Student Engagement Ambassador, Florencia, discusses the benefits of gardening with others and suggests ways to get involved in community gardens around Reading.

Spring is starting, the days are getting longer, and flowers are slowly blooming. Everyone is beginning to get out more and enjoy time outdoors again. This makes it the perfect opportunity to take up gardening! From April 4th to 10th, Community Garden Week celebrates gardening from communities and schools around the UK. In this blog, I discuss the benefits of community gardening from different perspectives, as well as various ways you can practice it in Reading.

What are the benefits of community gardening?

I believe community gardening combines the bests aspects of exercise, local ties, and food production. This includes:

Community ties

Community gardening is different from just working in our backyards. It is group labour. From a practical side, this allows working in bigger spaces, accessing more tools, and achieving larger-scale projects one person could not do. These are nice perks, but it is not the whole story. Community gardens can be a fantastic opportunity to make new friends. It is easy to reduce our social circles to just our jobs and classes. Local gardens can act as social clubs, expanding our reach through a fun shared activity and creating new relations with other people from your town. There are many different types of gardens, some of which are open to bringing children. I think this is a good opportunity to get children in contact with nature and food production early on in life. Speaking from personal experience, this is something I believe would have benefited me as a child. I grew up in a big city with very little green, and I can attest that in my early years, I was very disconnected from nature and developed a strange relationship with food.  

Food production

Living in a city or large town, such as Reading, can make us quite disconnected from the food we consume. Most of us buy groceries from supermarkets or stores with little idea of its origin. Of course, some more mindful people research the origin of the available produce or seek specific product types like fair trade or free-range. The reality is that even the most attentive of us do not know who produced the all the food we buy and consume.

Working at a community garden allows you to appreciate the process of food production and understand what’s necessary to plant and harvest fruits and vegetables. I believe growing plants gives a new respect for what we consume and the people who work to produce it. It also can teach about local production and sustainability.

Gardening is also not about just getting food but managing the entire process. You can also learn about pollination and growing flowers, composting, and managing organic waste, as well as more niche activities like producing tea, herbs, juice, and even organic bottles!

Mental health

As I wrote in this blog, physical activities and nature walks can be great for feeling better and improving mental health. I personally love taking walks in nature. Working in a garden can provide an activity that puts you in contact with nature and allows you to enjoy manual labour in nature. The difference perhaps between taking a walk and working in a garden is that the latter allows you to see the progress and fruit of your labours, like having built or cooked something for yourself. It is also less solitary (as was explained before) and allows sharing an activity with friends and family.

What can I do?

So, you like all the aspects of gardening and would like to be involved. What can you do?

Reading town

There are many community gardens around Reading. A quick search in google maps will show their locations. One which seems very popular is Lavender Place Garden. This low-carbon garden promotes sustainability practices for food growing. It collaborates with local schools and is friendly to children. It has many projects from herb gardens to theatre workshops. It is a great way to engage with the community and enjoy green spaces.

University of Reading

The University of Reading has many opportunities for cultivating plants. On a larger scale, the School of Agriculture grows different crops next to the Harris Gardens. These crops are parts of the studies the school carries out. Access to this section is more restricted, but you can check their projects online.

To students and staff, the university also offers the opportunity to join the volunteer society Students Eat at the Secret Garden. This society is free to join and will allow you to learn and work around crops. This includes open air beds, a polytunnel, and a greenhouse. All members are friendly and open to new suggestions.

At home

Sometimes we don’t have the time. Work is too much, and life gets in the way. There are some little bits you can do from home. I wrote this blog about home gardening. You can compost through Reading food waste disposal or bring your waste to local gardens from time to time.

You can also search online for gardening groups. These communities can provide tips for growing plants at home and include people with no access to local gardens or difficulties interacting in person. The university’s society also has an online presence on Facebook and Instagram.

Wrapping up, all this business may seem overwhelming. There is a lot of information out there. It can be easy to get caught up and make gardening your additional job. Please resist the temptation. This does not mean you can’t take it seriously. However, it does not need to be that rigid. Community Gardening Week is not a deadline. You don’t have to start now. You can take your time and move at your own pace. The beauty of all of this is that it takes many forms, and it may take a while until you find the right one for you. The important thing, I think, is to take it easy and try to have fun!

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