Community gardens are growing in popularity across the country and for plenty of good reasons. They offer healthy food options, especially in urban locations where food scarcity is a problem. They also provide an opportunity for people to connect and network.
That’s why universities that encourage sustainable gardening co-ops have seen improvements in student participation, grades, and mental and physical health. There’s no denying that college can take a toll on the well-being of young people. Mental health issues in universities across the country are getting worse. While university community gardens might not solve every well-being issue, they’re a positive place to start.
Let’s take a closer look at how universities can help prioritize their students’ needs and focus on health by implementing community gardens on campus.
Allocating the Right Space
One of the biggest issues many universities will face in creating a community garden is finding the right space to do it. Allocating a designated spot that is safe and has the right environment for plant growth is essential. You might think you don’t have room for a large garden meant to feed multiple people.
Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do to maximize your space for sustainable gardening, including:
- Focusing on layout and design;
- Using raised garden beds;
- Installing greenhouses.
Universities that implement these ideas will be able to get the most out of each garden, and they’ll draw more students in to help maintain the beds, greenhouses, or open layouts. Rooftop gardens are also becoming more popular as they utilize space that would otherwise go unused and ignored. College campuses are known for having plenty of tall buildings, leaving ample space for gardens on different dorms or administrative offices that students can tend to year-round.
The Power of Connection
One of the biggest benefits of university community gardens is networking. Students can volunteer to tend to the garden, or you can allow certain campus clubs to “adopt” a garden space of their own to tend to it. This allows for more connection, conversation, and networking between students of different backgrounds, majors, and ages. Belonging to a student club improves friendships and can enhance the skill sets of many students.
Socializing in college is important for the mental and physical well-being of every student. It can help to prevent common mental health issues, like anxiety or depression. It also can open up opportunities for some students and encourage them to become leaders.
If you don’t have the time, space, or resources to create a community garden as a university representative, consider handing it over to student clubs and organizations or offering pre-tilled garden spaces (or raised beds) to any organizations on campus willing to take care of them. Not only will the appearance of your campus flourish, but you’ll be fostering the growth of people, not just plants.
How Gardens Can Help With Food Insecurity in College
Food insecurity is a problem throughout the country. In 2021, 10.2% of U.S. households were food insecure at least some of the time. Community gardens are helping to combat food insecurities across the country by providing nutritious foods to those in need at little to no cost.
Because a college often feels like its own little town or community (no matter how big the campus is), university community gardens can help to serve students on a very personal and local level. It can be hard to believe that a college student wouldn’t have access to nutritious food, but it’s a bigger problem than most people realize. Some kids aren’t going hungry most of the day or living on ramen noodles by choice. They might not have access to other foods, or the ability to pay for them, especially as costs go up across the country.
It’s estimated that 20 to 50% of college students experience food insecurity. A community garden on campus can benefit those students by:
- Providing nutritious food;
- Offering free or discounted produce;
- Educating them about healthy eating;
- Creating a more sustainable system;
- Strengthening a sense of community.
Growing your own food is an incredible way to give back to the environment and live sustainably. When you take the time to promote an eco-friendly campus, you’ll educate your students and encourage them to change their eating habits, too. While a garden might not seem like a big deal, at first, it can provide your students with the nutrition they need now and the knowledge they can carry with them into a more sustainable future.
Whether you encourage campus groups to form and tend to community gardens or you create your own and make them available to everyone, university gardens are a great way to get your students involved in sustainability while providing them with low-cost, nutritious food. You’ll fight back against food insecurity on campus, promote the health and well-being of your students, and create an environment that focuses on positivity.