Community gardens can provide economic, social and health benefits to service members and their families. They can also help military families establish a sense of belonging in their communities. And, best of all, being involved with a community garden doesn’t require a green thumb.
When you join a community garden, you are part of a group effort, with those who have been doing it for a while sharing their knowledge with newcomers. You can quickly learn the tricks of the trade, even if you come in knowing little or nothing about gardening.
Many military installations have community gardens you can join. If yours does not have one in place, there are plenty of resources available to guide you in starting your own.
The operating hours, seasons, availability and organizations that run community gardens — which include MWR, public works and the Department of Defense Education Activity — vary from location to location. Check with your installation for more details.
Some gardens may also be at least temporarily closed due to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, but measures are being taken in many cases to ensure a safe experience for all involved.
What are community gardens?
The American Community Gardening Association defines a community garden as one “that is open and accessible to people of all ages from the designated community, with individual plots assigned to specific individuals, families or groups.”
But they are so much more.
Community gardens provide better access to fresh fruits and vegetables, which can be especially important in areas where resources are limited. They also encourage a healthy lifestyle, engage the whole family and connect individuals and families with others in the community.
For military families constantly on the move, these social aspects can be especially important in that they can create a connection to and investment in a community.
Community garden benefits also include:
- Increased physical activity
- Improved environment (cleaner and greener)
- Expanded knowledge of nutrition and agriculture
- Lowered stress, anxiety, depression and anger
- Reduced family food budget
Community gardening can provide educational benefits for children as well by helping them learn about responsibility, plant growth and fostering a love of nature. So unplug, and start having fun the old-fashioned way.
Starting or joining a community garden
Before you become involved with a community garden, it is important to know the rules and responsibilities you will be expected to honor, as well as any fees that may be associated with your participation. Check with your installation for details.
The United States Department of Agriculture provides a wealth of resources and tools to support community gardeners, including guidance on planning and developing a garden. But general guidance on how to start a community garden on a military installation, or anywhere for that matter, is that the site should:
- Have a flat landscape
- Provide enough space for multiple plots, with the potential for expansion
- Receive a minimum of six hours of sunlight daily
- Have access to water suitable for food gardens
Prior to site development, you and your fellow gardeners may need to do soil tests, remove hazards and debris, stake out boundaries for individual garden plots and till the land.
Your group will also need to draft policies and guidelines for:
- An annual budget
- Plot fees
- Plot assignments or reassignments
- Season start and end dates
- Pesticides and fertilizers
Community gardens and the pandemic
Joining a community garden can be a fun and rewarding activity, but the pandemic has posed new challenges.
Safety must be a priority when it comes to community gardens in a COVID-19 world, but at a time when food is becoming more expensive, they can also be one of the solutions to the challenges the pandemic poses.
So don’t let the coronavirus steer you away from an opportunity to become involved, provided you determine that it is safe. Reach out for more information and get started planting as soon as the season allows.