Community gardens are springing up around the United States, giving people of all ages an opportunity to come together and plant foods and flowers that offer numerous benefits to the community. These patches of land in towns and cities rely on citizens to plant and tend to crops and gardens. Not only do they reduce carbon footprint, increase local property values, and give area residents access to fresh, nutritious produce — they also offer some pretty specific health benefits to seniors who take part in these programs.
A Community On the Same Page
Elaine Gordon, Director of Griswold Home Care’s Passaic, Sussex, and Morris Counties offices, worked hand-in-hand with Mayor John Dunleavy of the Bloomingdale borough of New Jersey and Councilwoman Dawn Hudson to realize her dream of a community garden for seniors. The aim of the Bloomingdale Community Garden is to provide the community with a garden space for residents to grow and harvest organic produce and flowers via land donated by the Borough.
Through education, residents of all ages can learn gardening, healthy eating and how to care for natural environments. Residents of the Borough, as well as townspeople from neighboring areas are welcome to meet, plant, and reap the benefits of the community garden.
“Not only does the community garden provide a place for residents to gather and garden but a place to foster a sense of community and ownership. The ultimate goal is to not only provide the residents with a place to garden, but a place that the residents can come together for events,” said Councilwoman Hudson. “The Borough is committed to not only preserve open space but make that open space a better place with a purpose…and what better a purpose than a community garden!”
This project has been in the making for over a decade. Gordon explained that “ten years ago, in conversation with Jean Griswold, the founder of our company, Jean asked me what I would like to create for the community of elders we serve. I told her my dream was to create a community garden that would give elders and young folks a space to grow organic produce — a place where good food would be grown without pesticides and chemicals and feed a community.”
Mayor Dunleavy echoed Gordon’s sentiments. “We have been talking about a community garden for years. We thought it would be a great way to bring residents together,” he said. “The garden will not only support healthy eating, it will all be a great way for neighbors to socialize. The garden is located near our Senior Citizen Community Center. We thought it would be great for our seniors to participate — not only for exercise, but to produce fresh vegetables to be used in our senior nutrition program.”
Making a Dream Into Reality
“This project is what I am hoping will be the start of putting food into communities while using spaces that are currently lying fallow,” noted Gordon. “People deserve to have affordable, healthy food. City blocks — or, in our case a generously donated small plot of land — can be a source of community that motivates folks to celebrate their town.”
Gordon received help from not only local officials, but other people and organizations within the community, as well. Jodie Bross, owner of Glenwild Garden Center assisted with donations and advice on bringing the project to fruition.
Mayor Dunleavy explained that “The town already owned the land where the garden is constructed. It made sense because we had a water supply, ample parking and will become part of the beautiful senior garden setting that already exists.”
Once the project received a partial grant from City Green, members of the community pitched in to help realize the goal of a community garden. Local Boy Scout Troop 86, led by Christ and Spencer Winkler, helped to clear the lot of debris and weeds, constructing a beautiful paved pathway for the garden. The Borough of Bloomingdale Department of Public Works and Water Department also helped support the project.
Now that the Bloomingdale Community Garden has sprung to life, availability for locals to take part is offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. However, if the garden receives an overwhelming request for plots, officials said they would consider expanding the garden to offer more people an opportunity to plant and enjoy fresh fruit, flowers, and vegetables.
Eating Well and Meeting Well: Community Gardens & Seniors
Seniors who get outside to garden reap the benefits of getting a healthy dose of vitamin D from sunlight. This vitamin helps increase bone density and reduce risk of osteoporosis. Even better, seniors who squeeze in outdoor activities like gardening see an increase in mental focus, sleep better at night, and reduce their risk of falls. It also has a positive impact on relieving depression.
Older adults who take part in community gardens not only get to take home delicious fruits and veggies they’ve planted themselves, but get to share their knowledge with younger participants in the program and expand their social networks. These seniors have an opportunity to bond with people they may not otherwise have had an opportunity to meet and feel good about gaining and sharing their know-how with others in their community.
Does your community have a garden? As a senior, would you be open to taking part in a community garden, or would you prefer to garden at home — or with neighbors? Have you worked with a local community garden before? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!