Community gardens

Kaicycle – an urban farming and community-scale composting site in Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington. This is a regenerative, organic community garden that produces food that is sold to a community-supported agriculture scheme. Wellington. Photo by Kaicycle. https://kaicycle.org.nz/

Community gardens, or community-supported agriculture areas are often shared spaces where individuals or groups come together to cultivate and manage plants, typically for food production, beautification, education, or community engagement purposes. These gardens can take various forms, including allotment gardens, communal gardens, school gardens, and urban farms.

Community gardens serve as vital spaces for food production, particularly in urban areas where private backyards are scarce. They address pressing societal challenges, such as food security and urbanisation (Shimp et al., 2019).

As cities and populations expand rapidly, the demand for fresh produce increases, necessitating the use of public spaces for cultivation. Community gardens play a crucial role in urban landscapes, not only providing access to fresh, nutritious food but also promoting community resilience in the face of more frequent and severe climate events (Shimp et al., 2019). 

These gardens act as community recovery systems, fostering social cohesion and may aid in post-disaster recovery. Furthermore, they serve as learning platforms, empowering individuals with the knowledge and skills needed to establish and maintain similar initiatives in the future, thereby enhancing community self-sufficiency and sustainability.

Related NbS strategies for urban food growing include:

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Name of NbS

Community gardens

Type of NbS

Created or constructed living ecosystems; Management, social, political

Location

Community gardens are often in high-density urban areas.

Langimalie community garden centre, Photo by the Tongan Health Society. https://www.tonganhealth.com/communitygardencentre

Relationship to Indigenous knowledge

Indigenous communities worldwide have cultivated land for generations, crafting sustainable agricultural techniques in harmony with nature and rooted in local ecosystems. Throughout Te Moananui Oceania, a rich diversity of traditional agriculture and agroforestry practices exists (Thaman, 1994, Thaman et al., 2006), and can be the basis of, or integrate into community gardens.

Community gardens can blend traditional methods, Indigenous ecological knowledge, and cultural values into their design, plant selection, and upkeep. Community gardens serve as vital spaces for honouring and preserving indigenous knowledge. They embrace traditional plant varieties, cultivation methods, and seasonal cycles passed down through generations.

Moreover, these gardens act as hubs for intergenerational knowledge exchange, with elders imparting wisdom to younger members, ensuring the continuity of traditional practices. These gardens can also foster cultural exchange and understanding, offering platforms for Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals to come together, learn from one another, and foster mutual respect. By embracing Indigenous knowledge, community gardens can not only bolster environmental sustainability and food security but also fortify cultural resilience and advocate for social justice.

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Climate change benefits
  • Biomass cover loss
  • Changes in phenology
  • Loss of food production
  • Reduced soil quality
  • Urban heat island effect

Community gardens offer significant contributions in addressing the escalating challenges posed by rapid urbanisation and climate change. Their benefits can be categorised into two main pathways, as outlined by Graetz (2020): direct and indirect. Direct benefits encompass carbon sequestration and reduction in carbon emissions, particularly through mitigating food transportation and packaging emissions. Indirectly, community gardens facilitate urban lifestyle changes and provide education on food production, climate change processes, and the interconnectedness between human actions and the environment.

Moreover, community gardens play a crucial role in enhancing food security and community resilience in the face of escalating extreme weather events. Shimpo (2019) highlights their capacity to supply food, empower communities socially, offer safe gathering spaces, and foster restorative practices post-disaster, reinstating a sense of normalcy. These multifaceted benefits underscore the pivotal role of community gardens not only in mitigating climate change but also in nurturing sustainable urban communities resilient to its impacts.

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Societal / socio-cultural benefits
  • Disaster risk reduction
  • Food security and quality
  • Empowerment / equality

Community gardens can foster meaningful connections between people and their surroundings, nurturing a sense of belonging and community cohesion, and increasing health (Hond et al., 2019). 

Through social exchange and shared activities, these spaces cultivate a sense of “place,” blending social experiences, symbolic meanings, and physical elements (Healey, 2001). Guitart’s (2012) outlines the multifaceted benefits of community gardens, highlighting their role in community building, resilience, and social interaction. Additionally, they contribute to improved nutrition by promoting increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. These socio-cultural benefits extend beyond individual well-being, positively impacting economic and social development within communities. 

By providing opportunities for collective engagement and collaboration, community gardens serve as catalysts for fostering stronger social ties, promoting a sense of identity and pride in local areas, and enhancing the overall quality of life for participants, particularly for those who have no access to private land for food growing.

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Ecological and biodiversity benefits
  • Climate regulation
  • Decomposition
  • Disturbance prevention
  • Food production (for humans)
  • Habitat provision
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Pollination
  • Purification
  • Soil building
  • Species maintenance

Community gardens play a pivotal role in addressing the ecological challenges arising from rapid urbanisation, offering green spaces amidst the increasing dominance of hard infrastructure and surfaces in cities. With over 50% of the global population residing in urban environments, there’s a growing recognition of the importance of integrating ecological and biodiversity benefits within densely populated areas (Guitart, 2012). 

These gardens serve as vital green infrastructure, with permeable surfaces that regulate runoff and provide cooling through evapotranspiration. They may offer habitat for wildlife species, contributing to urban biodiversity and conservation efforts depending on plant selection (Cabral et al., 2017). Case studies have demonstrated that community gardens with diverse flora act as efficient bio-indicators, indicating the presence of essential ecological functions (Cabral et al., 2017).

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Technical requirements

Successful community gardens require dedicated leadership and a knowledgeable group to oversee their creation and maintenance. Engaging in training and community-building activities ensures sustained community involvement over the long-term (Ochoa et al., 2019). Establishing clear organisational structures, whether through a top-down or bottom-up approach, more likely facilitates effective communication and decision-making, inclusive of volunteers, throughout the planning process and once the garden is established.

Issues and Barriers

A significant issue and barrier facing community gardens in Te Moananui Oceania may be that success relies on cooperation among diverse members. A robust knowledge database is essential for successful crop production, protection from elements, pests, diseases, and general maintenance (Koh et al., 2010). Additionally, securing access to suitable land and resources may pose challenges in some places. 


Overcoming these barriers requires fostering strong community connections, sharing expertise, and addressing cultural considerations to ensure the sustainability and resilience of community garden initiatives.

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Opportunities

The challenges faced by community gardens in Te Moananui Oceania may also present opportunities for fostering community connections during disasters and promoting resilient social development.

Twiss et al. (2011) highlight how community gardens enable neighbourhood ownership and civic pride, offering a platform for collective action and community empowerment.
Integrating traditional land use practices into community garden initiatives can further enhance their cultural significance and resilience, providing opportunities for cultural revitalisation and knowledge exchange.

By leveraging these opportunities, community gardens can serve as catalysts for community cohesion, disaster resilience, and cultural preservation, fostering stronger social ties and a sense of identity and pride within local communities.

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Financial case

Community gardens may offer a cost-effective solution to rising food costs and food insecurity prevalent in parts of Te Moananui Oceania. By providing produce to communities, they not only alleviate financial strain on families, but may also reduce social costs associated with food insecurity. 

Additionally, proximity to community gardens positively impacts residential property values. Andrew (2010) highlights a study conducted in New York, which found that properties within 1000 feet of a community garden experienced an increase in value over time.

This financial benefit underscores the importance of community gardens as valuable assets that contribute to the economic well-being of local communities while promoting food security and enhancing the quality of life for residents.

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Kelmarna Garden in Auckland. Image Mitch Parsons, Greater Auckland
References
  • Cabral, I., Keim, J., Engelmann, R., Kraemer, R., Siebert, J., & Bonn, A. (2017). Ecosystem services of allotment and community gardens: A Leipzig, Germany case study. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 23, 44-53.
  • Flachs, A. (2010). Food for thought: The social impact of community gardens in the greater Cleveland area. Electronic Green Journal, 1(30).
  • Graetz, B.S. (2020). Social, health and environmental impacts of community gardens. Master’s thesis, Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://green-kpis.villagegarden.info/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/VillageGardenProjectReport_Bliss_Graetz.pdf. Date accessed 24 May, 2024.
  • Guitart, D., Pickering, C., & Byrne, J. (2012). Past results and future directions in urban community gardens research. Urban forestry & urban greening, 11(4), 364-373.
  • Healey, P. (2001). Towards a more place-focused planning system in Britain. In Madanipour, A., Hull, A. (eds). The governance of place: Space and planning processes. Aldershot: Ashgate
  • Hond, R., Ratima, M., & Edwards, W. (2019). The role of Māori community gardens in health promotion: A land-based community development response by Tangata Whenua, people of their land. Global Health Promotion, 26(3_suppl), 44-53.
  • Ochoa, J., Sanyé-Mengual, E., Specht, K., Fernández, J. A., Bañón, S., Orsini, F., … & Gianquinto, G. (2019). Sustainable community gardens require social engagement and training: a users’ needs analysis in Europe. Sustainability, 11(14), 3978.
  • Shimpo, N., Wesener, A., & McWilliam, W. (2019). How community gardens may contribute to community resilience following an earthquake. Urban forestry & urban greening, 38, 124-132.
  • Thaman, R.R. (1994). Pacific Island agroforestry: an endangered science. In Morrison, R.J., Geraghty, P.A., Crowl, L. (eds). Science of Pacific Island Peoples, 2, 191-222.
  • Thaman, R.R., Elevitch, C. R., & Kennedy, J. (2006). Urban and homegarden agroforestry in the Pacific Islands: current status and future prospects. In B.M. Kumar and P.K.R. Nair (eds). Tropical homegardens: a time-tested example of sustainable agroforestry, 25-41. Springer
  • Twiss, J., Dickinson, J., Duma, S., Kleinman, T., Paulsen, H., & Rilveria, L. (2003). Community gardens: Lessons learned from California healthy cities and communities. American journal of public health, 93(9), 1435-1438.

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