The Value of Community Gardens

These days, you needn’t look to far flung rural fields or hundred-acre farms to find food growing. Chances are, there’s food growing right in your neighborhood. Community gardens have been popping up more and more as the rise of urban agriculture piques the interest of professional and novice growers alike.

So, what’s all the fuss about? Community gardens add great value to neighborhoods by bringing people together, providing food security, partnering with local schools, and increasing curb appeal that may attract future home buyers (potentially making things easier for home sellers). Let’s take a look at how community gardens work, and why they’re valuable:

How Do Community Gardens Work?

Community gardens have been around forever, but gained mainstream popularity in recent years as people become more concerned about food security and food quality.

Today’s consumers want to know where their food comes from and how it grows. And those living in food deserts (further than 10 miles from a supermarket) often turn to community gardening as a way to gather their own fresh food in the absence of nearby affordable and healthy grocery stores.

It takes a lot of work, but anyone can start a community garden, provided they have a chunk of land,  permission to grow food on it, and a few helping hands. Organization differs from project to project, but often garden managers will organize teams of helpers and volunteers to plant, harvest, and water on a set schedule so the gardens stay well-maintained.

Once the community garden is established, growers can choose if they want to expand into an operation that sells at local markets, distribute the harvest amongst those who contributed to it or donate it to a local cause. There are many different models for success, it all depends on the goals of those involved and which benefits of community gardening growers choose to focus on.

Benefits of Community Gardens

Speaking of benefits, there are many. And whether you have a green thumb or not, the positive effect of community gardens can impact you.

For starters, local urban agricultural efforts are good for your neighborhood. A study by Ioan Voicu and Vicki Been through New York University’s Furman Center found that community gardens have a positive impact on neighboring property values, especially in low-income neighborhoods.

“We find that the opening of a community garden has a statistically significant positive impact on the sales prices of properties within 1,000 feet of the garden and that the impact increases over time,” Voicu and Been write. “Higher-quality gardens have the greatest positive impact. We also find that gardens have the greatest impact in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Finally, a simple cost-benefit analysis suggests that the gain in tax revenue generated by community gardens in the 1,000-foot ring may be substantial.”

When comparing home values, future buyers may recognize the increased intangible value of a home that’s near a community garden and choose to buy accordingly. Millennial home buyers, especially, are likely to value the presence of local urban agriculture. It may not directly boost housing prices, but it may help attract potential buyers.

Since “going green” is one of the best home improvements an owner can make, community gardens can set one home or neighborhood apart from the rest. Any good list of home staging tips includes working on outdoor spaces and making them shine, so homeowners looking to sell can benefit from this research about community gardens, too.

Picture this: You’re a prospective homebuyer who’s attending an open house. You’ve seen five properties already, and things are beginning to blend together. What makes one home stand out from the rest?

The presence of green space overflowing with food catches your eye. You likely won’t forget a neighborhood or property with good curb appeal in a sea of listings and endless open houses.

Finding Success in the Dirt

Sometimes, community gardens turn into something bigger and positively affect not just a few  neighborhood folks, but a greater population of people.

Take the San Diego School District, for example. Students at Rosa Parks Elementary School enjoy a community garden right at their school that they can eat and learn from. They even created a school farmer’s market and often send extra produce home with students and their families, many of whom live below the poverty line and wouldn’t otherwise have access to fresh, healthy food. Students learn healthy habits, gardening skills, contribute to the food security of their community, and build connections with each other.

Whether you want to pursue a wide reach with your garden or simply try to grow food for yourself and your neighbors, these organizations offer inspiration and illustrate the power of a group of people united in growing food for health and happiness.

Bringing Permaculture to Your Local Community

Permaculture is the concept of working with systems that already exist in nature. These systems are both sustainable and self-sufficient. Permaculture doesn’t just apply to farming and gardening, it applies to culture and connections, too.

Community gardens that apply the principles of permaculture have the added benefit of creating lasting personal connections between the people involved. There’s nothing that brings people together quite like spending hours weeding a garden, or sharing a meal cooked entirely from the produce grown in a community effort.

In addition to personal connections made, community members involved in local gardening often see an increase in health because they’re eating more vegetables and developing healthier eating habits.

If you’re considering starting a community garden, there are a few things to keep in mind. Just like any home or neighborhood improvement project, it’s good to be realistic about your abilities and know when you can do it yourself and when you might need some professional help to get going.

Make sure you know your goals before you begin, and identify different ways people can contribute, from physical labor to funding the start-up costs. Whatever your model is, remember this: Communities who work together to meet a common goal are often happier and healthier. Consider investing in a community garden to reap these benefits and a harvest!


Sustainable Communities: A Key to Happiness?

When you begin doing your research for purchasing a new home, investigating the health and sustainability of a particular community may be the key to setting yourself up for long-term happiness. Likewise, if you are putting your home on the market, sharing the intangible factors that make up your current neighborhood can be major selling points in getting the asking price that you’re looking for.

What Is Happiness?

Happiness within a community can be defined as an overall sense of well being. It includes having a sense of inclusion, protection, security, and purpose. The location of your home often determines the likelihood of finding a community that suits you and your family. Asking the right questions before purchasing a new home, or offering certain details in your posting when selling your home, can be major attractants for buyers. When selling your home, these factors can also determine your asking price, and how long it might sit on the market.

There are elements that can be easily researched for peace of mind, such as crime rates and emergency response times, but there are a bevy of other factors that can only be discovered by spending time in the neighborhood. It may be of value to know how often, if ever, there are neighborhood block parties, if your preferred place of worship is nearby, or if there are committees or neighborhood organizations that you can join to give back to others. When you participate in the activities that make up a healthy neighborhood, it serves as a mirror and that happiness reflects back upon you.

Common Traits of Healthy Communities

Ties between your lifestyle and your environment are the equation to your perceived health of a community. Whether you are looking at purchasing a vacation home or your first home, there are common traits that you will want to look for before making a purchase.


Sustainability can be defined as nurturing the economic and environmental health, as well as social equity for a prolonged amount of time. There are many elements that play into building the foundation of a sustainable community, like everyone would be expected to do their part to protect the air and water quality, and moderate efficient land use. Members would contribute to the economic health of the area and aim to provide a healthy lifestyle for all that live within the community — no matter their age, gender or ethnicity. At the very core of it, sustainability is ensuring that the location of your home contributes to your own happiness, as well as others.

Sustainability isn’t achievable without a group of members who are engaged and committed to certain shared values and goals. Sustainability efforts may be the feature that helps turn a neighborhood into a true community, and the glue that keeps that community together. If an HOA or neighborhood charter mentions things like sustainability initiatives, that may hint at a deeper link between the homes in the area.

Value of Education

If your family has school-aged children, proximity to quality school districts is going to rank high on your list. A sustainable community should foster their education system and invest in their younger generations. The World Happiness Index lists six key variables that have been found to support the well being of sustainable communities, and two major aspects are social support and income. Educated populations are less likely to be unemployed, and more likely to make a higher income than those that receive less than a high school diploma. When you are not stressed about your level of income, it contributes to elevating your level of happiness.

The support of your community is needed to ensure that appropriate funding is offered to the local school district by encouraging them to vote on education issues. By making a choice to move to a location that places value in education, you can aid in providing your children with a key to happiness.

Food Quality

An organization researched the areas in the world that had the longest life expectancy, and to uncover the commonalities that these places had — one of which turned out to be eating a mostly plant-based diet. Nearly 23.5 million people in the United States live in a food desert (further than 10 miles from a supermarket). The result of this can be a diet that consists of mostly pre-packaged, processed foods.

When researching the location of your home for purchasing or selling purposes, consider the locale and access to fresh foods. Healthy neighborhoods thrive when they are in close proximity to local farmer markets, community gardens and have access to grocery stores that carry local and organic products.

Bringing Sustainability to Your Neighborhood

Consider doing a self-evaluation of your own home to explore what you can do to contribute to the sustainability of your community. Start with the exterior of your home. Design your front yard to be both aesthetically pleasing, as well as environmentally friendly. This may mean giving your curb-appeal a facelift and some new landscaping. Landscaping to fit the climate of your local area will require you to think outside the box of a plush, green lawn.

Many areas throughout the western United States have been experiencing drought and cannot support the water usage needed to keep yards from turning brown and yellow as temperatures rise in the summer. If you are particularly attached to having a large green lawn, compromise by reducing the amount of grass you maintain. Your yard could possibly be the one that sets an example for others when you adopt xeriscaping with native perennial plants. Replacing areas of your yard with plants will greatly reduce the amount of water needed to keep your yard healthy and thriving while also adding abundant and vibrant color.

If you have a natural green thumb, contribute your talents by giving back to your neighborhood and establishing a community garden. It is a natural way to get your healthy community moving while offering a plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables. This can be done in a local park, an unused lot or by simply replacing the grass in your front yard with raised beds for others to access.

What makes a happy and healthy neighborhood is determined by your own set of core values. Doing your due diligence when purchasing a home can ensure you find not just the ideal property, but a community to call “home.” And for sellers, offering the right information can be what sets your house apart from other homeowners and draws the right buyer to your home.

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Check Out the Neighborhood Before Buying a House

Imagine that you are an eager home hunter who can’t believe your luck. The newly listed property you are touring exceeds all the criteria on your wish list: It’s sparkling clean with every amenity you desire. The price is right, too.

But you step outside to take in the surroundings. It’s pickup time at the busy grade school across the street, which is next to a cemetery. Beyond the back deck, there’s a tangle of overhead power lines, but you still are able to see and hear the roar of planes circling before they land at a nearby airport.

Now picture the same house on a peaceful cul-de-sac. Children tend a lemonade stand across the street, while friendly neighbors wave hello as they collect the mail. Charming stores and restaurants are a short walk away. Ready to make an offer?

“Context is everything in real estate,” said Allyson Hoffman, a Re/Max agent who works in the north and northwest suburbs. Hoffman’s 27 years of experience have taught her that location is one of the most critical factors in a home search because it’s permanent.

Outdated kitchens are routinely gutted and outfitted with new cabinets and appliances. Dingy basements become cozy rec rooms with the addition of carpeting and drywall. But the shopping center across the street is likely to stay put, and there’s little a homeowner can do to change that.

“Location is largely a matter of how it makes the client feel to be in that particular place,” Hoffman said, noting that while many home hunters want trees on their property, others feel isolated in a wooded location.

When looking for a place to put down roots, homeowners do seem to have some clear preferences. They want great neighborhoods close to work. In the National Association of Realtors’ 2010 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, based on survey results from over 8,000 buyers and sellers across the country, buyers ranked quality of neighborhood (64 percent) and convenience to job (49 percent) as the most important considerations when selecting a place to live.

Convenience to friends and family, quality of the school district, and proximity to shopping and leisure activities also topped the list. Seven percent of buyers sought homes close to public transportation.

That makes sense to Realtor Mary Bremer, of Keller Williams Realty in Glen Ellyn, who has seen the importance of sticking close to work and other frequented places when making a home purchase. People who move to the Chicago area for the first time or those who leave the city for a house in the suburbs often underestimate commutes and then quickly tire of time spent in the car, she said. Escalating gas prices only add to their woes.

That can spark buyer’s remorse, with homeowners deciding to cut their losses and find a new house closer to work or public transportation. To avoid this situation, Bremer advises buyers to clock their potential commutes during different times of the day before putting in an offer. “But I can only say so much,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s their pick.”

In addition to work, homebuyers also factor in play when making a purchase, the Realtors’ survey shows. Seventeen percent of respondents desired a home close to parks and recreational activities.

Leisure factors in for many buyers who target southwest suburban Palos Park, said Douglass Blount, a Palos Park homeowner and broker/owner of Prudential LT Blount Realtors. Large, wooded lots and homes within walking distance of forest preserve trails attract horse and nature lovers alike.

“Some people are wowed by the latest kitchen gadget,” Blount said. “But I would say that’s secondary to most Palos Park buyers.” Years ago, after purchasing a home a block away from forest preserve trails, Blount began taking daily nature walks. He’s continued this habit for more than two decades.

But whether or not they are hikers or horseback riders, almost all buyers desire a “quality neighborhood,” a concept that is hard to define. While crime statistics and school rankings help provide a snapshot of an area, they give little clue as to whether neighbors socialize with one another or get involved in community organizations. Some sleuthing can help determine that.

Instead of clicking on the computer, you might begin a search by scouting prospective neighborhoods. If you have children or pets, search for clues that the neighborhood will be welcoming to them: swing sets in yards, community parks and pools, and dog parks, for example. Ask friends or co-workers if they know anyone who lives in the area you are targeting and whether you might be able to speak with them.

Whenever possible, get out of the car and walk the sidewalks. Visit schools, churches and neighborhood hangouts. Have lunch in a local restaurant, taking time to speak with residents about the pros and cons of their area.

Though “perfect” locations are rare, decide what you can live with — and what you can’t. “If something little bothers you, say the street is a little too busy, chances are it is still going to bother you five or 10 years from now,” said Jen Vargas, an agent with Century 21 1st Class Homes in Schaumburg.

Home hunter and lifelong Chicago resident Paola Portela is proof that “perfect location” means something different to almost everyone. Portela’s Irving Park condo vibrates with the sounds of buses, trains and cars. It’s in front of a cemetery. And the commute to her job as a pediatrician in the suburbs is more than an hour each way. But she loves all of this.

Portela and her husband are now searching for a house in Norridge, but noise and long commutes won’t dissuade her from buying a property, she said: “I like the hustle and bustle. I like that it makes me feel I’m attached to the world.”

Location may also present opportunities, especially for first-time buyers. Homes on busy streets or near schools or shopping centers often have lower price tags, within reach of buyers who may not otherwise be able to afford them.

Eight years ago, Jessica White and her husband searched for a house in Wheaton to be close to her parents in Glen Ellyn and so that their young family could benefit from the community’s good quality of life. “We weren’t sure we could afford Wheaton at first,” White said, but when a fixer-upper on busy Main Street became available, the Whites made an offer that was accepted.

“That house was our way in,” said White, who lived in the house for several years with her husband and young children before selling it to move to a quieter neighborhood. “We could live with the busy street, and now here we are.”

This story was first published on April 1, 2011 in the Chicago Tribune This article from Tribune Company news outlets has been republished for additional  education purposes.  Please note that this editorial content was produced by Tribune news staff who are not employed by or  by Tribune Digital Marketplaces.  This article is not affiliated with any links or products that appear on the on the same pages.  Read more about our editorial policy.