What are Community Gardens?
Community gardens come in many forms and are found in
urban and rural areas alike. The American Community Garden
Association defines them as any piece of land gardened by a group
A Multi-faceted Solution
Community gardens provide a way for people to grow fresh
organic produce that they might not otherwise be able to afford,
they give urban dwellers an opportunity to work the earth, and
become thriving social centers. Replacing vacant lots with gardens
has numerous documented benefits for the surrounding neighborhood:
they increase property values, decrease crime (eyes on the street)
and add to the sense of community. Community gardens have been
particularly popular during economic downturns because they
affordably provide a broad array of benefits: they leverage local
resources to create things that make neighborhoods attractive
without requiring significant financial investments.
Common Barriers and Common Solutions
Community gardens often lack a place in city zoning codes
or are treated as if they are a development project with many
potential risks. This has put some cities in the position of
accidently creating red tape for gardeners. For example, one garden
in the City of San Diego, now recognized nationally for its
programs to help international refugees grow fresh, healthy food,
cost $46,000 to get a permit. The City of San in response to the
development of this garden and a local outpouring of support
from community members, community-based organizations, elected
officials, and city staff removed many of the regulatory challenges
to community gardens in July 2011. Cities interested in promoting
community gardens are encouraged to consider similiar measures
including the following:
- Insert positive language into the city's general plans;
- Create clear, easy to follow ways of navigating the zoning
- Ensure application or permitting processes are no or
- Identify city departments or agencies to oversee the operation
of community gardens on public land;
- Assist in finding land suitable for community gardens and
negotiating with landowners if it is privately held.
A Snapshot of Local and National Activities
While support for community gardens in the San Diego
region has often been limited to small programs for a few gardens
on public land, cities are now taking much more pro-active stances.
Local municipalities such as San Diego and National City are
responding rapidly to interest in community gardens by creating
new, supportive regulations. In June 2011, the Healthy
WorksSM School and Community Gardens Intervention worked
closely with the City of San Diego and partners across the city in
the passage of the changes to the city's municipal code that allow
community gardens by right in all commercial and residential zones.
Additionally, the City of Chula Vista passed an ordinance in early
2010 that allows community gardens on public lands.
Numerous other county cities are currently exploring adding
pro-community garden language to their general plans as they go
through plan updates. The language often aligns the community
gardens with zoning which allows agriculture "by right" in at least
the most significant zones. (This is particularly true of inland
North County.) Other cities in the county continue to treat
community gardens as a development project and may assess thousands
of dollars in fees to get the right permit (though permits might be
Cities across the country are adopting resident-friendly
community garden policies as well. New York and Chicago host more
than 600 community gardens a piece, and Los Angeles allows
agricultural uses "by right" in all zones. Seattle offers a
comprehensive model: its general plan has numerous references to
encouraging community gardening, its zoning allows them "by right"
in all zones, and its famous P-Patch program currently runs 73
Community gardens are popular because they brighten
neighborhoods and connect people to their food and the earth. We
encourage local leaders to work with residents to create policies
that support community gardens in your neighborhood.
For more information, please contact JuliAnna Arnett, the
Healthy WorksSM Food Policy Manager for the San Diego
County Childhood Obesity Initiative, a program of Community Health
Made possible by funding from the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, through the County of San Diego.