On the Isle of Bute, we are lucky to have two community garden projects. The most recent, the Chapel Hill Accessible Gardens, was opened last year by the local MP Brendan O’Hara and is run by community business Fyne Futures. The aim is total inclusion – the raised beds can be enjoyed by everyone – and the opportunity to learn about plants and eating healthily, with classes in cooking and raw food preparation.
Our second community garden is in the south of the island, in the form of the Kingarth & Kilchattan Bay Community Orchard. It features a variety of apple trees, many donated by local company Coffee Conscience, and anyone is free to collect and eat as they so please.
It got me thinking about the benefits of community gardens, most of which seem to be geared towards providing healthy fruit and vegetables for those people who perhaps do not have the opportunity to either grow or purchase their own. But perhaps the most important element is related by the word “community”. These gardens bring people together in the community, to work and relax.
Indeed, community gardens are places where people come together to grow a variety of vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers. They provide opportunities for both recreational gardening and food production in under-utilised spaces. And, of course, they are excellent for the environment – food grown locally reduces greenhouse gases produced by the long distance transportation of food. The gardens also contribute to biodiversity of species, and help to support populations of pollinators. But importantly they bring communities together by engaging citizens in positive initiatives. The strong educational element benefits all in the community, most especially children who are encouraged to visit and tend the gardens.
The gardens are proven to help those suffering from mental stress, and many have described how the role of gardening helped to decrease current stress and heal past trauma and anxiety. And for older contributors to the gardens, the added exercise can only be of help to health.
We are fortunate on the island that our local council, Argyll & Bute, takes the role of community gardens very seriously. Earlier this month, after a period of consultation, the council launched its Community Food Growing Strategy, which holds great faith in the benefits of community gardens. Council Leader Aileen Morton was greatly impressed by the provision of community gardens in the area.
“As a rural local authority with 23 inhabited islands, we have a long establish culture of growing our own food, with its multitude of benefits from the availability of nutritious and affordable food to social, health and environmental benefits,” said Councillor Morton. “I’m pleased with the variety and range of growing spaces we have in Argyll and Bute, including allotments, community gardens, school gardens, orchards and crofts allied with the use of vacant sites, adding life to otherwise forgotten spaces.”
“As a council, we are committed to assisting individuals and community groups to achieve their local goal of growing their own, and have put in place a number of measures to help achieve this.”
As our two community gardens are relatively new, it will be interesting to see how they grow and flourish over the coming years for the benefit of the community as a whole. It is a wonderful concept and one which, hopefully, will be adopted all round the world. And with the growing awareness of the environment among young people, more children can be encouraged to engage with the gardens on a variety of levels. Who knows, community gardens may just save our planet.
Our photograph shows Rothesay, home of Bute Island Foods and the Chapel Hill Accessible Gardens.