Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

  • This strategy can help promote healthy childhood environments. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve this outcome are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds.
  • Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Program overview

  • Growing produce for the community: A community garden is a shared space for members of the public to grow food, flowers, or other plants. They can benefit a neighborhood by strengthening residents’ sense of community, increasing physical activity, and providing a new source of fruits and vegetables.

  • Led by gardeners: The most common type of community garden is a neighborhood community garden, which is located on land divided into plots for individual use. This type of community garden is generally managed by the gardeners themselves, with leaders identified to handle administrative and day-to-day responsibilities (e.g., making plot assignments, mowing grass). Other types of community garden, which vary in purpose and in who participates, include school and youth gardens, food pantry gardens, job training market gardens, and more.

  • Supported by government and nonprofit organizations: Often, local governments allow residents to establish community gardens on vacant lots. This approach affords residents the benefits of the garden while simultaneously helping the community address negative externalities from vacant properties (e.g., lack of maintenance, increased crime). Local governments, non-profits, and faith-based organizations may also support community gardens by providing gardening education, materials, or services (e.g., a water supply).

Multiple studies with rigorous designs provide some evidence for community gardens as a strategy to increase physical activity and access to and consumption of fruits and vegetables.

  • A 2019 research synthesis found some evidence that community gardens improve access to and consumption of fruits and vegetables and increase physical activity.
  • Provide a long-term site: Since many community gardens are located on borrowed land, they are limited in the types of infrastructure (e.g., concrete paths, fencing, water access) that can be added to the site. By granting community gardens long-term or indefinite use of their land, local governments or community organizations can provide gardeners with the stability needed to make larger investments in their community garden.
  • Coordinate supply and service purchases across gardens: Certain supplies and services, like compost delivery or liability insurance, may be difficult for individual community gardens to arrange. Local governments or nonprofits can provide or coordinate the purchasing of these items across multiple community gardens, ensuring access to important supplies and services and realizing cost savings from purchasing in bulk.

  • Add community gardens to the zoning code: Local governments can support community gardens by amending their zoning code to allow for community gardens as a principal or accessory use in residential and commercial districts. By doing so, local governments enable community members to establish small gardens on lots already in use and to create larger gardens on vacant or underutilized lots. Including community gardens in a jurisdiction’s zoning code is also an opportunity to assuage community concerns, as the code can clarify expectations on related issues like parking, retail sales, and keeping animals.