Pizza parties are nice, but exactly how much pizza can your residents eat before it’s time to change the menu?

Think community. Think garden. Think break away from the pizza party and grow something.

Community gardens are the latest thing in building resident retention and a low-cost way to promote health and well being within an apartment community. And it’s not the first time growing one’s own has come into vogue. The country has used gardening as a method of release, relaxation and reconnection many times throughout its history.

As far back as 1890 community gardens were used in Detroit to train and assist the unemployed, as well as teach youth good work habits. In 1918, community gardens expanded the domestic food supply and the craft was inserted into the national school curriculum as thousands of gardens popped up across the country. During the Great Depression community gardens provided a means for the unemployed to grow their own food; 23 million households grew produce valued at $36 million in 1934 alone.

During World War II, the federal government promoted Victory Gardens to improve morale, encourage recreation and build camaraderie amongst its citizenry in tough times. After the war, most forgot about their gardens until 1970. Urban flight, rising inflation and environmental angst brought the community garden back while drawing neighborhoods together. It was during this time in garden history that folks took note of the sociological benefits of gardening and realized that such programs also reinforced social ties and fortified infrastructure in urban communities.

Aside from the social benefits, community gardens provide the nutrition of fresh fruit and vegetables, exercise to the gardeners, and a sense of accomplishment and well being (clinical study by Malakoff, 1995). Gardens provide a great education for all ages on growing, nutrition, cooking, even business skills in organizing and distributing the ensuing product. Produce from a community garden can offset the food purchases of residents giving an economic boost to the community as well.

Environmentally, gardens benefit the community by reducing the heat-island effect in cities (where a metropolitan area is warmer than the surrounding rural area), increasing biodiversity and reducing rain runoff. A community garden is a great motivator for community composting as the byproduct may be used right back into the garden for fertilizer.

The physical requirements for a community garden are a plot of land, supplies and water. The time required to organize the labor will far exceed the cost of supplies. While a garden is about growing stuff, it’s really more about interpersonal relationships, group dynamics, and planning and organizing. Like most projects, the most successful gardens are initiated and run by the gardeners themselves.

Check out this excellent toolkit by the University of Missouri. It is a comprehensive planning guide for forming your own community garden including the necessary checklists and contracts to get your own garden going at your property.

It might take a little more planning, but it is sure to create lasting value in the hearts and minds of your residents.

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