We rely on your tax-deductible donations to support our mission. Donate online →
Most Policy Initiative logo
Browse Research TOPICS

Community Gardens in City Parks

Written by Lindsey Smith
Published on March 28, 2024
Research Highlights


Executive Summary

Community gardens, defined as a piece of land cultivated by a group of people individually or collectively, can improve food security in rural and urban areas, improve health outcomes for all ages, and provide working green spaces within densely urbanized areas. Many communities are establishing community gardens in public parks.


Science Highlights


  • Studies show benefits of community gardens, from improved health outcomes for individuals, enhanced access to fresh food, and increased property values adjacent to the gardens.
  • Community gardens are often located on leased or borrowed property, and loss of land access can result in community garden closures.
  • One way to secure land for community garden spaces is to place it within city parkland (NRPA).
  • The Trust for Public Land’s 2022 survey of the 100 largest cities in the U.S. found that community gardens in parks have increased 44% since 2012 (Trust for Public Lands).




  • Community garden programs are often locally specific in their structure, so lessons learned from case studies may not be transferable to Missouri communities.
  • There is limited quantitative data on outcomes for individuals and communities engaged in community garden programs.
  • Garden infrastructure and management are different in many ways from public parks, which may require a different approach to operations.

Research Background


Columbia, Missouri

In Columbia, MO, the Parks and Recreation department received a 200 acre land donation in the Third Ward in January 2023, with land set aside by request of the donor for community garden plots (Columbia MO City Council Meeting 01/17/2023). Public hearings over the next year will be held about whether community garden space will be included as an amenity when developing this new park for Columbia residents.

Throughout Missouri, there are 207 existing community garden programs, in both urban and rural communities. They are located on vacant lots in cities and rural towns, in schoolyards, on properties of churches and synagogues, and in other public spaces. The Missouri legislature enacted legislation in 2010 to support urban/small-scale agriculture (HB 1848) and the Missouri Department of Agriculture has a small grants program dedicated to supporting urban farming.    Additionally, several municipalities have ordinances specifically supporting community garden initiatives (Kansas City, Springfield, Columbia). 


Impact of Community Gardens


Public Health. Community gardeners interviewed in 2010 rated stress relief as the most important reason for gardening (56%), as well as staying active (50%), and staying healthy (42%) (van den Berg, A., et al., 2010). Direct health outcomes for gardeners and their families have been documented as well. A study of garden participants in 2012 showed that participating in a garden program decreased an individual’s diabetic blood marker from >9% to <7% (Weltin and Lavin, 2012). Another study from 2013 showed a benefit in lowered body mass index (BMI) for community gardeners vs their neighbors: Women community gardeners’ average BMI was 1.48 lower than their neighbors’ BMI, and men community gardeners’ average BMI was 2.52 lower than their neighbors’ (Zick, C. et al 2013).


Community gardens also  enhance community connectivity. In a survey of 300+ community gardeners, most said that they felt their gardens improve their sense of community and have a positive effect on their neighborhoods in engaging diverse populations (Ohmer, 2009). These neighborhood-level relationships can also build resilience to social and ecological challenges (Clarke et al., 2019). 


A study of community gardens in 12 southeastern Missouri counties in 2013 showed that the participants were more likely to meet their daily fruit and vegetable recommendations (consumption of fruit two or more times a day and vegetables three or more times a day) than non-gardeners (Barnidge, et al., 2013). Another study found that adults participating in a community garden increased consumption of fresh vegetables by four times, and youth participants increased consumption three-fold (Carney, et al. 2012).


Community garden plots are considered an important tool in remedying food deserts, defined by the USDA as locations where the distance to full-service supermarkets is more than one mile (urban) or ten miles (rural). In one urban area, community gardens helped to increase sources of fresh food in the city’s core from 12 to 32 options (Wang et al., 2014). In another study, participation in a rural community garden program reduced gardeners’ concerns about food insecurity from 31% to 3% (Carney et al, 2012


In Columbia, the proposed location for the community garden within the newly designated parkland is in a USDA designated ‘food desert’ zone, where many residents are low-income and have limited access to a full-service grocery store (Figure 1,USDA.gov)  A study of food insecurity in Missouri found that 4 out of 5 low income individuals stated that their access to fresh food improved when they participated in a community garden program. (Barnidge et al., 2013) 


Environmental Health. Community gardens also provide significant direct and indirect benefits to the surrounding population and environment. A study of gardens in New York City estimates that community gardens divert approximately 12 million gallons of stormwater annually that would otherwise run into the sewer system (Gittleman et al., 2016). Green space provided by 10,000 community gardens over the past ten years has trapped 190,000 tons of carbon, offsetting about one year's worth of carbon emissions for 30,400 Americans (Okvat and Zautra, 2011). Urban green space, including parks and gardens, reduces temperatures attributed to the Urban Heat Island Effect by as much as 10% (Aram et al., 2019). Indirectly, growing food in the community means less reliance on food transportation from faraway regions and less energy spent storing and cooling produce for long distances, as well as opportunities for composting scraps that otherwise end up in landfills (Okvat and Zautra, 2011).


The Third Ward of Columbia has a population of 21,000, and neighborhoods there will be the most impacted by this new proposed greenspace (Figure 1). However, the land donation and preservation as green space will impact the entire population of Columbia MO (pop 126,000) since the proposed park and gardens are in the floodplain of the Hinkson Creek, Columbia’s largest watershed (CoMo.gov). One recent study showed that an increase of one km in urban greenspace in a floodplain has been estimated to save up to $44,000 in financial damages from flooding (Kim, 2021). 


Fig 1. Columbia MO Third Ward and food access points. 

The dotted line defines Columbia’s 3rd Ward city council district. The yellow overlay identifies qualified low income census tracts. The grocery cart icons show full service grocery stores, all of which are more than one half mile from the qualified low income area around the proposed park. Click here to explore the interactive map.


Sustainability Challenges for Community Gardens


While individuals, neighborhoods, and the environment can experience substantial benefits from community gardens, there are a number of challenges to keeping a community garden program supported in the long run. Sustainability of gardens is a consistent problem, because many community gardens are established on vacant property that is available for other development at any time. One survey of Canadian and U.S. community gardens found that programs cited loss of land as the cause of a garden’s closure 59% of the time (Drake et. al 2015). In a survey of 50 community garden locations in the U.S., over half expressed concern about the future of their gardening space (Guitart et al, 2012). 


Community Gardens in City Parks: Precedents and Possibilities


Nationally, there are more than 29,000 garden plots in city parks — up 22% from 2021 (Trust for Public Lands). The National Recreation and Parks Association profiles two examples in its handbook on best practices in establishing gardens in city parks (NRPA). They include the Victory Garden located under the Miami Beach Parks and Recreation in Florida and several community gardens run by the City of Sacramento, CA, Parks and Recreation department. In each of these cases, the Parks and Recreation departments provided the land on city property and initial start-up support. The gardens are often managed by community-led groups. In Missouri, the Kansas City non-profit, KCCG, maintains a garden located in Swope Park which is part of the Kansas City Parks and Recreation system. In Blue Springs, MO, the community gardens in Central Park are administered directly by the city.


Community gardens could enhance the overall value of parkland, since several studies show that property values tend to increase in areas surrounding community gardens, typically by >10% (Cochran and Minaker, 2020). Parks themselves are associated with a 10-20% increase in property value for nearby homeowners (Crompton, 2001). In the city of Seattle, as the city’s budget for park maintenance and operations has decreased, community gardens’ integration into parks has reduced staffing pressures since the garden sites are maintained predominantly by gardeners rather than Parks crew (Hou and Grohmann, 2018).    


[1] See MOST Science Note on Food Insecurity and Urban Agriculture

[2] See MOST Community Note on Urban Heat Islands and Climate Change



Aram, F., et al. (2019). Urban green space cooling effect in cities. Heliyon 5, 4. 



Barnidge, E.K., Hipp, P.R., Estlund, A. et al. (2013) Association between community garden 

participation and fruit and vegetable consumption in rural Missouri. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 10, 128. https://doi.org/10.1186/1479-5868-10-128


Carney PA, Hamada JL, Rdesinski R, Sprager L, Nichols KR, Liu BY, Pelayo J, Sanchez MA, 

Shannon J. (2012) Impact of a community gardening project on vegetable intake, food security and family relationships: a community-based participatory research study. J Community Health. 37(4):874-81. doi: 10.1007/s10900-011-9522-z. 


Clarke, L.W., Jenerette, G.D. Biodiversity and direct ecosystem service regulation in the 

community gardens of Los Angeles, CA. Landscape Ecol 30, 637–653 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-014-0143-7


Clarke, M. & Davidson, M. & Egerer, M. & Anderson, E. & Fouch (2019). The underutilized 

role of community gardens in improving cities’ adaptation to climate change: a review. 

People, Place and Policy Online. 12. 241-251. 10.3351/ppp.2019.3396732665. 


Cochran, Susie & Minaker, Leia. (2020). The value in community gardens: A return on 

investment analysis. Canadian Food Studies / La Revue canadienne des études sur 

l'alimentation. 7. 126-149. 10.15353/cfs-rcea.v7i1.332. 


Crompton, John. (2007) The role of the proximate principle in the emergence of urban parks in 

the United Kingdom and in the United States. Leisure Studies, 26:2, 213-234, DOI: 



Drake, L. & Lawson, L. (2015). Results of a US and Canada community garden survey: shared 

challenges in garden management amid diverse geographical and organizational 

contexts. Agriculture and Human Values. 32. 10.1007/s10460-014-9558-7. 


Gittleman, M. et al. (2017). Estimating stormwater runoff for community gardens in New York 

City. Urban Ecosystems. 20. 10.1007/s11252-016-0575-8. 


 Guitart D., Pickering, C., Byrne, J. (2012). Past results and future directions in urban community 

gardens research. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. 11: 4. 364-373. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2012.06.007.


Harmon, L. and Harrington, L. (n.d.). Grow Your Park Initiative. National Recreation and Park 





Hou, J. &  D. Grohmann (2018). Integrating community gardens into urban parks: Lessons in 

planning, design and partnership from Seattle. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 33: 

46-55. doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2018.05.007.


Kim, H.  (2021). Analyzing green space as a flooding mitigation – storm Chaba case in South 

Korea. Geomatics, Natural Hazards and Risk, 12:1, 1181-1194, DOI: 



Kordon, Sinan & Miller, Patrick & Bohannon, Cermetrius. (2022). Attitudes and Perceptions of 

Community Gardens: Making a Place for Them in Our Neighborhoods. Land. 11. 1762. 



Middle, I. et al. (2014). Integrating community gardens into public parks: An innovative 

approach for providing ecosystem services in urban areas. Urban Forestry & Urban 

Greening 13:4. 638-645. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2014.09.001.


Ohmer, M. L. & Meadowcroft, P. & Freed, K. & Lewis, E. (2009). Community gardening and 

community development: Individual, social and community benefits of a community 

conservation program. Journal of Community Practice. 17. 377-399. 



Okvat HA, Zautra AJ. Community gardening: a parsimonious path to individual, community, 

and environmental resilience. Am J Community Psychol. 2011 Jun;47(3-4):374-87. doi: 

10.1007/s10464-010-9404-z. PMID: 21222153.


van den Berg, A. E., van Winsum-Westra, M., de Vries, S., & van Dillen, S. M. (2010). Allotment 

gardening and health: a comparative survey among allotment gardeners and their 

neighbors without an allotment. Environmental health : a global access science source, 9, 74. 



Wang, H., Qiu, F., Swallow, B. (2014) Can community gardens and farmers' markets relieve 

food desert problems? A study of Edmonton, Canada. Applied Geography. 55: 127-137.



Weltin AM, Lavin RP. (2012) The effect of a community garden on HgA1c in diabetics of 

Marshallese descent. J Community Health Nurs. 29(1):12-24. doi: 

10.1080/07370016.2012.645724. PMID: 22313182.


Zick, C. D., Smith, K. R., Kowaleski-Jones, L., Uno, C., & Merrill, B. J. (2013). Harvesting more 

than vegetables: the potential weight control benefits of community gardening. American journal of public health, 103(6), 1110–1115. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2012.301009

Most Policy Initiative logo
238 E High St., 3rd Floor
Jefferson City, MO 65101
© 2024 MOST Policy Initiative | Website design and development by Pixel Jam Digital
Privacy Policy
chevron-down linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram