Skip to main content

Gardens for Growing Healthy Communities

Background: The Healthy People 2010 Initiative, a national framework for public health and disease prevention, suggests that individual health is almost inseparable from the health of the larger community.  Understanding and improving this larger community – the places people live, work and recreate – will go a long way to promoting health and strengthening neighborhoods.  Since 2004 Denver Urban Gardens and the Colorado School of Public Health have worked together, through the “Gardens for Growing Healthy Communities” community-based research initiative,  to explore how gardens, as neighborhood places, support healthy living.  (Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Health Protection Research Initiative and extended by additional funding from the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute and the J.R. Albert Foundation.)

Key Findings*:

  • 100% of community gardeners stated that their main reasons for gardening were to be outside in nature and to get their hands dirty.  Almost 80% of them gardened as children.
  • More than 50% of community gardeners meet national guidelines for fruit and vegetable intake, compared to 25% of non-gardeners.
  • As well as eating better and being more active, gardeners are more involved in social activities, view their neighborhoods as more beautiful, and have stronger ties to their neighborhoods.
  • 95% of community gardeners give away some of the produce they grow to friends, family and people in need; 60% specifically donate to food assistance programs.
  • In addition to more positive ratings of physical and mental health, gardeners see the world differently… emotionally, spiritually and culturally, as well as socially and environmentally.
  • Community gardens promote stronger neighborhood leadership, outreach, and volunteerism.
  • 88% of people who do not garden want to see gardens in their neighborhood.

Rx for Healthy Place-Making:
This research highlights the importance of intentionally supporting neighborhood environments and social processes that give way to a strong sense of community, also referred to as “healthy place-making”, and that healthy places are especially important when they embody a diverse range of ecological, social and cultural attributes. Community gardens demonstrate one very viable strategy to achieve healthy place-making and foster improved health when the:

Ecological attributes of gardens reflect a place:

  • to be outside in nature and to get hands dirty
  • to grow plants – flowers, herbs and food crops
  • that can be used for multiple purposes
  • that is central, visible and accessible
  • that serves as a local destination
  • that promotes interactions with nature, people and environmental values

Social attributes of gardens reflect a place:

  • to socialize and get to know your neighbors
  • to build trust and develop pride
  • to receive and offer encouragement
  • to share stories, successes and food
  • to foster respect for others and bridge generations
  • to build a stronger sense of community

Cultural attributes of gardens reflect a place:

  • to develop emotional and spiritual connections
  • to express heritage and traditions
  • to develop a worldview
  • to develop unique community identity
  • for participants and neighborhood residents to experience beauty

Conclusion: When a neighborhood place embodies these ecological, social and cultural attributes, it becomes a place that naturally promotes wellness. Thus, a community garden is more than a good idea among a select group of people; it is a community model for healthy living.

Contacts:  Dr. Jill Litt, Principal Investigator, Colorado School of Public Health
Michael Buchenau, Executive Director, Denver Urban Gardens

*These are partially unpublished findings. Please do not cite without permission.