Why community gardens?

From the archives: March 15, 2011

As part of a project last year, we interviewed many community gardeners (including Law Paw from the Fresh Start garden!) about why they are part of community gardens and what it means to them.   Here is what some of the immigrant and refugee gardeners we spoke with had to say:

“In Kenya, I had a 16 acre farm… this is my first year gardening in the United States, at the community garden.  It is very good.  I am getting fresh vegetables from my garden that have been organically grown, without any chemicals…And of course, it is exercise for me too.  It helps me to keep my body functioning well” – Sam, Kenya

“I share my garden with my grandchildren… we grow everything on our own, so there are no chemicals.  Everything is organic, and it’s clean and healthier for your body, especially for little kids.  Kids think everything grows in Cub Foods!…. Because my English has not improved enough, I cannot work anywhere.  I am happy I can use my strength and my time in the garden.  I am saving money here.  It is good for my family” – Tamara, Kyrgyzstan

“My grandma comes to garden, she says it makes her feel good.  When she is in the garden, she says her body feels light.  When she lived in Kenya, she gardened for her whole life.  She came to the United States 5 years ago, but for the first 2 years she had no garden.  Before we had the garden, she used to sit in the house all day.  She felt like she was sick.  She wanted to go home to Kenya and have her garden there.   Since we have had this garden, she has changed her mind.  She’s not going, because now she feels like she is back at home” – Eileen, Kenya

“I like the garden because it has helped me get to know my neighbors.  There are many Karen people living here, but we all came from different camps in Thailand so we didn’t know each other.  Now we work in the garden together and talk about where we are from.  The garden reminds us of home” – Law Paw, Burma

“Gardening not only brings us health, it brings us a connection to what we used to have at home.  You feel more at home, like you are going to your farm, and physically working on it, and that brings you a sense of peace” – Gerald and Jane, Kenya

“We want to feed our children our food from Kenya.  Now our little kids like to feed on the spider plant, and we are very grateful that we can feed them the vegetables that they need to grow.  Not that we don’t like to give them other foods, American foods, but it makes us feel like we are feeding them from our culture…Because of the garden, we feel like we moved from Kenya with our culture.  We didn’t think we would find these things here, and we are happy that they are here, and we are happy to be here.  Before I moved to America, I thought ‘Wow, how am I going to find spider plant for me to eat?’.  I am so happy that I found the spider plant” – Mary, Kenya

The benefits mentioned above are true for many community gardeners, not just immigrants and refugees.  Community gardens provide space to grow fresh healthy produce, give gardeners a chance to exercise, help families save money, and give neighbors a chance to get to know each other.  However, community gardens are especially valuable for refugee families.   Many refugees in the Twin Cities come with a lot of agricultural experience – some were farmers in their home countries, and other grew food in gardens at home for family use.   As mentioned by several gardeners above, being part of a community garden can make the US feel more like home.  It also gives refugee families a chance to grow foods that are difficult to find here, as well as an opportunity to share their foods and culture with their children.   They can also help families stretch their budgets and access healthy foods.  Community gardens also combat social isolation and build community, as they provide an opportunity for gardeners to form relationships across cultures, generations, backgrounds, languages, and abilities.  In addition, community gardens can help refugees heal from traumatic experiences.  For more on the multiple benefits of community gardening, check out this page

Thank you to gardeners at the IOC Community Garden in Burnsville for sharing their stories with us!

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