your own food. In addition to growing food in containers at home, this spring I also joined a community garden run through a local humanitarian organization. For only $25 dollars and a promise to care for my plot and its surrounding space, I suddenly had an 32 square feet of garden all to myself.
Joining a community garden has been a big source of happiness for me this summer. If you’re considering joining one, don’t put it off! It’s 100% worth the investment of time and resources.
Here are just a few of the benefits of participating in community gardening:
An already established growing space
Unless it’s your community garden’s first year, gardening in an established plot is a major bonus. You’ll likely have raised beds, healthy soil, and maybe even a drip watering system already at your disposal without any work or added expense on your part.
The expertise of other gardeners
I don’t run into other gardeners terribly often, but everyone I have met has been so friendly and helpful. The first day I went to plant, a sweet older man came out and insisted on helping me. Even though he didn’t speak much English and I didn’t speak much Spanish, he managed to teach me a lot that I didn’t know. He showed me how to gently break up seedling roots so that they’ll grow better and then taught me about how often and how deeply I should water my plot.
A sense of community
In addition to enjoying the help and friendliness of other gardeners, I enjoy contributing to and benefitting from a communal project. The garden has taken an unused space and made it into something beautiful and productive for my city, and I’m so happy to be a tiny part of that.
Though I don’t see my fellow gardeners especially often, I do have a friend from work who also gardens there with her family. Whenever we see each other, we give updates on our gardening adventures, and we also keep an eye on one another’s plots.
A learning opportunity
Gardening is simple. And it’s complicated too. I went into the gardening season not knowing much, and I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way. About a third of my plants died or never produced anything, but I’ve still had so many successes that I’m hooked on gardening for life. It’s been humbling and empowering to try something new, and it’s been nice to do it without the huge stakes of a giant home garden.
My mental health has improved significantly since last winter, and I credit that in large part to gardening. Gardening requires daily routine, physical exercise, and time in the sun, all of which are great for your mind and body. Research even suggests that there are beneficial bacteria in soil that improve the health of your mind and gut! Beyond that, gardening offers a sense of purpose that modern city life sometimes makes difficult.
Money in your wallet
Particularly if you grow food from seed, community gardens are a great way to save money. Even if you buy seedlings, one three dollar tomato plant can easily produce a number of tomatoes five times its initial cost.
And then there’s the cost of supplies.Getting started as a home gardener or container gardener can be expensive, but community gardening doesn’t have to be. These gardens often have supplies – hoses, shovels, trowels, and lattices – that gardeners can share. It’s an enormous money saver.
Though I’m grateful to have plentiful grocery stores all around me, I’ve loved knowing that the food I grow in my garden didn’t have to be shipped across the continent. It’s organically grown and eaten in season right off the plant – food doesn’t get much more local than that! I love the sense of confidence that comes from being a little less dependent on a complicated international supply train that exploits workers and hurts the environment.
Time in nature
Modern life checks us out of the rhythm of nature. We stay up too late with artificial lights, drive from our garages to our workplaces, and barely notice the changing seasons. Since beginning to garden, I’ve found myself noticing when certain flowers bloom and which foods are in season at a given time. The more time I spend outside, the more time I want to spend outside.
Delicious, homegrown food
Homegrown food is better for you, and it certainly tastes a heck of a lot better than what you can buy at the store. I used to think of myself as a tomato hater, but it turns out I simply didn’t know what tomatoes are supposed to taste like.
Gardening is hard work, but it’s enjoyable work. Most of us work desk jobs and rarely get the chance to stretch our limbs and do work with a visible, tangible result. Gardening is satisfying, and I find myself wanting to talk about and learn about it all the time. It’s a delightful new hobby.
Community gardening isn’t without its difficulties, something I’ll share more about next week, but it’s so incredibly worth it. If you’ve ever thought about joining one, start looking into it now!