April 15, 2022 5 min read

Positive community provides huge benefits for our wellbeing. We all do better when we work together. Our communities encourage us, support us through good times and bad, challenge us to grow, celebrate our successes, and provide an opportunity for us to lend a hand to others.

Communities make life rich, and when we work together wonderful things can be achieved. That’s why community is considered one of the seven pillars of self-care.

Why does community matter?

We're social beings, and spending time with people who care about us makes us happy and improves our sense of wellbeing. Happiness is also contagious. If we're happy, the people around us are more likely to be happy too, and so the ripple of happiness spreads.

Adults with a positive community are healthier and live longer than their more isolated peers. In fact, one large study over seven years found that people with good social relationships had a 50% greater survival rate than those with poor social contact.

Volunteering can also make a difference. When we volunteer in our community, this also boosts our sense of wellbeing. Helping and supporting others, is good for them and good for us. Research has shown that participation in voluntary services is significantly predictive of better mental and physical health and life satisfaction.

There are lots of way to build community and to lend a hand, and one that is popping up everywhere is community gardens.

Plentiful community garden photographed by Tracey Creed, New Zealand.

What are community gardens?

Community gardens are spaces where people in the local community work together to grow food to share. The gardens foster gardening knowledge, build community, create access to nutritious food, and care for people and nature. Often the land is council-owned, but there can be all sorts of arrangements, including crowdfunding.

Some community gardens are communal spaces, others offer people their own plot. Many gardens support their local food bankwith the fresh produce grown by the volunteers.

Happen Films have released a new film entitled, 'Together We Grow'. This is a 40-minute documentary telling the story of Common Unity, a thriving hub that's helping people in Lower Hutt, New Zealand to build resilience within their community.

Common Unity started as a community garden in a disused soccer field at Epuni Primary School. Their produce feed the children three times a week. It has since grown into so much more, with beekeeping, support and education for urban farming, catering, recycled bikes, sharing seeds, and sewing for good.

Why are community gardens important for wellbeing?

Community gardens have always been at the heart of resilient communities. In New Zealand, the Marae gardens sustained Maori for hundreds or years, and by the late 1840's these gardens were cultivating traditional crops, together with potatoes, wheat, maize and peaches. These gardens were so successful they feed the European settlers and were being exported to New South Wales.

Community gardens have also provided sustenance and support for communities during times of global conflict and economic hardship. The most famous are the Victory Gardens.

What are Victory Gardens?

Victory gardens were planted during World War I and II in America, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. With the rationing of food, governments encouraged their people to get growing in their backyard and on public land.

In 1943, there were 20 million gardens in America producing 8 million tonnes of food. Food supplies were tight, and these gardens reduced the demand on the farmers, providing an estimated 40% of the fruit and vegetables needed for the people at home.

These gardens also boosted the morale of the gardeners and improved their wellbeing. Having something practical and productive to do in challenging times helps us immensely.

Community gardens are now experiencing a resurgence, and they tick five of the seven self-care pillars.

Epuni community garden is a hub of wellbeing, photgraphed by Happen Films, New Zealand,

What are the self-care benefits of Community Gardens?

Growing our own food has always been good for us, providing - time in nature, physical activity, time with friends and family, abundant nutrition, and much joy.

The benefits are numerous:

🌼 Motivation to get growing nutritious food.

🌼 An opportunity to learn from people who have years of experience and have developed the skills through trial and error.

🌼 Spending time with people from all walks of life, and developing special friendships.

🌼 Creating beautiful places to connect with nature, and provide lush habitates for wildlife.

🌼 Sharing in the abundant harvest.

🌼 Helping create food resilience for your community.

🌼 Stress relief by getting away from the pressures of life.

🌼 Much joy from the fruits of your labour.

Food resilience is an important part of community as it strengthens us all to withstand disruption and keep thriving.

What is food resilience?

Food resilience is the 'physical and economic access, by all people, at all times, to enough food to maintain an active and healthy life.

In 2014 Christchurch City Council adopted a Food Resilience Policy, with the vision of making Christchurch the best edible garden city in the world. The object was to create 'a food resilient Christchurch with thriving social, economic and physical environments providing healthy, affordable, and locally grown food for all people.

As a priority, the Council decided to support and encourage the establishment of productive gardens.

How do community gardens help food insecurity?

Naku te rourou, nau te rourou, ka ora ai te iwi

With your basket and my basket, the people will live.

Food insecurity creates personal and family stress. Good nutrition is the backbone of health, and community gardens can make a difference for many.

During the Covid-19 pandemic we all had a taste of food insecurity with lines outside supermarkets, empty shelves, item limits, and exorbitant prices. Local people worked tirelessly in their community gardens to help their communities. In tough times, the practical value of these initiatives was evident.

Community garden crops photographed by Tracey Creed, New Zealand.

How can you join a community garden?

There are hundreds of community gardens throughout New Zealand. You'll find a number on the internet and your local district council will be able to help you connect.

If you're thinking about establishing a new community garden, this guide by Canterbury Community Gardens Association is a great place to start. It's also super inspirational to visit established gardens like Kelmana Gardens in Auckland. They are reconnecting people and food, by championing and demonstrating a regenerative local food system that supports resilience and community wellbeing.

Community gardens throughout the country are providing an opportunity for people to grow together as a community. Boosting wellbeing and serving others - what a fabulous movement!

If you're already a part of a community garden, I'd love to hear your thoughts on how this has positively impacted your wellbeing. Please leave a comment below.

And finally, a big thank you to Happen Films and Tracey Creed for the gorgeous images of New Zealand community gardens. Both are doing amazing work to promote and equip people to live sustainably. Check them out.

Until next time, take care. xo

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