Starting a new university year, I knew I wanted to find an activity that got me outside and meeting new people after months of lockdown. If you’re looking for something that will get you moving, make you new friends, has a flexible time commitment, and even give some fresh produce to chef up at home, then you should get involved with community gardening!
What are community gardens?
These are gardens on a common piece of land that are led by the community and maintained by volunteers. It’s so easy to stay cooped up on campus but getting involved with community gardens is a great way to connect with people outside of the university bubble. They’re a wonderful way to let people pitch in for an afternoon and contribute to a greater planting project. The garden I visit is part of a project called Oxgrow and they give their produce to be cooked up into dishes in their café!
Good for marking friends and getting fresh air!
Community gardens are the perfect places to take friends and have a nice chat over gardening, as well as being great opportunities to meet new like-minded people. For student societies based around conservation and the environment, community gardens are the perfect place to host a practical session. Gardening allows you to collaborate on a meaningful project that doesn’t have to take too much strenuous work. You can drop by whenever you want or sign up for more consistent weekly slots and learn to recognise other regular volunteers. It’s something to get you out of the library and a low stress way to get moving and stay healthy.
Take home some fresh produce!
The joy of community gardens is with everyone helping out, everyone might get a share of the produce! This obviously relies on each garden’s own protocol, some will donate their produce as fresh ingredients or use them for other community based activities, but there’s a high chance you’ll get to nab a few of your favourites. This is likely to change seasonally from beetroot in the autumn to tomatoes in the summer but always guarantees new recipes to be made.
On a broader level, community gardens and growing food locally is great for the planet. The concept of ‘food miles’ tracks the environmental impact of how far food travels to reach your plate (e.g. transport) and clearly shows that the closer to home food is grown, the less it contributes to carbon emissions. By using local ingredients you can also keep an eye on how produce is grown as community gardens often use organic methods. Wonky fruit and vegetables that don’t fit the perfect image set by supermarkets will often get thrown away in the supply chain but if you’re willing to take home an interesting shaped carrot or a wonky tomato from a community garden then you’re also making sure there’s less waste.
Get more involved with your local community!
Often community gardens don’t just allow local produce to be grown fresh all year round, but they also act as a place for the community to gather. As university students, it’s easy to get caught up in the academics so community gardening is a wonderful chance to engage and learn from the local community. Depending on the time of year, you might find seasonal festivals with fun activities to try.
The picture below was taken at a harvest festival on the 31st October and included making your own apple juice, telling stories, and even joining in with some dancing!
So how do I get involved?
If your university has a nature conservation or other environmental based society they can be great for pointing you in the right direction. Otherwise looking up community gardens or using directories such as Farm Garden can help you out. Band some friends together, grab your gardening gloves if you have any on hand, and set out with warm clothes you don’t mind getting dirty!
About the Author: Amy Leung is WILD’s Food & Drink Editor and a second-year geography student at Oxford. She is interested in getting more involved with nature, plant-based diets, and being more eco-friendly at university!