Community Gardens–Providing More Than Food
Research studies and personal experiences attest that community gardens provide environmental and social benefits in the face of environmental injustices. From mitigating climate change to increasing food access, community gardens positively impact lives.
From reduced air quality to displacement after natural disasters, climate change disproportionately impacts low-income communities of color. However, community gardens can process organic waste through onsite compost operations. Composting organic waste reduces emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, by preventing organic waste decomposition in landfills.
Community gardens make use of local organic waste, which helps reduce transportation emissions from diesel trucks taking organic waste to a large commercial facility. Reduced trucking not only mitigates climate change but also reduces local air pollution that contributes to higher levels of asthma and other serious health problems in environmental justice communities.
Composting also returns organic matter to the soil and supports the microorganisms that keep soils healthy. Since soils are a major carbon reservoir, maintaining healthy soils through compost and other methods is an important part of the multifaceted climate change mitigation strategy.
Community gardens also increase access to fresh, healthy foods. Many environmental justice communities live in food deserts, where there is limited access to affordable and nutritious food. These gardens are a source of in-season, nourishing produce. They also provide educational opportunities for adults and children to understand how their food is grown and create a working space for community members to get out in nature, which promotes mental and emotional well-being.
A community garden in Pomona, CA. Photo from Elinor Crescenzi
Boston-based researchers who partner with the environmental justice nonprofit The Food Project published a research paper (Sharp and Brabander, 2017) that discusses the social benefits of community gardens in urban spaces. Not only does urban agriculture address food deserts and access to fresh, healthy food but it also empowers youth, creates an avenue for political organizing, and provides cultural preservation through growing culturally appropriate food in immigrant communities.
CalRecycle recognizes the important role of community gardens in environmental justice communities. That is why CalRecycle Director Scott Smithline announced the department’s new “Community Composting” grant program in March. The program will fund composting and related activities in community gardens that divert organic waste from landfills in environmental justice communities.The Environmental Justice Program at CalRecycle is also hosting a brown bag speaker series to elevate the ways in which environmental justice communities are impacted by and interact with the waste sector. The next brown bag event will feature Elinor Crescenzi, a community gardener, doctoral student, and social justice activist from Pomona. Elinor will describe the scientific research supporting the social, environmental, and health benefits of community gardens. She will also discuss the success and challenges of community gardens in Pomona, including organic waste processing capacity with on-site composting. Please join us this week in the Coastal Hearing Room on July 10 from noon to 1 p.m., or join us by webcast.