Perspectives Online

Cooperative Extension, Public Health partner on community gardener primer

A new guide to community gardening -- developed by three North Carolina Cooperative Extension specialists, a nutritionist with the state’s Division of Public Health and two graduate students from UNC-Chapel Hill -- will provide communities with tools to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables, strengthen neighborhood groups and increase physical activity through gardening.

The gardening primer, “Growing Communities through Gardens,” was published by Eat Smart, Move More North Carolina and the North Carolina Community Garden Partners, a coalition of agencies seeking to promote community gardening. The primer is available as a free download on the Web at or

The primer provides information on how to find or develop a garden and how to prepare, preserve and store produce. It became available as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack declared Aug. 23-29 as “Community Gardening Week,” and September is “National Fruits & Veggies – More Matters” month.

Dr. Lucy Bradley, Extension specialist in urban horticulture in N.C. State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and one of the primer’s authors, said that there is growing interest in developing community gardens in North Carolina. In June 2008, more than 60 people from around the state attended a community gardens workshop at N.C. State’s JC Raulston Arboretum, while N.C. Community Garden Partners has 80 North Carolina community gardens registered on its Web site.

Reasons for increased interest in community gardens include improving food security, increasing access to local foods and renewed consumer interest in raising one’s own food, Bradley said.

“Community gardening is the perfect setting for integrating much of what Cooperative Extension does,” said Dr. Susan Jakes, extension specialist in family and community development. Community gardens bring together those with interest and expertise in food and nutrition, community development, agricultural education, youth development, environmental education, science and math education, and horticulture, she said.

Community gardens have many positive impacts. Jakes says that those who grow fruits and vegetables are more willing to try healthy foods that are new to them. And urban community gardens can help fill “food deserts” where fresh produce is hard to come by. Gardening provides opportunities for exercise, as well as time in fresh air and sunlight, Bradley says.

Gardens build communities by connecting people and bringing down barriers. Gardens with an international flavor can provide opportunities for experiencing other cultures through their native foods, Jakes says.

Gardens also are a healthy way to help deal with the obesity crisis, a significant issue in North Carolina and throughout the United States, said primer coordinator Diane Beth, nutrition manager for the Physical Activity and Nutrition Branch, N.C. Division of Public Health.

“Community gardens can help communities support people in making healthier food and activity choices,” Beth said. “Community gardens provide people with extra fruits and vegetables and help them to move more – both of which are important for preventing chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.”

Dr. Keith Baldwin, horticulture specialist with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Program, N.C. A&T State University, is also an author of the primer. Baldwin has received a five-year grant to develop three “hub gardens” that will provide education and assistance to other community gardens within a region.

“Creating community gardens is truly an integrated, multidisciplinary and holistic effort that encourages collaboration between university faculty and agency partners focused on improving peoples’ lives,” Baldwin said.

Nilam Dave and Melissa Nelson, graduate interns from the UNC-CH Department of Nutrition, were also instrumental in developing the primer.

N.C. Cooperative Extension, with centers in all 100 counties and based at both N.C. State and N.C. A&T State universities, has been involved in the community garden movement for several years.

For more information on community gardens, contact your local county extension center by visiting and selecting “County Centers.”-- Natalie Hampton