Program: Community gardens and farms
- Community gardens can be powerful contributors to healthy communities. They can:
- Increase access to healthy foods and improve nutrition.
- A study conducted in Flint Michigan found that adults participating in a community garden were 3.5 times more likely than nonparticipants to consume the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables.
- An evaluation of the Philadelphia Urban Gardening Project found that each garden plot yielded an average of $160 worth of produce, ensuring access to healthy foods.
- Educate community members about food and nutrition
- Contribute to a more resilient food system.
- Support social cohesion and build a sense of community.
- Offer job training and economic opportunity for low-income individuals and families.
- Promote safer neighborhoods by repurposing vacant lots and lands into attractive spaces where both people and plants can flourish.
- Increase access to healthy foods and improve nutrition.
- Hospital community benefit can support community garden and farm initiatives in diverse and exciting ways.
- Provide space on their facility’s property to establish a community garden or farm.
- Address food insecurity from multiple avenues when they support healthy food access initiatives that also have local economic and workforce development components such as vocational skills and job training and temporary or full-time employment.
- Dieticians, nutritionists, and hospital-sponsored chefs and gardeners can utilize their expertise to support community health by leading diet and nutrition education.
- Hospitals can provide funding, technical support, or staff time for a community garden or farm that is being built in a low-income neighborhood.
- A portion of the fresh fruits and vegetables produced by hospital-sponsored gardens may be donated to food pantries or provided to low-income households as subsidized community supported agriculture (CSA) programs.
Community gardens can take a variety of forms including rooftop gardens, schoolyard gardens, backyard gardens and neighborhood gardens. Vegetables and other produce in community gardens are grown for the producers themselves or for other people in the community and are usually nonprofit endeavors.
In contrast, farms tend to have greater capacity to grow larger quantities of produce and producers may sell their produce in local outlets.
Community gardens and farms, especially those located in urban areas, can be powerful contributors to healthy communities. They can:
- Improve access to fresh, healthy, local foods and increase consumption of vegetables and fruits
- Educate community members about food and nutrition.
Researchers evaluating the Philadelphia Urban Gardening Project, an initiative serving a low-income and multi-ethnic community, found that participants ate a larger quantity and diversity of vegetables than nonparticipants. Each garden plot yielded an average of $160 worth of produce, ensuring that participants could have access to fresh fruits and vegetables without spending all of their limited income on similar food items at the grocery store.
Other benefits of community gardens and farms include:
- Contributing to a more resilient food system
- Supporting social cohesion and building a sense of community
- Promoting safer neighborhoods by repurposing vacant lots and lands into attractive spaces where both people and plants can flourish
- Offering job training and economic opportunity for low-income individuals and families
Local food and vibrant communities
Urban and other farms may provide farmers and community members with important opportunities to participate in and support the local economy as vendors at farmers markets, wholesale sellers to neighbors and community members, or as produce sources for community supported agriculture (CSA) programs. This provides participants with additional income, enables growers to expand and diversify their production, and makes more fresh fruits and vegetables available to the community. According to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) publication, there is an economic multiplier of 1.66 for every dollar spent on local food.
Windy City Harvest and Chicago Botanic Garden (Chicago, Ill.)
- In 2016, harvested 100,000 lbs. of produce
- Produce was shared by garden participants and distributed to recipients of the local Veggie Rx program.
- Offers job training opportunities, internships, apprenticeships, and accredited certificate programs
- Youth development program educates and employs 80-90 low-income teenagers each year
- Added Value Farms (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
- In 2016, harvested 20,000 lbs. of produce at their Red Hook Community Farm location
- Sells fresh fruits and vegetables to local community members at farmers markets, farms stands, and through their CSA program.
- Operates the Red Hook Farm Stand, which accepts Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) vouchers, and Health Bucks to ensure that low-income consumers can afford the healthy foods offered.
Recommendations for hospital participation
Health care facilities can support community garden and farm initiatives in diverse and exciting ways.
Hospital gardens can promote employee and patient wellness, for example, through serving and promoting in the hospital cafeteria the fresh produce grown in the garden. This can be an important part of hospitals’ and health systems’ broader commitment to community health. Hospital garden and farm projects promote good health and set a great example for the rest of the community. However, in general, support for garden initiatives that primarily serve hospital staff and patients should not be “counted” as community benefit on IRS Form 990 Schedule H. See Tax reporting for healthy food access programs for more information.
However, many forms of hospital support for community garden and farm initiatives that serve the wider community can be an effective component of community benefit implementation strategies to address priority community health needs including obesity, food insecurity, healthy food access, poor nutrition, and diet-related health conditions.
Hospitals may provide space on their facility’s property to establish a community garden or farm. In order to address the needs of vulnerable individuals and households, it is important that these gardens and farms are welcoming and inclusive of all community members.
Community benefit departments may also provide funding, technical support, or staff time for a community garden or farm that is being established in a low-income neighborhood. For example, facilities can provide funding to buy tools, fencing, or other materials to help get a community garden up and running.
Dieticians, nutritionists, and hospital-sponsored chefs can support community health by leading diet and nutrition education at a community garden or farm. This may include offering cooking classes, demonstrations, and tastings or preparing recipes for seasonal produce.
Vegetables and fruits produced in hospital gardens or farms may be donated to community food pantries, or produce boxes may be provided directly to food insecure individuals and families.
Additional information about hospital roles and examples are included in the table below.
Examples of hospital roles and participation
St. Luke’s University Health Network, Pa. (Host or provide space for a community garden or farm on hospital property)
St. Luke’s University Health Network- Anderson Campus
St. Luke’s Rodale Institute Organic Farm
The produce harvested from St. Luke’s organic farm is utilized in the hospital’s cafeteria, distributed via the CSA program to 7 hospitals in St. Luke’s Network, and excess produce is sold to hospital staff and community members. The farm also partners with a local organization and their “Eat Real Food” Mobile Market to provide fresh produce to school kids, seniors, and residents in communities with limited access to food outlets.
St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, Mich. (Host or provide space for a community garden or farm on hospital property)
St. Joseph Mercy Hospital
Ann Arbor, Mich.
The Farm at St. Joe’s
The Farm at St. Joe’s grows produce and offers nutrition education for patients, staff, and community members. The farm holds field trips for local elementary students, hosts interns, donates produce to clinics serving patients with chronic disease and contributes to a collaborative CSA from which low-income community members benefit.
In 2017, the farm harvested upwards of 5,600 lbs of produce and helped to create $40,000 worth of revenue for the seven local farmers that participate in the collaborative CSA program.
St. Joseph Hospital and Cancer Center, Colo. (Host or provide space for a community garden or farm on hospital property)
St. Joseph Hospital and St. Joseph Cancer Center
The Gateway Garden and The Humboldt Garden
St. Joseph Hospital established a garden on campus for residents of the assisted senior living, section 8 apartment complex, located across the street. Surplus vegetables are donated to a local hunger prevention organization Metro Caring that also focuses on providing low-income families with healthy foods. An additional garden grows produce exclusively for Metro Caring, and another will be planted in the upcoming year.
17 senior residents maintained plots in the Gateway Garden during the 2017 growing season
Boston Medical Center, Mass. (Host or provide space for a community garden or farm on hospital property)
Boston Medical Center
The Boston Medical Center features a 2,400 square foot Rooftop farm with more than 25 crop varieties. The produce harvested benefits patients and families eating in hospital cafeterias and those referred to the preventive food pantry.
As of October 2017, 4,164 lbs of produce were provided to the on-site preventative food pantry, cafeterias, and demonstration kitchen.
Genesys Health System, Mich. (Offer opportunities for workforce development)
Genesys Health System- Health Park Campus
Grand Blanc, Mich.
Women in Agriculture (WIA)
The WIA program was developed and is implemented at an urban farm site on Genesys’ Health Park campus. The WIA program offers underserved and marginalized women with job training, support to sell their produce in local markets, and other technical support. The farm site will also “serve as a community-based, resource sharing, and educational center for producers and consumers.”
Since April 2016, 14 trainings were conducted and 8 women began growing and selling fresh produce or actively working towards this goal.
Lake Region Healthcare, Minn. (Provide financial support or staff time for a community garden or farm)
Provide financial support or staff time for a community garden or farm in the community. May include providing funding to buy tools, fencing, or other materials to help get a community garden up and running.
Lake Region Healthcare
Fergus Falls, Minn.
Lake Region Takes Root
Lake Region Healthcare staff developed a garden near their walk-in clinic to grow fresh produce and donate the harvest to the local WIC program and community food pantries. Staff dieticians and nutritionist also work with other community partners to provide hands-on learning opportunities.
9,300 lbs. of food were donated in 2016, benefiting over 3,500 individuals.
Fairview Hospital, Mass. (Donate compost to a garden or farm)
Great Barrington, Mass.
Fairview hospital, a regional winner of the Food Recovery Challenge in 2015, partners with Empire Zero Waste who delivers their food scraps to a local farm for composting.1
In 2015 Fairview Hospital composted 30.53 tons of materials from food service operations.
Kaiser Foundation Hospital, Calif. (Lead or fund diet and nutrition education)
Kaiser Foundation Hospital
Los Angeles, Calif.
KFH awarded a community benefit grant for a nutrition education intervention program located at a community garden and tailored to Latino youth.
In 2010 a pilot study found a decrease in body mass index and a decrease in diastolic blood pressure for program participants when compared to a control group.
Memorial Hospital, Ind. (Lead or fund diet and nutrition education)
South Bend, Indiana
Unity Gardens Food and Fun Immersion
Memorial hospital provided funding for Unity Gardens for implementation of a Garden to Plate 8-week cooking class and picnic program for vulnerable community members and a healthy eating and physical activity camp for vulnerable youth. Memorial also assists with evaluation and collecting biophysical indicators.
The garden camp introduced 26 new vegetables to 44 campers in 2016.
The Garden to Plate program attracted 50 people to the picnic in the first week and 70 people in the second week.
Connecting with or establishing a community garden or farm
There are several factors to consider when establishing a community garden or farm. These elements often include local zoning regulations, soil quality, access to water, financial support, infrastructure, and, in the case of urban or other farms, business and market development. It is recommended that hospitals partner when possible with organizations that have the knowledge, resources, and capabilities to address some of these topic areas.
Hospitals may seek partnership from local economic development groups, universities, public health departments, environmental health departments, community food and advocacy organizations, and federal and state-sponsored programs and grants. The following resources provide guidance regarding operational factors, financial resources, and technical support.
- University of Michigan and The Farm at St. Joe’s Farms & Health: A Guide to Farm & Garden Programs in Health Care
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Urban Agriculture Toolkit
- New Orleans Food and Farm Network (NOFFN) Urban Farming Toolkit: A Visual Guide to Getting Your Garden Started
- The Kamloops Food Policy Council, ActNow BC, and True Consulting Group’s Best Practices in Urban Agriculture
- National Conference for State Legislators’ Urban Agriculture State Legislation (examples of some state legislation)
- National Policy and Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity & Change Lab Solutions’ Seeding the City Land Use Policies to Promote Urban Agriculture
Community gardens and farms: Considerations
Local agriculture and environmental health
Local, sustainably grown gardens and farms can mitigate environmental health impacts through practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, use fewer chemical inputs, and regenerate unhealthy soils.
- Composting - Composting is a process that decomposes or recycles organic food scraps into the soil providing multiple ecosystem benefits. One such benefit is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from landfills. Compost also works to improve soil health and can assist in soil’s ability to function as the largest terrestrial pool of carbon.
- Use fewer chemical inputs - Agricultural chemicals, such as pesticides and herbicides, can have multiple negative impacts on community health. Chemical inputs can also disrupt the surrounding natural ecosystem. Alternative, certified organic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides may be used to reduce this negative impact. There are also many chemical-free farming strategies such as rotational farming schemes and polyculture that are viable commercial farming strategies.
- Regenerate damaged soils - Urban agriculture sites may carry lead and other contaminants from past industrial or commercial activities, for example, former parking lots and demolished buildings leave behind chemicals that can pose health risks to humans and the environment. Exhausted or over-treated soils also many have unbalanced chemical compositions. Strategic planting of crops, such as lead mitigating plants and nitrogen-fixing plants, may help restore the balance to soils. Plants used for lead or contaminant mitigation should be disposed of as waste before planting crops for human consumption.
Soil quality, safety, and contamination
There are unique aspects of soil quality, safety, and contamination that community members who are participating in urban gardens and farms must consider. When establishing a new garden or farm, soil tests should be conducted. Urban soils may have an uneven chemical composition hindering the gardeners’ ability to grow healthy fruits and vegetables. Urban soils may also be saturated with contaminants such as lead, petroleum products, and asbestos. To help urban farmers and gardeners mitigate against these potential risks, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future developed a Soil Safety Resource Guide for Urban Food Growers. Another strategy that many project leaders employ is building raised beds, which both eliminates the risk by introducing new soil with a known chemical composition and allows gardens and farms to be developed on infertile land or pavement.
Growing and handling fresh produce safely
The federal government sets standards, conducts inspections, and maintains an enforcement procedure to maintain food safety for retail food outlets that distribute fresh produce, but does not provide the same guidance for community gardens and farms. However, there are many local and state guidelines and resources available for small-scale producers to safely distribute their produce. For example, California’s Department of Food and Agriculture has a certified farmers market program including inspections and requirements for compliance. The following resources provide guidance for safe agricultural practices in the field, handling fruits and vegetables after harvest, and a sample food safety manual.
- University of California Good Agricultural Practices
- National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) Sustainable Agriculture Program Post Harvest Handling of Fruits and Vegetables
- California Small Farm Food Safety Manual
Johns Hopkins’ Center for a Livable Future published a report, Vacant Lots to Vibrant Plots, that reviews the sociocultural, health, environmental, and economic benefits and potential limitations of urban agriculture.