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Impressive community gardens in the U.S.

Elaina is a Phoenix-based freelance writer, blogger and co-founder of the Kidlee baby book app. Check out her blog, Fun Finds For Mom, for product reviews, recipes and fun activities for moms and kids.

Growing community

A community garden is "a piece of land gardened collectively by a group of people" — or so says Wikipedia. In many cases, these plots of land are so much more. Here are three community gardens that have transformed neighborhoods, communities — and people's lives.

Growing food for the hungry: The Lord’s Acre

Growing community

Photo credit: The Lord's Acre

The Lord's Acre community garden in Fairview, North Carolina, began with an idea. Pat Stone, president of Lord's Acre, said he and a few others got tired of feeling helpless about all the suffering in the world and decided to do something about it. Six years ago, they made the decision to grow food and give it away. With nearly 20 percent of North Carolina residents living in poverty and 25 percent of the state's children going hungry, the need was obvious. They named their effort The Lord's Acre after a similar "grow-food-to-give-each-other" effort from the Great Depression. Today, the group teaches people from all backgrounds to grow food, and in the process fills local food banks with tons (literally) of fresh, delicious produce.

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Growing dignity: The Mustard Seed Cafe & First Christian Church community gardeners

Growing community

Photo credit: The Mustard Seed Cafe & First Christian Church community gardeners

In 2011, Christi Brown, Patsy Burdick and Shelley Speicher came together and decided that a "pay-what-you-can" cafe was a way they could bring kindness and compassion to their community in a very tangible way. After two years of research, grant writing and an outpouring of support and donations from volunteers, the trio opened the doors to the Mustard Seed community cafe and garden in El Paso, Texas. Today, customers come to enjoy delicious, garden-fresh food (think lasagna, fire-roasted vegan chili, navy bean soup and blackberry lemon bars) and pay what they can (or volunteer their time in the kitchen or garden). Volunteers learn gardening skills and grow food for the cafe in the First Christian Church Community Garden.

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Growing a new life: Insight Garden Program at San Quentin state prison

Growing community

Photo credit: Kirk Crippens, Insight Garden Program

The mission of the Insight Garden Program (IGP) is to rehabilitate prisoners through the process of organic gardening. Founded by Beth Waitkus more than 11 years ago, the IGP has provided ongoing vocational and life skills to more than 1,000 prisoners in a 1,200-square-foot organic flower garden at California's San Quentin prison. The program’s integrated course curriculum for prisoners includes tools for personal transformation (“inner gardening”) plus hands-on gardening and landscaping skills, and ongoing classes on human/ecological connections, food farming, urban agriculture and green jobs. So does this approach to rehabilitation work? Recidivism rates say yes. A 2011 study showed a recidivism rate of less than 10 percent for IGP participants, and the program will expand to Solano state prison in April 2014.

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Quick tip

Find a step-by-step guide on how to start your own community garden on the American Community Gardening Association website.

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