With warmer weather on its way, the South once again flourishes with the beautiful, vibrant colors of spring, and explodes in an eye-reddening cloud of pollen. For some, this isn’t our most favorite time of the year: sakes, it’s hard to enjoy a world so gorgeous when it’s simultaneously trying to kill you. Yet, we still load ourselves with allergy pills and nasal spray to get out there and find ways to enjoy all that natural beauty; one great way to do so is to visit one of Gwinnett County’s community gardens, where locals come together to grow and cultivate a wide variety of fresh greens.
But what’s the big deal? You see them all over the place, what does it matter to you? Who puts them together, anyhow?
On the baseline, the Marin Master Gardeners describe community gardens as “any piece of land gardened by a group of people, utilizing either individual or shared plots on private or public land.” These gardens range from tiny street planters or small “victory gardens” cultivated by private residences, to larger greening projects taken on to preserve natural areas. The county itself is home to numerous working gardens, partly thanks to the efforts of Live Healthy Gwinnett’s “Harvest Gwinnett” program.
Launched in 2019, the Harvest Gwinnett initiative set out with three main goals: connect community members through hands-on environmental education, plant fresh produce to improve resident food access and nurture engagement opportunities that would lead to improved health outcomes. In partnership with Gwinnett Parks and Recreation, the program maintains and operates three community gardens in Lawrenceville, Snellville and Norcross. With a need for fresh food on the rise, garden share-rows are harvested and donated back to Gwinnett residents, further partnering alongside human services, cooperative ministries and housing authorities to implement nutrition education and food distribution programs that work towards alleviating the county’s food insecurity. In addition, each garden offers individual 4’x8’ plots that residents may rent, seed and maintain on an annual lease.
Aside from feeding and connecting the community, a public garden comes with obvious environmental advantages. Harvest Gwinnett hopes to attack the national shortage of pollinators by integrating an assemblage of pollinating species to the gardens, both improving crop yields and promoting overall ecological betterment. Katie DeMuro of Greenleaf Communities writes that keeping a garden helps improve air and soil quality, increases biodiversity, improves water filtration, positively impacts the climate and decreases neighborhood waste through composting.
And there’s a health benefit, too. According to Harvest Gwinnett and the CDC, maintaining a community garden can help improve one’s overall wellbeing: they decrease mental and physical stress levels, while enhancing mobility, socialization and community impact. DeMuro further advocates these benefits, stating that it can increase one’s physical activity and access to fresh foods, while also reducing risks for obesity and obesity-related diseases.
So if you can get past all the extra pollen, these community gardens may be a pretty square deal after all. If you’re interested in gardening but aren’t confident in your green thumb, Harvest Gwinnett offers a variety of volunteer and education activities that can help you get started. Though, if you’re like the author, you may just want to up your Zyrtec dosage beforehand.
*To volunteer or learn more, contact HarvestGwinnett@GwinnettCounty.com.