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Community gardens have a place in improving public health

By Mark Mahoney

The Community Gardening Network, a project of Sustainable Tallahassee [Florida] in partnership with the IFAS/Leon County Extension Services participated in the recent 2019 Farm Tour by holding four community garden fall workshops/open houses.  These included the following gardens:

  • iGrow-Tallahassee Food Network Community Garden
  • Havana Community Garden on US 27 outside Havana
  • Macon Community Garden
  • Pumpkin Place on Harriett Drive, Tallahassee

Some of the scheduled workshops at these gardens included:

  • Composting
  • Crop Rotation
  • Cover Crops for All Seasons
  • Seeding and Transplanting Fall Crops
A group discussion at the iGrow-TFN Community Garden on Dent Street. (Photo: Mark Mahoney)

Community garden benefits
Community gardens allow individuals to grow their own food with greater control over the environment and inputs utilized in the growing process. It empowers us to enhance our own lives and physical environment while increasing access to fresh produce and allowing us to enjoy outdoor space.  

Other benefits can include an increased sense of community while getting to know our neighbors better. We can improve our individual health through consuming healthy produce as well as undertaking physical activity, working outdoors.

Community gardens have come a long way
The Havana Community Garden was established in 2009 and has formed a relationship with the city of Havana. Linda McCarthy, a member who is instrumental in the functioning of this garden, describes it. “The Havana Community Garden came into existence in the fall of 2009 and was started by local community gardeners as a means of providing community garden space for use by local residents. Currently, there are 46 individual 15-foot x 15-foot garden plots available for annual leasing at $30 each.

All plots are fenced, mulched and have access to a shared water spigot. The city of Havana supplies the water and some maintenance and administrative support. It also handles the money paid for plot rentals and the land is leased by a private family to the city.”

Partial view inside the Havana Community Garden (Photo: Mark Mahoney)

Gardens bring people together
Community gardens in schools provide outdoor classroom space to explore not only nutrition but other aspects of science.  As a member of the team that established the Southwood Community Garden as well as a long-time organic gardener and public health specialist, the benefits of participating in community and school gardens cannot be underestimated, both in the physical and emotional areas.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity while my son was attending the Florida State University Schools (FSUS) to volunteer in the school garden and work with the 2nd and 3rd-grade students, something I continue to reflect upon with fond memories.I feel that fostering the interest of this age-group can be instrumental in forming a life-long interest in growing food and nutrition.

Sundiata Ameh-El, Miaisha Mitchell and Melanie Marques work together to pull collard greens from the vegetable bed at IGrow, a Frenchtown community garden set up to foster local youth volunteer development and fresh produce for an area considered to be a food desert.  (Photo: Joe Rondone/Democrat)

For additional information on sustainability, gardening & related topics check out the following agencies & organizations:
Sustainable Tallahassee:
Leon County Extension Office (UF/IFAS): and
Damayan Garden Project:
Community Gardens of Havana:
iGrow-Whatever You Like:

The City of Tallahassee and Leon County also provide start-up grants for community gardens in our area.

Mark Mahoney, Ph.D.

Mark A. Mahoney, Ph.D. has been a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist for over 35 years and completed graduate studies in Nutrition & Public Health at Columbia University. He is a columnist for the Tallahassee Democrat and can be reached at

2 thoughts on “Community gardens have a place in improving public health

  1. Great piece… I have been part of the community garden movement since I was a little kid and helped my grandmother start one with neighbors in the late 1940’s after WWll . You may recall, if you are old enough, they were then called Victory Gardens. Food was expensive, money was tight and many folks had a backyard garden. We started a veggie exchange. In the late 60’s as a student in Boston, I worked in the renowned, venerable Fens gardens in the Back Bay of the CIty of Boston. It was a true coop and provided much food for city folks for many years. And probably still is… In Portland, Oregon in the 1980’s, I took part in the movement developing areas in the city for garden expansion and grew my first artichokes there! In Davis,California, my husband and I had a garden plot four years, we walked or biked to it and it continues to be a successful project. My last project was in my hometown Talent, Oregon (near the CA border) where students and teachers got permission to turn a parking lot into a large school /community garden. I was there last month and students were actively harvesting in October, learning about nutrition and “growing your own”! There is even a CG project in an inner city QUito neighborhood I have read about ! Here’s to the cg movement!

  2. I lived in Reston, VA for 28 years where there were multiple community gardens for rent in a similar basis. Then in Charlotte, NC another woman and I organized a free one on an unused large piece of property owned by a socially and environmentally aware Church.

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