Community gardens

A community garden is any piece of land that is gardened or cultivated by a group of people, usually for home consumption. Community gardens are typically owned by local governments, not-for-profit groups, or faith-based organizations; gardens are also often initiated by groups of individuals who clean and cultivate vacant lots. Local governments, non-profits, and communities may support gardens through community land trusts, gardening education, distribution of seedlings and other materials, zoning regulation changes, or service provision such as water supply or waste disposal.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased access to fruits & vegetables

  • Increased fruit & vegetable consumption

  • Increased physical activity

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased food security

  • Increased healthy foods in food deserts

  • Reduced obesity rates

  • Improved mental health

  • Improved sense of community

  • Improved neighborhood safety

  • Reduced emissions

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that community gardens improve access to and consumption of fruits and vegetables (Girard 2012, Draper 2010Keihner 2013) and increase physical activity for gardeners (Draper 2010Gilroy 2011, ). Community gardens are a suggested strategy to increase fruit and vegetable availability in food deserts (, , Hendrickson 2006UW IRP-McCracken 2012CDC-Food deserts), promote healthy eating, reduce obesity (, TFAH-Levi 2014CDC-Zoning healthy eatingCDC-Fruits and vegetables 2011), and improve participants’ mental health and social connectedness (). However, additional evidence with stronger study designs is needed to confirm effects.

Gardening is considered moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and heavy gardening vigorous and muscle-strengthening exercise (US DHHS-PAG). Community gardening may encourage an overall healthy lifestyle by promoting physical fitness, strength, flexibility, and social engagement, and improving cognitive function among participants; especially older adults (, Chen 2012b). Adults and teenagers who work in community gardens report eating roughly half a cup more fruits and vegetables per day than those who do not (Keihner 2013). In a Salt Lake City-based study, gardeners had a lower body mass index (BMI) than their non-gardening neighbors ().

Community gardens can reduce barriers to healthy food associated with transportation, cost, and food preference (Gilroy 2011), and may increase food security (). Community gardening may also reduce fossil fuel energy used to produce, process, and transport food (SSSA-McIvor 2017, CCAFS-Campbell 2012), and can reduce the energy intensity of an individual’s diet if more plant-based foods are consumed in place of animal products (Harvard Ext-Adamkiewicz 2016). 

Successful community gardens may have broad neighborhood benefits such as increased nearby property values, increased community engagement and pride, and improved safety (Voicu 2008LGC, ). Community garden participation is associated with increased levels of social capital, neighborhood engagement, and satisfaction (). Interviews with Latino community gardeners in New York suggest that gardens can host social, educational, and cultural events, and in some cases, promote local activism (). By providing an opportunity to plant culturally meaningful foods in a social setting, community gardens may also increase community engagement and improve nutrition among resettled refugees (, ).

Since residents maintain the land and space often comes from vacant abandoned lots, community gardens are relatively inexpensive (LGC). Placing community gardens in low income areas can reduce disparities in access to healthy foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables (, PolicyLink-Flournoy 2005). Community gardening can also reduce food costs for participating families ( PolicyLink-Flournoy 2005Gilroy 2011). Gardeners can produce high value, high yield harvests especially when planting vertically grown crops such as tomatoes and peppers (). 

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

Numerous municipalities support community gardens. For example, the P-Patch program in Seattle which uses a community land trust to acquire and preserve land, provides educational programming, and distributes materials such as seedlings and compost (Seattle DON-CGs), and the San Francisco Community Gardens Program, run by the city on city-owned land (Array). Boston and Portland (Oregon) have zoning ordinances specifically for gardens (PHLP-Land Use); cities such as Seattle, Washington DC, Cleveland, San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley have included community gardens in their comprehensive city plans (PHLP-Land UseOFPC-Plan 2013). Several municipalities have partnerships with land banks that donate property or help develop community gardens, as in Columbus, Ohio (Columbus-CGP) and Shelby County, TN (SC TN-CGs).

In 2013, California enacted legislation allowing cities and counties to create incentive zones in urban areas for local food production, providing land owners a property tax break for urban agriculture or community gardening activities. Tennessee and West Virginia also enacted legislation addressing infrastructure barriers and liability concerns related to community gardens (NCSL Winterfeld-Obesity prevention 2014).

Community gardens often grow out of public and non-profit partnerships. For example, Chicago NeighborSpace community land trust is authorized to purchase vacant land to preserve it for gardens (Chicago NeighborSpace) and the Detroit Garden Resource Program works toward a city where the majority of fruits and vegetables consumed by residents are grown within the city limits (KGD-GRP). The city of Pasadena, CA partners with Pasadena Community Gardens Conservancy to provide a community garden in Northwest Pasadena, identified as a food desert (CHFCHR-Smith 2014) and the Boston Natural Areas Network works to preserve urban green spaces, including community gardens (Boston-CPI).

Rural areas and smaller municipalities also support community gardens, as in Hernando, Mississippi, which has a community garden located in walking distance of its most disadvantaged neighborhood (Hernando-Healthy community).

Additional examples of organizations sustaining community gardens include: Nuestras Raíces in Holyoke, MA (NR-MA); City Harvest in Philadelphia, PA (PHS-CHVitiello 2009); and the Summer Sprout community gardening program in Cleveland, OH (CCCFPC-Community Garden). The New York City Community Garden Coalition is an example of an organized group of gardeners using education, advocacy, and grassroots organizing to preserve and create community gardens (NYCCGC). 

Implementation Resources

ACGA - American Community Gardening Association (ACGA). Locate your nearest community garden.

ChangeLab-Community gardens - ChangeLab Solutions. Community gardens for public health: A webinar about how local governments can support community gardens.

WI DHS-Got Dirt - Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). Nutrition and physical activity program: Got dirt? Gardening initiative.

PolicyLink-CGs 2008 - PolicyLink. Equitable development toolkit: Urban agriculture and community gardens. 2008.

HA Davis-Gardening tips - Davis A. Home landscaping tips for building the perfect garden. HomeAdvisor (HA).

TT-Gardening resources - Topiary Trees (TT). Great gardening resources.

LHC-Rockeymoore 2014 - Rockeymoore M, Moscetti C, Fountain A. Rural Childhood Obesity Prevention Toolkit. Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC), Center for Global Policy Solutions, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 2014.

MD DOP-Food system 2012 - Maryland Department of Planning (MD DOP). Managing Maryland's growth planning for the food system. 2012.

USDA-Gardening resources - US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The people's garden: Gardening resources.

SRTSNP-Safe routes to healthy foods - Safe Routes to School National Partnership (SRTSNP). Healthy communities: Safe routes to healthy foods.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

CDC-Zoning healthy eating - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Zoning to encourage healthy eating. STLT Gateway, Public Health Law Program. 2016.

Voicu 2008 - Voicu, I, Been V. The effect of community gardens on neighboring property values. Real Estate Economics. 2008;36(2):241-83.

IOM-Government obesity prevention 2009* - Institute of Medicine (IOM), National Research Council (NRC), Committee on Childhood Obesity Prevention Actions for Local Governments. Local government actions to prevent childhood obesity. (Parker L, Burns AC, Sanchez E, eds.). Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2009.

McCormack 2010* - McCormack LA, Laska MN, Larson NI, Story M. Review of the nutritional implications of farmers’ markets and community gardens: A call for evaluation and research efforts. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2010;110(3):399-408.

LGC - Local Government Commission (LGC). Cultivating community gardens: The role of local government in creating healthy, livable neighborhoods. Sacramento: Local Government Commission (LGC).

US DHHS-PAG - US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS). Physical activity guidelines for Americans (PAG).

UW IRP-McCracken 2012 - McCracken VA, Sage JL, Sage RA. Bridging the gap: Do farmers’ markets help alleviate impacts of food deserts? Madison: Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP), University of Wisconsin-Madison; 2012: Discussion Paper 1401–12.

Hendrickson 2006 - Hendrickson D, Smith C, Eikenberry N. Fruit and vegetable access in four low-income food deserts communities in Minnesota. Agriculture and Human Values. 2006;23(3):371–83.

CDC-Food deserts - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A look inside food deserts.

Draper 2010 - Draper C, Freedman D. Review and analysis of the benefits, purposes, and motivations associated with community gardening in the United States. Journal of Community Practice. 2010;18(4):458-92.

CDC-Fruits and vegetables 2011 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Strategies to prevent obesity and other chronic diseases: The CDC guide to strategies to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS); 2011.

Litt 2011* - Litt JS, Soobader M-J, Turbin MS, et al. The influence of social involvement, neighborhood aesthetics, and community garden participation on fruit and vegetable consumption. American Journal of Public Health. 2011;101(8):1466-73.

Gilroy 2011 - Gilroy A, Sanders B. Urban food zoning: Health, environmental and economic considerations. Portland: Oregon Public Health Institute (OPHI), Bureau of Planning and Sustainability; 2011.

PolicyLink-Flournoy 2005 - Flournoy R, Treuhaft S. Healthy food, healthy communities: Improving access and opportunities through food retailing. Oakland: PolicyLink; 2005.

Alaimo 2010* - Alaimo K, Reischi TM, Allen JO. Community gardening, neighborhood meetings, and social capital. Journal of Community Psychology. 2010;38(4):497-514.

TFAH-Levi 2014 - Levi J, Segal L, St. Lauren R, Rayburn J. The state of obesity: Better policies for a healthier America 2014. Washington, DC: Trust for America's Health (TFAH); 2014.

Vitiello 2014* - Vitiello D, Grisso JA, Whiteside KL, Fischman R. From commodity surplus to food justice: Food banks and local agriculture in the United States. Agriculture and Human Values. 2014.

Wang 2013* - Wang D, MacMillan T. The benefits of gardening for older adults: A systematic review of the literature. Activities, Adaptation & Aging. 2013;37(2):153-181.

Girard 2012 - Girard AW, Self JL, McAuliffe C, Olude O. The effects of household food production strategies on the health and nutrition outcomes of women and young children: A systematic review. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology. 2012;26(1):205-222.

Corrigan 2011* - Corrigan MP. Growing what you eat: Developing community gardens in Baltimore, Maryland. Applied Geography. 2011;31(4):1232-1241.

Teig 2009* - Teig E, Amulya J, Bardwell, et al. Collective efficacy in Denver, Colorado: Strengthening neighborhoods and health through community gardens. Health & Place. 2009;15(4):1115-1122.

Zick 2013* - Zick CD, Smith KR, Kowaleski-Jones L, Uno C, Merrill BJ. Harvesting more than vegetables: The potential weight control benefits of community gardening. American Journal of Public Health. 2013;103(6):1110-1115.

George 2013* - George DR. Harvesting the biopsychosocial benefits of community gardens. American Journal of Public Health. 2013;103(8):e6.

Keihner 2013 - Keihner AJ, Sugerman S, Linares AM, et al. Low-income Californians with access to produce in their home, school, work, and community environments eat more fruits and vegetables. Sacramento: Champions for Change; 2013.

Wang 2014* - Wang H, Qiu F, Swallow B. Can community gardens and farmers' markets relieve food desert problems: A study of Edmonton, Canada. Applied Geography. 2014;55:127-137.

Chen 2012b - Chen TY, Janke MC. Gardening as a potential activity to reduce falls in older adults. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity. 2012;20:15-31.

Eggert 2015* - Eggert LK, Blood-Siegfried J, Champagne M, Al-Jumally M, Biederman DJ. Coalition building for health: A community garden pilot project with apartment dwelling refugees. Journal of Community Health Nursing. 2015;32(3):141-150.

Gichunge 2014* - Gichunge C, Kidwaro F. Utamu wa Afrika (the sweet taste of Africa): The vegetable garden as part of resettled African refugees' food environment. Nutrition & Dietetics. 2014;71(4):270-275.

Algert 2014* - Algert SJ, Baameur A, Renvall MJ. Vegetable output and cost savings of community gardens in San Jose, California. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2014;114(7):1072-1076.

Saldivar-Tanaka 2004* - Saldivar-Tanaka L, Krasny ME. Culturing community development, neighborhood opens pace, and civic agriculture: The case of Latino community gardens in New York City. Agriculture and Human Values. 2004;21(4):399-412.

CCAFS-Campbell 2012 - Campbell B. Is eating local good for the climate? Thinking beyond food miles. Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), CGIAR Research Programs. 2012.

Harvard Ext-Adamkiewicz 2016 - Adamkiewicz G. Buying local: Do food miles matter?. Harvard Extension School. 2016.

SSSA-McIvor 2017 - McIvor K. Soils in the city: Community gardens. Soil Science Society of America (SSSA). 2017.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

PHLP-Land Use - Public Health Law & Policy (PHLP). Land use and planning policies to support community and urban gardening.

Chicago NeighborSpace - Chicago NeighborSpace. Community managed open space.

NR-MA - Nuestras Raices. A model for community led “agri-cultural” development.

PHS-CH - Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS). City harvest.

Vitiello 2009 - Vitiello D, Nairn M. Community gardening in Philadelphia: 2008 Harvest report. Philadelphia: Penn Planning and Urban Studies, University of Pennsylvania; 2009.

CCCFPC-Community Garden - Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition (CCCFPC). Summer Sprout: Cleveland's community gardening program. 2015.

NCSL Winterfeld-Obesity prevention 2014 - Winterfeld A. State actions to reduce and prevent childhood obesity in schools and communities: Summary and analysis of trends in legislation. National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL). 2014.

CHFCHR-Smith 2014 - Smith R. A garden in Pasadena's 'food desert' may help battle diabetes. California Healthcare Foundation Center for Health Reporting (CHFCHR). 2014.

OFPC-Plan 2013 - Oakland Food Policy Council (OFPC). Resources: Plan for action. 2013.

Hernando-Healthy community - City of Hernando, Mississippi. Hernando is a healthy community--Local government promotes healthy living through community gardens, farmer’s market, and Complete Streets policy.

Seattle DON-CGs - Seattle Department of Neighborhoods (DON). P-Patch community gardening.

Boston-CPI - City of Boston. Community projects & initiatives (CPI) including community gardens, school gardens, and urban orchards.

SF R&P-CGP - San Francisco Recreation & Park Department (SF R&P). Community gardens program (CGP).

KGD-GRP - Keep Growing Detroit (KGD). Garden resource program (GRP).

NYCCGC - New York City Community Garden Coalition.

Columbus-CGP - City of Columbus. The city of Columbus land bank community garden program (CGP).

SC TN-CGs - Shelby County Tennessee (SC TN). Land bank redeveloping properties: Community gardens.

Date Last Updated

Nov 2, 2017