By Mykala Thomas
Community gardens do more than beautify vacant lots. They fill Jacksonville neighborhoods with fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs, while nourishing camaraderie and community pride. Add some flowers, and you’ll boost the mood and health of the neighborhood.
Each Jacksonville community garden has its own rules and regulations. Some grow food for not-for-profits, such as soup kitchens, shelters, or food banks. Usually, volunteers work in these gardens as a way to give back to their community.
Other community gardens are managed by municipalities, parks, or neighborhood associations. People sign up for a plot and plant. Either way, the goal is to provide healthy food for you and your neighbors.
4 Ways Community Gardens Improve Health
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1. Neighborhood nutrition
Community gardens are one way to put fresh produce in food deserts and other areas deprived of access to grocery stores. This is a way neighbors help neighbors to eat more healthy meals.
How big is the need in Jacksonville? Nearly 18% of people living in Duval County are food insecure. What does food insecurity mean? The non-profit group Feeding America says that's how many people don't know where their next meal is coming from.
Community gardening isn’t only good for the community. It’s good for the gardeners, too, a study by the National Institutes of Health found.
How does gardening benefit the one planting vegetables and fruits and pulling weeds?
Community gardeners eat fruit and vegetables 5.7 times a day. That compares to 4.6 times a day for home gardeners and 3.9 times a day for non-gardeners.
More than half of community gardeners meet national recommendations, eating fruit and vegetables at least five times per day. Only 37% of home gardeners and 25% of non-gardeners meet those recommendations.
2. Physical health
The benefits of community gardens on neighborhood health go beyond nutrition. Being outdoors is where you’re more likely to get exercise (and it’s just safer being outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says gardening is a moderate-intensity level activity, and can help you to achieve the recommended 2½-hour exercise goal each week. Gardeners also tend to exercise up to 50 minutes longer than those who walk or bike.
Walking to the community garden burns about 100 calories per mile.
Planting flower, herb, and vegetable plants and weeding burns 200 to 400 calories an hour. Heavy landscaping, such as digging, planting trees and shrubs, and moving rocks, burns up to 650 calories an hour.
The twisting and turning while raking and bagging leaves burns 350 to 400 calories an hour.
Working in the garden and exercise elevates your mood.
3. Mental Health
You know how wonderful it is when someone gives you a bouquet of flowers? Multiply that feeling by 10 when the flower bouquet is from your community garden, planted and nurtured by you, then snipped for your enjoyment indoors.
Another community gardening health benefit? There’s also the joy of connecting with nature when you see butterflies, bees, and other pollinators visit your favorite Jacksonville flowers.
4. Community gardening makes cents
Growing your own food extends the grocery budget. A few dollars for seeds and plants and you’ll have fresh vegetables and herbs to eat for weeks. Preserve the food and the harvest lasts even longer.
You'll also find yourself making fewer trips to the grocery store.
Too much zucchini? Sell, barter, or trade it for something you’re not growing. Gardening teaches you skills, including math, science, and entrepreneurship. Improve your chances for success by taking advantage of education and cooking programs that may be offered in conjunction with your community garden plot.
So, how can you get started with community gardening?
The University of Florida’s Duval County Extension has urban gardening sites and educational programs in Jacksonville. Riverside Avondale Community Garden wins accolades from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a model for others.
How Community Gardens Improve Jacksonville
Community gardens develop a sense of pride in yourself and your neighborhood. Your neighborhood and community look better. You feel better. Your neighbors will gather in the gardens, where you’ll share stories, experiences, and produce with fellow gardeners. Dirty hands nourish healthy neighborhoods and strengthen communities across Jacksonville.
Mykala Thomas learned from her grandmother to respect and nurture the land. Now, she works on community garden projects and writes about all things that grow.