Seeds of Change: Community Gardens and Adult Environmental Education
A great deal of research has focused on the importance of developing healthy environmental attitudes and behaviors in early learning years. Global warming, waste disposal, pollution: the environmental problems of today are real and cannot be ignored. There is a persistent and troubling lack of environmental knowledge among Americans today. A vast majority of the public still does not know the leading causes of such issues as water pollution, air pollution and solid waste. However, this is not reflected in most peoples’ attitudes. In fact, there is growing public concern about pollution of the environment. Children will hold the power to change the future, but adults can start making better environmental choices today. While developing lifelong connections to nature and strong environmental attitudes is optimal, it is never to late to get outside.
It is becoming ever apparent that environment will become at least one of the dominant issues and challenges of the 21st century, as the growing needs of the expanding global population increasingly presses up against the limits of Earth’s resources and ecosystems. The National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education says that “in the coming decades, the public will more frequently be called upon to understand complex environmental issues, assess risk, evaluate proposed environmental plans and understand how individual decisions affect the environment at local and global scales. Creating a scientifically informed citizenry requires a concerted, systematic approach to environmental education”. Many colleges and universities are now offering career paths or minor concentrations in environmental education and sustainability, providing the opportunity for a deeper understanding of complex environmental problems, potentially leading to creative solutions and greater advocacy for smart environmental practices.
While a formal education in environmental science and sustainability may not be an option for all, there are a wealth of opportunities for adults to learn more about the environment. Community gardens are popping up in cities across the globe providing a great opportunity for anyone of almost any age to get their hands dirty. Community gardens not only benefit the environment, they also help develop and strengthen Neighborhood Social Ties (NSTs). Community gardens also grow more than food; they unite people from diverse backgrounds, age, race, culture and social class for a common purpose. The involvement in social community generally helps establish long term relationships among people and groups that otherwise would not commonly interact. Research indicates that neighborhood common spaces have a large influence on how residents interact with one another and their perception of their individual community. The benefits of community gardens are endless, and gardens all over the country are producing as much as 3 tons of organic produce, flowers and herbs annually, on less than an acre of land. The seeds of change are not only planted in the ground, but also in the soul, through fostering new generations of environmentally-conscious individuals.
Because community gardening is appropriate for ages 3 to 103, it is one of the best ways to inspire and nourish healthy environmental attitudes, strengthen community ties and help inspire sustainable food consumption behaviors. Community gardens are essentially outdoor classrooms for all ages. Our nation’s future relies on a well-educated public to be advocates for the very environment that sustains our communities, our families and generations to come. It is environmental education which can best help us, as individuals make the complex, conceptual connections between economic prosperity, benefits to society, environmental health, and our own well being. In the end, the united wisdom of our citizens, gained through education, will be the most power and most influential strategy for optimum environmental management.