Since moving to the city, I needed to make adjustments to my lifestyle. Getting used to public transit, stressing about breaking a tote bag strap, and becoming content with a neighborhood that’s simultaneously bustling yet lonely has taken a bit of reframing on my end. I walk more. I find myself wandering a bit less though. It seems the grid system has taken away some of that freedom winding roads and trails seem to exclusively offer.
Children benefit from the same sort of experience. A Denmark study on the lasting effects on the exposure to the outdoors between the ages 0-10 years made a compelling case for the link between stronger mental health and wellbeing compared to that of their peers with lower levels of exposure. The green-exposed kids saw a reduced risk of a host of psychiatric disorders later in life ranging from mood disorders to substance use disorders. Here too, it’s important to consider socio economic factors that act as a barrier to parks and the means to get there in the first place. Even the grown-ups in my life have a hard time making space for nature due to their own time and budget constraints.
Community gardens bridge that gap. The University of Boulder Colorado ran a recent study examining the effect of a community garden on people against that of non-gardeners in which that average participant was aged 41. These growers were more sociable, less stressed, and even in the case of novice gardeners: downright more joyful. The study reported “Public health agencies recommend at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week, a recommendation only a quarter of the U.S. population meets. With just two to three visits to the community garden weekly, participants met 28% of that requirement.” So, not only were their mental states far improved at the close of the season, they were more physically fit than previous and more regular due to their intake of fresh, homegrown fruits and veg.
At-home gardening is accessible with just a bit of light and dependable temperatures. Even in college working and going to school full time, I was able to keep up a sizable balcony garden during the summer months for the cost of seeds and reusable planters. Similar to the community gardeners, I shared my grows across fence lines and talked tips.
The National Institute of Health recommends similar activities to seniors for the same social reasons. The collaborative process of growing in a community is invaluable for building self-esteem and not to mention, maintaining fine motor control. Even so, “Despite age-related limitations in physical functioning, gardening participation may provide important occupation and activity engagement,” for the senior members in your family (source). Returning to nature for hands-on bonding is perhaps the most accessible intergenerational activity next to boardgames and sharing a meal.
Just when it feels like connecting with greenery and each other is impossible –and Chicago winters aren’t exactly helping—I found it was actually pretty easy to get in touch with my community if I was just willing to take a small chance. Green-deprived anxiety left in the past, I’ve been growing. You will too.
Words by Sydney Gutierrez