Gardening
Mind & Body Wellness
Stress Management

Community Gardens are Growing Revolutions

Almost everything starts as a seed.

You started as a seed, your pets, the tree outside your window, the ideas that led to your iPhone, your tablet, and laptop started as seeds. As society races towards a high-tech future, shooting for the moon (and Mars), we’re learning that, despite our progress, there is much we have left to do. Diseases, inequality, and climate change remind us that some of our most pressing problems are still looming—and that the clock is ticking to find a solution.

Rather than look into the future to tackle these issues, a subset of activists, health professionals, and researchers are looking back, way back, to where it all started: seeds. Instead of investing in cutting-edge gadgets to serve their communities, they are doing something else:

planting gardens, and within them, tackling a range of issues including disease, mental illness, and social inequality.

As a result, they’re popularizing a mode of healing that can rival even the most popular medications: garden-based nature therapy. In schools, hospitals, and vacant neighborhood lots across the country, mini-miracles are happening as communities come together, surgical patients heal at faster rates, and chronic illnesses disappear, starting what might just be a seed-based health revolution.

In many ways, a hospital is an unlikely setting for a garden. But, guided by a growing body of evidence supporting the healing properties of gardens, hospitals are making green spaces a central part of their design.

Studies have found that these spaces have the ability to lower stress levels, consequently improving mental health and boosting immune function. This can lead to patients recovering more quickly and feeling less pain in the process.

One groundbreaking study of surgical patients found that those who had simply viewed green spaces outside of their windows as compared to a plain wall were less likely to need pain medication or develop complications. On top of that, patients who viewed the green spaces recovered, on average, a full day faster than those who had not.

And it isn’t just the patients that are benefiting—it’s the whole hospital community.

Hospital workers, many of whom work in high-stress conditions all day long, are finding that the gardens offer valuable space to slow down, collect, and refresh their energy. One study found that hospital gardens can even help lower obesity rates in hospital communities, regardless of whether or not those spaces are producing fruits and vegetables to consume.

Rehabilitation facilities have found success with therapeutic gardens as well.

At Four Circles, a nature-based rehabilitation center in North Carolina, patients are encouraged to spend time in one of four herb and vegetable gardens, where they can stimulate their senses while learning practical gardening skills. Experts there say that this enriches traditional therapy by encouraging patients to take healthy risks while reinforcing the value of hard work.

Even outside of health establishments, gardens can work their healing magic. School and community gardens have been popping up all over the map, often sparked by one or two enthusiastic community members.

These green spaces bring together many generations and cultures, encouraging the exchange of both practical gardening knowledge and life wisdom. Some community gardens blossom into full-on urban agriculture centers like Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, an organization that transformed a sprawling NYC rooftop into green-machines churning out fruits, veggies, and herbs. Such local produce is essential to addressing the pressing shortage of fresh fruits and vegetables available to middle and low income urban residents.

One of the more exciting things about this mini green health revolution is that it’s just getting started. Want to join? Just get out there with your hands, some dirt, a willingness to work, and of course, seeds. You might even find that it catches on in your family and community…because everything starts with a seed, even revolution.

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