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 (USDA NAL-CGs).

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 2010, , , Keihner 2013) and increase physical activity for gardeners (Draper 2010, Gilroy 2011, ). Community gardens are a suggested strategy to improve food security () and increase fruit and vegetable availability in food deserts (, , Hendrickson 2006, UW IRP-McCracken 2012, CDC-Food deserts). Experts suggest community gardens may also promote healthy eating, reduce obesity (, , TFAH-Levi 2014, CDC-Fruits and vegetables 2011), and improve participants’ mental health and social connectedness (Alaimo 2016, ). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Gardening is considered moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and heavy gardening is 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). Community gardening can increase daily fruit and vegetable consumption for adults, teenagers (Keihner 2013), and children (). Compared with non-gardeners, gardeners may be more likely to meet recommendations for daily vegetable consumption (Algert 2016). One survey of food insecure gardeners in rural Appalachian Ohio associates gardening with increased produce consumption, better eating habits, increased physical activity, decreased food spending, and increased social capital (). In a Salt Lake City-based study, gardeners had a lower body mass index (BMI) than their non-gardening neighbors (). Community garden participants also appear to value healthy food harvests, cooking meals, and sharing their harvest with family and friends ().

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 2008, , , LGC, ). Community garden participation is associated with increased levels of social capital, neighborhood engagement, and satisfaction (Alaimo 2016, ). Interviews with gardeners in Lincoln, NE suggest community gardens may help develop a sense of belonging and connection with cultural identity, social community, and local environment, and improve food security and nutrition, including benefits for individuals who identify as immigrants (). A New York City-based study of community gardens after Hurricane Sandy suggests the gardens may serve as places of social support, collective efficacy, and resilience during and after natural disasters (). 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 2005, Gilroy 2011). Among households with lower incomes, a higher percentage of community garden space is typically devoted to food production and culturally relevant crops, instead of ornamental plants or recreation space (Gregory 2016).

Funding, participation, land, and materials, including water access, are typical challenges for community gardens (Drake 2015). Experts suggest city policies can establish and secure gardeners’ land () such as integrating community gardens into urban park systems (). Experts recommend cover crops to improve soil quality and nutrients, soil testing and guidance, perennial plants to provide habitats for non-pest insects, and educational programming and technical support in multiple languages to encourage participation and maximize yields from community gardens (Gregory 2016). 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, Seattle has integrated some gardens into parks via city policies and interdepartmental agreements () and its P-Patch program uses a community land trust to acquire and preserve land, provide educational programming, and distribute materials such as seedlings and compost (Seattle DON-CGs). The San Francisco Community Gardens Program is run by the city on city-owned land (SF R&P-CGP). Boston and Portland, OR 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 Use, OFPC-Plan 2013). Several municipalities have partnerships with land banks that donate property or help develop community gardens, as in Columbus, OH (Columbus-CGP) and Shelby County, TN (SC TN-CGs). 

In 2013, renewed in 2017, California enacted legislation allowing cities and counties to create incentive zones in urban areas for local food production, providing land owners with a property tax break for urban agriculture or community gardening activities (SELC-Urban ag 2018). 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, Grassroots Gardens of Western New York stewards 110 community gardens, and is applying to become the first accredited Community Garden Land Trust with the Land Trust Alliance (GGWNY-Land trust). 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 Boston Natural Areas Network works to preserve urban green spaces, including community gardens (Boston-CPI). A 2015 study identified 110 hospital or health center-affiliated community gardens in the US (George 2015).

Additional examples of organizations sustaining community gardens include: Nuestras Raíces in Holyoke, MA (NR-MA); City Harvest in Philadelphia, PA (PHS-CH, Vitiello 2009); and the Summer Sprout community gardening program in Cleveland, OH (OSU-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). Community Crops coordinates gardens in Lincoln, NE, offers gardening plots on a sliding fee scale, as well as training and technical assistance to beginning, immigrant, and limited-resource farmers (CC-Lincoln). Community gardens can also be sustained in rural areas and smaller municipalities; for example, Community Food Initiatives supports five community garden locations in Athens County in southeastern Ohio (CFI-CGs).

Implementation Resources

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

ChangeLab-Digging in - ChangeLab Solutions. Digging in: Local policies to support urban agriculture.

WI DHS-Got Dirt - Wisconsin Department of Health Services (WI 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.

USDA NAL-CGs - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Agricultural Library (NAL). Community gardening.

USDA NRCS-CGs - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), Plant Materials Program. Community gardens.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

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 open space, 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.

Savoie-Roskos 2017* - Savoie-Roskos MR, Wengreen H, Durward C. Increasing fruit and vegetable intake among children and youth through gardening-based interventions: A systematic review. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Petrovic 2019* - Petrovic N, Simpson T, Orlove B, et al. Environmental and social dimensions of community gardens in East Harlem. Landscape and Urban Planning. 2019;183:36-49.

Hou 2018* - Hou J, Grohmann D. Integrating community gardens into urban parks: Lessons in planning, design and partnership from Seattle. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. 2018;33:46-55.

Chan 2016* - Chan J, Pennisi L, Francis CA. Social-ecological refuges: Reconnecting in community gardens in Lincoln, Nebraska. Journal of Ethnobiology. 2016;36(4):842-860.

Chan 2015* - Chan J, DuBois B, Tidball KG. Refuges of local resilience: Community gardens in post-Sandy New York City. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. 2015;14(3):625-635.

Gregory 2016 - Gregory MM, Leslie TW, Drinkwater LE. Agroecological and social characteristics of New York City community gardens: Contributions to urban food security, ecosystem services, and environmental education. Urban Ecosystems. 2016;19(2):763-794.

Drake 2015 - Drake L, Lawson LJ. Results of a US and Canada community garden survey: Shared challenges in garden management amid diverse geographical and organizational contexts. Agriculture and Human Values. 2015;32(2):241-254.

Hopkins 2018* - Hopkins LC, Holben DH. Food insecure community gardeners in rural Appalachian Ohio more strongly agree that their produce intake improved and food spending decreased as a result of community gardening compared to food secure community gardeners. Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition. 2018;13(4):540-552.

Alaimo 2016 - Alaimo K, Beavers AW, Crawford C, et al. Amplifying health through community gardens: A framework for advancing multicomponent, behaviorally based neighborhood interventions. Current Environmental Health Reports. 2016;3(3):302-312.

Litt 2015* - Litt JS, Schmiege SJ, Hale JW, et al. Exploring ecological, emotional and social levers of self-rated health for urban gardeners and non-gardeners: A path analysis. Social Science and Medicine. 2015;144:1-8.

Garcia 2018* - Garcia MT, Ribeiro SM, Germani ACCG, et al. The impact of urban gardens on adequate and healthy food: A systematic review. Public Health Nutrition. 2018;21(2):416-425.

Algert 2016 - Algert S, Diekmann L, Renvall M, et al. Community and home gardens increase vegetable intake and food security of residents in San Jose, California. California Agriculture. 2016;70(2):77-82.

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.

OSU-Community garden - Ohio State University (OSU). Summer Sprout: Cleveland's community gardening program.

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.

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

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

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

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

NYCCGC - New York City Community Garden Coalition.

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

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

SELC-Urban ag 2018 - UC Berkeley, UC Cooperative Extension, and the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC). California urban agriculture food safety guide: Laws and standard operating procedures for farming safely in the city. 2018.

Hou 2018* - Hou J, Grohmann D. Integrating community gardens into urban parks: Lessons in planning, design and partnership from Seattle. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. 2018;33:46-55.

George 2015 - George DR, Rovniak LS, Kraschnewski JL, et al. A growing opportunity: Community gardens affiliated with US hospitals and academic health centers. Preventive Medicine Reports. 2015;2:35-39.

CC-Lincoln - Community Crops. Community gardens in Lincoln.

GGWNY-Land trust - Grassroots Gardens of Western New York (GGWNY). Our work as a land trust: Preserving Buffalo-Niagara’s community gardens for future generations.

CFI-CGs - Community Food Initiatives (CFI). Community gardens and orchards.

Date Last Updated

Sep 24, 2019