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Community Gardening: Community Gardens

A guide to community gardening resources in the Boston Public Library and online

What is a Community Garden?

A community garden is a piece of land, either public or private, gardened by a group of people. The garden can be purely ornamental, grow vegetables for individual use or sale, or have a purpose such as protecting wildlife or native plants. Community gardens can be located in urban, suburban, or rural areas, and at different locations such as schools, churches, food pantries, hospitals, public housing, or in neighborhoods.

Community Gardening Statistics

The National Gardening Association, a leading nonprofit in garden-based education, publishes annual statistics on food gardening in the United States. A recent report, Garden to Table: A 5-Year Look at Food Gardening in America, analyzed data collected from 2008-2013 and found:

  • The number of Americans growing their own food in home and community gardens increased from 36 million households in 2008 to 42 million households in 2013.  That is a 17% increase.
  • There was a 29% increase in food gardening in urban areas, up from 7 million in 2008 to 9 million in 2010.
  • Young people, particularly millennials (ages 18-34), are the fastest growing population segment of food gardeners.  In 2008 there were 8 million millennial food gardeners.  This figure rose to 13 million in 2013., an increase of 63%
  • More households with children participated in food gardening, with participation increasing during the same time period by 25%, from 12 million to 15 million.
  • From 2008-2013, the number of households participating in community gardens tripled from 1 million to 3 million, a 200% increase.

The American Community Gardening Association estimates that there are 18,000 community gardens throughout the United States and Canada.  According to the City of Boston's Open Space Plan, 2015-2021 Boston has 175 gardens, with 15,000 residents participating in community gardening.

Community Gardening - Boston

A short documentary on urban gardening in Boston. It deals with the history of urban gardening in the area and interviews some people currently involved.

Community Gardening

Welcome to the Boston Public Library's guide to community gardening resources. This Research Guide will connect you to relevant books, media, and journal articles in the Boston Public Library's collections, as well as useful online resources

Use This Guide To:

  • Explore the history of community gardens
  • Find a community garden in your area
  • Get tips on how to start a community garden
  • Learn what to plant in your garden
  • Locate support organizations, gardening programs, and workshops
  • Connect to local community gardening resources

History of Community Gardening in the United States

In the United States, the use of community gardens to help ease conditions for urban dwellers in times of social change or economic crisis can be traced back to the 1890s and Detroit, when Mayor Hazen Pingree introduced his "potato patch" program. The program allocated vacant lots for cultivation to the unemployed. It was a success, and was later adopted by other major cities. Community gardens were also used as a relief measure during the 1930s depression.

During World War I and World War II, citizens were encouraged to grow their own food in their home gardens or community gardens so that commercially-grown produce could go to support the war effort. After World War II, the interest in community gardening declined, but In the 1960s and 1970s there was a resurgence of interest driven by environmental and social activists who worked to turn neglected lots into useful community spaces.

The present interest in community gardens is driven by many factors including rising food prices, food insecurity, concerns about health & nutrition, a desire to protect the environment and live sustainably, the chance to share gardening knowledge and experience with children and youth, and more.

Learn More About Community Gardening