Green Thumbs Up

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By Serenity Rain

It’s time to get down and dirty! Did you know that getting your hands dirty may actually benefit your overall well-being and the community? Research shows that gardening is physically, mentally, spiritually and socially beneficial. Most of us may already know about the physical benefits of gardening–the great dose of vitamin D from the sun as well as exercise from pulling weeds and planting seeds. But have you thought about how gardening can contribute to other areas of your well-being and the community? Like how it can be a natural anti-depressant, give you a greater sense of purpose and connection, and even a deterrent to criminal activity. With all the benefits of gardening it’s not surprising that there’s been an influx in community gardens in the District over the last year.

I just recently started a garden at the Hillcrest community center and I am so in love with it! I never thought I would actually enjoy getting my hands dirty, but it feels good to have your hands immersed in soil and to see the fruits of your labor. When perusing the internet one day trying to find holistic remedies, I came across information about the healing benefits of gardening. Being as though I suffer from depression and anxiety I was inspired to start the garden as part of my healing journey. As part of my healing process it’s vital for me to be aware of EVERYTHING that I am putting on and into my body. In order to do that I knew I needed to learn how to grow my own food and make my own products. Starting a garden has been on my bucket list for years. So, when I found out that the community center was starting a community garden I was on board! I have seen a positive impact on my depression and anxiety since I started gardening. Gardening has been a form of meditation for me—allowing me to connect with nature and stay in the present moment. When I am gardening, I feel at peace and can feel the universal connection that we all come from one source. Even the setbacks I have experienced while learning how to tend to my garden have taught me a lot about life. The most important lesson I have learned is about the natural cycle of life, some things have to die in order for better things to grow. For example, the richest soil comes from compost, which is decomposed food used to make soil and nurture future crops. I apply that same concept to almost everything in my life—relationships, habits, jobs and opportunities.

I have enjoyed my experience with gardening but don’t just take my word for it; there is scientific evidence on the mental, physical and spiritual benefits of gardening. According to a study done by CNN, soil contains harmless bacteria, called Mycobacterium Vaccae that can boost serotonin in our bodies. Serotonin is a brain chemical that controls cognitive functioning and mood which plays a huge role in the occurrence or absence of depression. Additionally, being out in the sun gives you a great dose of Vitamin D (a vital amino that acts like a hormone in the body and contributes to all systems in the body). If you do not like to get your hands dirty, simply surrounding yourself in a plant-filled environment has been shown to reduce fear, anger, blood pressure and muscle tension. It’s also very calming and peaceful to just watch someone garden or to witness a garden flourish. One of the best feelings in gardening may be to see and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Also, an article published by Designing Healthy Communities, states that “psychologically there is satisfaction that comes from the joy of a successful harvest.” I was so excited when I saw my first watermelon grow and I got to prepare a meal with fresh green beans from my garden. Violet King, an education coordinator at the THEARC Organic Community Garden, is an experienced gardener, who says she “…loves everything about the process.” When asked, “how gardening has impacted her life?”, she eloquently responded with, “gardening was something that I started as a hobby and a way to provide food for my family, it has evolved into what I do for a living”. King has been participating in community gardening for two years providing programming and fresh produce for the community.

Like King, many people find their life’s purpose in gardening and philosophically consider it a way of life. On a spiritual level, gardeners feel connected to the land and share a greater sense of individual and collective responsibility for the environment as a whole. For example, Dept of Parks and Recreation Volunteer, Walter Allen, the lead gardener and manager of the Hillcrest Community Garden passionately talks about his experience, saying, “The plants energize me and give me life!” Allen does not take his responsibility as a gardener lightly, stating “gardening has taught me so much…I feel so connected to the land…it has truly given me a fuller understanding and appreciation of life.” I myself have also incorporated gardening into my spiritual practice.

Not only does gardening benefit the individual, it has a tremendous impact on the community. The presence of community gardens positively affects the environment, social capital, crime prevention, and the economy. Environmental benefits of community gardens include increasing pervious surfaces and allowing for groundwater recharge, improving air quality through the addition of plants to the landscape, beautifying the environment and promoting sustainability. Community gardens are considered a social, caring place contributing to a greater sense of belonging and a catalyst for friendship formation. Community gardens bring people together and create a space of peace and healing. A great example of this is the development of the “Woodland Terrace Peace Garden”, which was created as a symbol of peace and healing for the community, especially its youth. The Woodland Terrace community came together to build this garden to alleviate the uproar of crime in the area, provide families with food and help youth explore new ways of eating. The sense of community that gardening provides also has an impact on the prevention of crime. Scientific studies show that crime decreases in neighborhoods as the amount of green space increases, and that vegetation has been seen to alleviate mental fatigue, one of the precursors to violent behavior.

Community gardens also benefit the economy, especially in areas that are food deserts. According to an article published by “How Stuff Works”, gardening contributes to the economy by helping the local food markets, which may become a necessity due to the escalating fuel costs and the need for greater nutrition. This year the District launched a Produce Plus program, which allows community members to access fresh produce that has not available to them in the past. As a participant of the Produce Plus program, I love knowing where my produce is coming from and interacting with the gardeners/farmers really does contribute to my sense of community.

Gardening has my green thumbs up! As you can see there are many benefits to gardening. Whether you start small with just an herb garden that sits in your window or get a plot at your local community garden, you can make a difference in your health and even your community. So, what are you waiting for, go start your garden. To get you started here is a list of community gardens in ward 5, 7, 8:

Ward 5
– Edgewood Gardens | 300 Evarts St., NE | info@edgewooddc.org
– Harry Thomas Gardens | 1743 Lincoln Rd., NE | harrythomasgardengroup@gmail.com
– Ledroit Gardens | 3rd & V Sts., NW | ledroit.com.garden@gmail.com
– Noyes Gardens | 10th & Franklin Sts., NE | friendsofnoyespark@gmail.com
– Turkey Thicket Gardens | 1100 Michigan Ave., NE | turkeythicketgardeners@gmail.com

Ward 7
– Benning Garden | Fable St. & Southern Ave., SE | benningcommunitygarden@gmail.com
– Hillcrest Garden | 3100 Denver St., SE | hillcrestgardencenter@gmail.com
– Lederer Garden | 4801 Nannie H. Burroughs Ave., NE | frederick.jones2@dc.gov

Ward 8
– Douglass Garden | 1898 Stanton Terrace, SE | friendsofdouglasscc@gmail.com
– Fort Greble Garden | Martin Luther King Jr. & Elmira St., SW | ftgcommunitygarden@gmail.com

For more information on community gardens, to sign up or to find one in your area, please visit: www. dpr.dc.gov/page/dpr-community-gardens.

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