What Gardens Can Do for Social and Environmental Sustainability

By Anissia Klimova
Social Connectedness Fellow 2017

Davie Street community garden in Vancouver, BC

 

In recent years, gardening appears to have grown in popularity because, for many, its numerous proven benefits largely outweigh the costs. For example, gardening can do marvels for individual wellbeing, not only through increased exercise and social interaction, but also through the satisfaction one can experience from putting care and effort into something before reaping the literal fruits of their labor. The activity requires commitment, patience, and hard work, while providing an opportunity for reflection and introspection. Connecting body, spirit, and nature also serves as a strong reminder of our own dependence on the latter, of the rhythm of seasons, and of the essence of food.  

By instilling a love for and knowledge of nature, gardening inspires conscious consumerism, which in turn helps promote environmental protection and sustainable development. It also helps the cause in a multitude of other ways. Like green spaces, gardens participate in the protection of biodiversity; for example, by providing food and habitat for bees and other pollinators. Beyond attracting fauna, gardens help improve the quality of our air and cool down built environments by enabling reverberation and evapotranspiration. Pesticides and preservatives can be replaced with natural, eco-friendly products and practices. And growing food on our doorsteps can curb carbon emissions and production of waste linked to transportation, over-packaging, and a host of other harmful activities associated with larger food supply chains.

When community gardens are developed with inclusiveness and accessibility in mind, they have enormous potential to bring people together. Gardening side by side, regardless of age, status, or disability, people can reclaim membership in their community, while engaging in an activity respectful of individual boundaries and sensibilities.

Community gardens can also bring life and safety to monotonous highway rooftops or abandoned alleys, simply by way of blending into the surrounding environment. This potential can be further explored by holding community events at these gardens, turning them into default places of gathering for festivities, school activities, community deliberations and much more.

Nature has a lot to teach us, and what better way to learn than through practice? Gardening can breed curiosity and capture the imagination, help cultivate a resilient spirit, and change our relationship to food and each other for the better. This is precisely why more primary schools should set up vegetable gardens, composting and worm farms, and open their doors to private actors providing educational workshops, so that younger generations can dig their hands in the dirt and learn about nature and healthy food. Indeed, green space can make for a much better classroom than four concrete walls. It can even affect the way children interact with one another, and invite communities back into schools.

This is not to say that young people are entirely out of touch with nature. Seeing beyond plants’ ornamental value, younger people are increasingly taking part in urban gardening – taking advantage of public gardens, growing plants in confined spaces, balconies, terraces, rooftops, and even on walls. They are also facilitating its entry into the world of business. Like IGA Extra Famille Duchemin, several companies are acquiring rooftop gardens, which in turn, sustains gardening assistance services such as Urban Seedling, les Urbainculteurs, and Biocyclette. On another scale, the immergence of urban farms is promising to take the food industry by storm. In Montreal, although it still reigns uncontested, Lufa Farms, founded in 2009 by then twenty-something Mohamed Hage, is making great strides in the right direction.  

Undoubtedly, there is a future for urban and peri-urban gardening, agriculture, and farming. Meanwhile, demand for locally grown, healthy, and nutritious food is here to stay. Thus, rather than work against these currents, we should encourage our communities to consider the benefits and potential of community gardens to build social connectedness and improve our well-being.