By: Kelsea Deblois, Dalhousie ESS Intern.  June 2016

Community gardens and urban farms have blossomed as a trend in recent years. In several urban centres, rooftops and vacant lots are being transformed into vibrant plots where healthy food can be grown within a city’s limits. This not only fosters a strong sense of community and conviviality, but urban farms and community gardens also import a plethora of positive health impacts. And at Common Roots Urban Farm, the health impacts are positively flourishing.

In the past decade or so, the trend of community gardens and the bigger theme of the local food movement have grown in several places around the world. There is plenty of research surrounding said impacts that serves to quantify the valuable work being done at urban farms like Common Roots and similar operations elsewhere.

In a study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Liveable Future, the primary benefits of community gardens are summarized, using data from several community gardens and urban farms across the United States. The first of said impacts is that “urban farms won’t feed entire cities… but that’s not really the point,” (Santo, 2016).

Of course food security is a growing concern for our planet today with the ever-increasing global population, and small-scale local food operatives are a step in the right direction, but are not the sole solution to this. Further, urban farms teaching us to appreciate food better is crucially important.

Participants in urban farming learn what is takes to grow different crops, which fosters a better sense of seasonality of different fruits and vegetables; especially in places like, say, Nova Scotia. Urban agriculture forces us to be more conscientious with regards to the people who feed us, and participants “see firsthand the ins and outs of a complex, vital system most of us have lost touch with,” (Mark, 2012).

Insofar as health benefits specifically, there is plenty of research supporting these claims as well. Common Roots’ goal with regard to health impact is to promote healthy lifestyles, as well as the production and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The indicators of this goal include positive impacts on diet, on physical health, on mental health, on increased access and intake of fresh local produce, and increased social capital. In fact, according to a report done by the influential King’s Fund health think-tank, doctors should prescribe gardening for sick patients more often: “[gardening] is profoundly good for you … it is a great way of keeping people active, of keeping them outside and keeping their sense of wellbeing very high,” says Jane Ellison, the public health minister. Common Roots’ partnership and close proximity to the Queen Elizabeth II hospital is therefore an extremely positive aspect of the garden for both parties.

Delving deeper into the nature of the health impacts gardening provides, the Johns Hopkins study Vacant Lots to Vibrant Plots explains that gardening can support mental health and wellbeing through reducing stress, providing purposeful activity, improving self esteem and a sense of accomplishment, aiding physical and emotional healing, and strengthening people’s relationships with nature.

Beyond public health impacts, the food security implications of urban agriculture include greater access to fresh, organic produce, greater access to fresh food within the greater community (eg. North End Halifax and beyond), and potential cost savings on groceries.

The idea of placemaking and a strong sense of community are positive health impacts in and of themselves. These health impacts are quite evident at Common Roots, as is a profound sense of community among participants and visitors alike. Programs offered at CRUF such as Deep Roots, where participants learn valuable, employable skills through volunteering on the farm while also being part of a community with other volunteers in the program is one of such examples.

The Kynock Parker Street Food Bank CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is another remarkable aspect of CRUF. The CSA shares the farm’s bounty with the food bank, providing health farm-fresh food for their clients. The food bank clients are encouraged to come participate in the farming as well, and even apply for their own (subsidized) plot.

Overall, there is good work being done at Common Roots. This good work is also being done at many other urban farms and community gardens across North America and beyond, spreading the positive health impacts far and wide. In its very nature, gardening helps grow healthy, happy, strong communities.

Works Cited:

Johnson, Sarah. “Doctors Should Prescribe Gardening for Patients More Often, Says Report.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 2016. Web. 29 June 2016.

Santo, Raychel, Anne Palmer, and Brent Kim. “Vacant Lots to Vibrant Plots: A Review of the Benefits and Limitations of Urban Agriculture.” Johns Hopkins Centre for a Livable Future. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 June 2016.

“The Real Value of Urban Farming. (Hint: It’s Not Always the Food.).” Vox. N.p., 2016. Web. 29 June 2016.