Reposted from The Energy Co-op, July 29, 2013:

65026_632608222402_296444753_nHere at the Co-op we like to throw around the word “community.” We talk about the impact our energy choices have on our local community and one of our core values is that by joining together, we positively impact our lives and our community. This concept of community is something I not only value in my work at the Co-op, but in my personal life as well.

Several times a week you can find me, just a few blocks from my house weeding, watering plants, filling up water barrels and turning compost. These are part of my responsibilities at Girard Gardens, the community garden that I am a part of. My friend and I share two plots there and have so far this season enjoyed strawberries, raspberries, cucumbers, arugula, peppers, tomatoes, radishes, cilantro, rosemary, and a surprise sunflower that grew out of the compost we added. It is a great feeling to enjoy food that you can feel good about, knowing exactly where it came from, and enjoying the fruits (yes, sometimes literally fruits) of your own labor.

I’ve always been very interested in where my food comes from (like how did this kiwi get here all the way from New Zealand?) and gardening is a great way for me to have peace of mind about my food choices. For example, I know that my tomatoes were not trucked over from across the border, they were started from seeds that I bought from Fair Food Farmstand and grown through careful care and watering until they were ripe enough to eat. Our colorful, purple beauty pepper plant was bought as a starter at Greensgrow Farms, a local urban farm, and then grown in my own plot with compost from my own kitchen (and others in our community). Talk about local! This food waste would otherwise end up in a landfill and is now being used to grow nutritious produce. Did you know that food in the United States travels an average of 1500 miles from farm to fork? Thinking about the energy costs it takes to get food to my table, I know that community gardening is one way I can be more sustainable and cut down on my carbon footprint.

But the thing is I couldn’t do this alone; really, it wouldn’t be possible. Just like a co-op, community gardens are about accomplishing more together than we could on our own. By sharing plots with a friend, we can take turns watering and fill in for each other when one person is away. I also have responsibilities to both maintain my own plot and to help the garden as a whole. Each month we have a workday with tasks to accomplish such as picking up litter (we are by a bus stop so there is a lot of this unfortunately), weeding the flower beds, mowing the lawn, etc. We also rotate garden-wide responsibilities so each week different members are in charge of filling the water barrels, taking out the trash, turning the compost. Without everyone taking turns and doing his or her part, we would not be able to keep it going.

I always knew that the benefits of community garden included access to healthier food, a smaller carbon footprint, beautifying the neighborhood, bringing neighbors together, and just the good feeling I get when I harvest something I know my energy and care helped to cultivate. In doing research for this blog post I found that the benefits of community gardening are even greater than what I had in mind including:

Reduced crime, municipal costs, and even heat from streets and parking lots.
Opportunities for recreation, exercise, therapy and education
Reduced stress and an increased sense of wellness and belonging from exposure to green space
Reduced soil erosion and runoff, which lessens flooding and saves the city money
Opportunities for intergenerational and cross-cultural connections
Reduced air pollution by restoring oxygen to the air through the gas exchange systems of leaves and soils
Who knew that my after-work hobby was doing so much good for the community and city? All I can say is… you’re welcome!

Community gardens like co-ops are about people coming together to accomplish more than they could on their own. Whether the goal is energy cost savings, reducing your carbon footprint, supporting renewable energy, growing nutritious food, or beautifying your neighborhood, when we all come together we can get a lot done to positively impact our lives and our community!