The benefits of Community Growing projects are well recognised now. The list below was prepared by Scottish Government in 2019 to encourage Scottish Councils to support community growing.
- Community growing can provide a good source of environmentally sound, healthy, locally sourced food and make this more readily available to local people.
- The option for people to grow their own food to supplement the buying of produce from retail outlets should offer them monetary savings. For example, an experienced allotment holder succeeded in producing 298kg of fruit and vegetables from his 200 square metre plot in one year, which is calculated to be sufficient to provide the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables for a family of 4 for over 6 months;
Health & Wellbeing
- Fruit and vegetable consumption increases when people are involved in community growing, as evidenced by a 2008 survey where participants reported that household members involved in community gardening consumed 40% more fruit and vegetables per day than those who did not, and they were 3.5 times more likely to consume the recommended 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day;
- Diets are seen to improve and people acknowledge that they eat more healthily when they are involved in growing their own food;
- Gardening activities can provide low-impact exercise and improve physical health and can be a more sustainable form of exercise than when the exercise itself is the primary driver;
- Community growing can lower stress levels, offer mental health benefits and a supportive social environment, where growers view the growing space as a “safe” space where they can relax and unwind from the stresses of other parts of their lives;
- Creating green space in built up areas improves air quality and provides recreational opportunities that encourage socialising, decrease isolation and lead to improved confidence and self-esteem;
- GPs and healthcare professionals can consider social prescribing to connect people to non-medical sources of support and resources in the community, for example a GP or healthcare professional might consider it appropriate to prescribe gardening-related activity to improve the health and wellbeing of the individual;
- Horticultural therapy through community growing can provide wide-ranging health-related benefits to ease suffering and promote recovery from illness. Such therapy can, for example, help to reduce physical pain, assist with rehabilitation and recovery, and alleviate the symptoms of dementia.
- Community food-growing spaces and food-growing can contribute to, and benefit, the environment and improve the quality of life for local residents, for example by addressing areas prone to anti-social behaviour, cleaning up blight sites and fly-tipping sites, revitalising unused spaces or bringing vacant or derelict land back into use.
- A sense of community is encouraged when people participate in food growing activities;
- Access to community growing spaces can help to encourage more vulnerable people to get involved in local food-growing, and many growing spaces can evidence a reduction in isolation and loneliness for those taking part, for example through organised social activities such as dances and barbeques that occur periodically;
- Community growing can offer “social horticulture”, where the outcome is to be socially inclusive and involve client groups (such as those with dependency problems, or immigrants or migrants) who may otherwise feel socially excluded;
- Community growing spaces can offer volunteering opportunities, events and festivals throughout the year;
- Community growing spaces can improve biodiversity and, when linked with other greenspaces, create important green corridors for wildlife, particularly if green hedging (and indigenous hedging such as hawthorn) is used in place of fencing;
- Although the food-growing strategy is intended for food growing for human consumption, there can be many benefits to biodiversity gained during that process. The authority’s food-growing strategy will also help to meet the requirement for them to further the conservation of biodiversity by helping to meet the objectives of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and Local Biodiversity Action Plans, as well as the Pollinator Strategy for Scotland;
- The Pollinator Strategy for Scotland 2017-2027 sets out how Scotland can continue to be a place where pollinators thrive, along with actions that are needed to help achieve that objective;
- Community growing sites also provide educational and Citizen Science opportunities to work in partnership with Local Biodiversity Action Plan partners such as Local Record Centres undertaking the recording of bees, butterflies etc.;
- Community growing can mean enhanced space and habitat for wildlife, such as through planting to attract pollinators or companion planting on the grow- your-own site; there are many examples of positive steps taken on community growing sites to encourage biodiversity;
- Community growing sites can help to alleviate climate change through good soil management and appropriate ground cover management via healthy and appropriate plant cover. Growing methodologies such as forest gardening can also offer such opportunities;
- Community food growing spaces contribute to mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change through carbon reduction and sustainable design. Other sustainability benefits can be considerable, such as reduction in air miles, reduction in carbon emissions and improvements to air quality through locally grownfood;
- Carbon emissions (including reducing energy use, more sustainable transport and less waste) can be reduced by between 2kg and 5kg of carbon equivalent for every kilogram of vegetable produced;
- People can be encouraged to contribute towards making Scotland a Low Carbon country and aid climate change mitigation in many other ways, including buying or growing local seasonal foods rather than purchasing exotic foods from supermarkets and so reducing food miles;
Recycling & Food Waste
- Community growing can lead to a reduction in food waste through composting and reduced food packaging, contributing to the national and local zero waste agenda, and help to meet the food waste reduction target;
- People are also less likely to waste the food that they grow, and are more likely to put grow-your-own waste into the compost, thereby returning nutrients to the soil;
- Many community growing projects have an ethos of upcycling and can be exemplars of inventive uses of what otherwise may be waste products, e.g. pallets, scaffolding planks, food waste, etc.;
Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems
- Community food growing spaces can also make positive contributions to sustainable drainage through the permeable surfaces of food growing spaces and the harvesting of rainwater;
- An organic approach to community growing can help to reverse soil degradation. Reversing this trend will help to address the loss of organic matter from the soil, reduce soil compaction and erosion, and help to reverse the trend in mineral decline in vegetables;
- Some soil management methods, such as regenerative agriculture – including “no tillage” and avoiding the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers which contribute to the release of greenhouse gas – help to enhance and sustain the health of the soil by restoring and increasing carbon content. Such methods may also help to produce greater quantities and more nutritious produce. By avoiding tilling the soil, this will help to stop exposure of so much soil to the air which avoids the decay of organisms in the soil which would reduce soil quality, in addition to releasing carbon into the air. Research has also indicated higher quality soil on a GYO site compared to its surrounding agricultural land;
Education & Training
- One of the eight Curriculum for Excellence areas allows children to learn about health and wellbeing matters to ensure that they acquire skills to live healthy, happy lives;
- Community growing can contribute to learning. People working in a community growing environment learn techniques, such as organic techniques, which they can then apply
- People involved in community growing can benefit from a therapeutic learning environment through which they gain insights into themselves as well as transferable life skills;
- Food growing programmes in schools can have positive impacts on pupil nutrition and attitudes towards healthy eating, specifically related to the willingness to try new foods; and allows pupils to learn about their natural environment, how to grow and harvest food, and to be less wasteful of natural resources.
- Food growing programmes in schools might offer useful opportunities for school holiday clubs, and would allow children to become involved in more gardening activities, such as harvesting their fruit and vegetables during their summer holidays;
- Food growing spaces provide a learning environment, where young and old can learn about a wide range of topics, including: Biodiversity; Food origins; Skills to grow-your-own; Botany; Climatology; Cookery; Geography; Recycling/upcycling; Local history, for example when a former industrial area of land is brought back into use.
- Taking part in community growing activities can develop ‘soft’ skills such as communication skills, problem solving, team working etc. that increase employability. This will support the local economy indirectly by preparing more people for employment;
- Community growing spaces can provide a wealth of educational opportunities, both informal and formal, whether it be through hosting horticultural training courses, to more informal learning about biodiversity or communication skills;
- Community farms and gardens tend to spend grant money locally, such as through buying local goods or services, or by employing local people, and on occasions secure funding to employ staff or to pay volunteers’ expenses; and therefore may help to bring in jobs to a local area;
- If the lease terms allow, selling excess produce and generating local business from produce grown on grow-your-own sites (excluding produce grown on an allotment site which is grown not-for-profit) will have a positive impact on the local community through the purchase of local goods and services, such as hiring local contractors and buying local goods and services, and may aid job creation;
- From selling fruit and vegetables to value added products like jams and chutneys, on a not-for-profit basis (if the lease terms allow), and providing training and continuing personal development opportunities, community growing can help to contribute to the local economy and encourage enterprising activity;
Social Return On Investment
- A 2011 social return on investment (SROI) study of community gardens has shown that for every £1 invested by funders, £3.56 of social value was returned. This study sought to measure benefits such as significant positive changes to stakeholders, including volunteers and local people, involved in or visiting community gardens;
- A similar SROI study from 2012 of the social return from investing in a horticultural training and community growing facility shows that for every £1 invested around £9 of community benefits was returned through benefits such as new skills;