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Improving Community Connectedness through Green Environments:
A Natural Approach to Improved Health and Psychological Well-Being
August John Hoffman, Psychology Professor, Metropolitan State University
Recipient of the 2020 Action Teaching Grant
Green space and environmentally sustainable natural environments have recently become popular areas of research given their numerous health-related benefits (Egli et al., 2016; Hoffman, 2020). Recent research has identified the role of natural environments (i.e., community gardening programs, parks and green space areas) as central factors that have contributed to improved subjective well-being (SWB; Mackerron & Mourato, 2013), reduced anxiety and overall improved cognitive functioning (i.e., reduced risk of Alzheimer’s Disease) among older adults who have access to these types of environments (Jonveaux et al., 2013). Additional research addressing the relationship between green space programs such as community gardens and fruit tree orchards describes added benefits such as greater community collaboration and interaction among residents, which has been found to be a primary determinant of social capital (Lanier et al., 2015). As a 2020 recipient of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social issues Action Teaching Grant, we decided to apply our funding to the development of a green space community gardening program and measure any potential psychosocial benefits on the participants.
The Inver Hills – Metropolitan State Community Garden
The Inver Hills – Metropolitan State Community Garden (IHMSCG) was established in 2010 as a cooperative between two institutions of higher education within the Minnesota State (MN State) system. The IHMSCG is approximately ½ acre and is located on the southeast portion of the Inver Hills Community College campus. Students from nearby Metropolitan State University work collaboratively with community residents and students from the Inver Hills Community College Campus in the development and maintenance of the community garden. Given the unprecedented restrictions of Covid-19 this year, many students and community residents needed a different type of community service activity that would provide them an opportunity to interact with other people in a safe outdoor environment while minimizing any risk from CV-19. Beginning in July, fifteen students from Metropolitan State University participated in an eight-week community gardening program. Student participants were enrolled in a variety of different undergraduate psychology programs that served as practicum work for college credit. At the beginning of the gardening program they were provided with a variety of different tools and equipment that are commonly associated with gardening activities, such as shovels, hand trowels, pick-axes, and different types of irrigation systems to water their plants.
The purpose of the study was to measure how green space activity (i.e., participating in a community gardening program) would impact perceptions of community connectedness and environmentally sustainable programs. At the end of the eight-week gardening program, participants were surveyed and a Pearson Correlation Coefficient test was conducted. A highly significant correlation (r = .926; p < .01) between perceptions of feeling more connected to society and the community with overall contributions to society was obtained. Additionally, in post-experimental interviews participants indicated that they appreciated the opportunity to work outdoors and “meet different groups of people” given the ongoing restrictions of Covid-19. At the end of the growing season, the IHMSCG produced over 1738 lbs. of fruits and vegetables that were donated to local food banks and distribution centers in the Twin Cities area. The results of this qualitative mixed-methods study are important given the changing landscape in how social interaction is conducted and how green space environments can facilitate a greater sense of community connectedness.
Figure 1. The Inver Hills – Metropolitan State University Community Garden. Circa 2020, photo courtesy of August Hoffman
Hoffman, A. J. (2020). Stewardship, Volunteerism, and “Green Space” Sustainable Programs: Core Values of Community Psychology. The Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice, 11(3), 1-15.
Jonveaux, T. R., Batt, M., Fescharek, R., Benetos, A., Trognon, A., Chuzeville, S. B., Pop, A., Jacob, C., Yzoard, M., Demarche, L., Soulon, L., Malerba, G., & Bouvel, B. (2013). Healing gardens and cognitive behavioral units in the management of Alzheimer’s disease patients: The Nancy experience. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 34(1), 325–338.
Lanier, J., Schumacher, J., & Calvert, K. (2015). Cultivating Community Collaboration and Community Health Through Community Gardens. Journal of Community Practice, 23(3-4),492-507, DOI: 10.1080/10705422.2015.1096316