By Carol Dreibelbis

There are an estimated 18,000 community gardens in the United States and Canada, according to the group Why Hunger, and thousands more worldwide. Designing Healthy Communities, a project of the nonprofit Media Policy Center, notes that community gardens “can play a significant role in enhancing the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being necessary to build healthy and socially sustainable communities.”

Naasir Ali participates in the “Growing Food…Growing Together” program at the Washington Youth Garden. (Photo credit: Cintia Cabib)

In her 2011 documentary A Community of Gardeners, filmmaker Cintia Cabib offers an intimate look at the vital role that seven community gardens play in Washington, D.C.

At Common Good City Farm, a work-exchange program enables local residents to volunteer in the garden in exchange for fresh produce. One volunteer explains just how important the garden is for her: “The garden plays a big role in my life because it feeds me. I live out of this garden: whatever I get every Wednesday, that’s what feeds me for the whole week.”

At Fort Stevens Community Garden, an organic garden run by the National Park Service, immigrant gardeners from around the world grow fruits and vegetables that are native to their homelands in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The Park Service also provides land and water for the Melvin Hazen Community Garden, which was once a World War II victory garden.

Nature’s Retreat at C. Melvin Sharpe Health School serves as an outdoor classroom. The handicapped-accessible school garden enables physically and cognitively disabled students to undertake a more sensory approach to learning. One student remarks in the film, “I plant marigolds and I water the flower bed. I just like the fresh air.”

The Pomegranate Alley Community Garden occupies an alleyway once known for drug dealing. Neighborhood residents transformed the space into a garden that currently holds 13 plots. Similarly, at the Marion Street Garden, neighbors and volunteers cultivate once-abandoned land. This intergenerational garden offers educational opportunities for people of all ages.

The Washington Youth Garden offers a year-round environmental science and food education program for D.C. youth and their families. Parents and their children work together to grow vegetables while also learning about healthy eating through the garden’s “Growing Food…Growing Together” program.

In addition to exploring these thriving community gardens, A Community of Gardeners provides an historical portrait of community gardens past. Gardens played an important role in the United States during World Wars I and II, as well as during the Great Depression, offering ways to supplement the national food supply, provide jobs for the unemployed, and improve morale nationwide. Community gardens serve similar functions today in countries around the world.

A Community of Gardeners has been screened at conferences, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies since its release. The documentary will also air on U.S. public television in September 2013.

Have you worked in a community garden or tended your own home garden?  Please tell us about your experience in the comments section below. 

Carol Dreibelbis is a former research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Food and Agriculture Program.

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