These days, the grocery store shelf is about as close as most of us come to the source of our fruits and veggies. There are some surprising disadvantages to this rather sterile exchange. Exposure to the rich, living dirt in which our produce grows leads to a stronger immune system, thanks to the harmless microbes and bacteria that teach our bodies to build up their defenses. Certain microbes in the soil have even been shown to stimulate serotonin production in the brain, lifting your mood and easing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Spending time in a garden also feeds you with Vitamin D from the sunshine and healthy exercise from digging, pulling, searching, and watering.
Gardening activities can help older adults reconnect to the true source of their life-giving meals, to a sense of purpose, and to the spirit and support of a community. The blossoming urban agriculture scene in San Francisco offers a wide variety of ways for older adults to get their hands beneficially dirty and grow their own food for overall health and wellness. It’s never too late to start germinating your skills in the garden, and here are some different ways you can get started now.
What Gardening Activities Does San Francisco Offer for Older Adults?
In San Francisco’s dense urban environment, it’s rare and difficult to have a home garden in the ground. If you have some porch, balcony, or even window space with lots of sun, it’s possible to grow some small food plants in containers, including lettuce, hardier greens, herbs, peas, bell peppers, strawberries, and some tomatoes (though they need a lot of sun). These projects are small but will expose you to some homegrown benefits of food gardening.
The simplest benefit of growing your own food is that you’ll probably start eating more fruits and vegetables! Beyond that, you’re in control of the kinds of fertilizers and pesticides that come in contact with your foods, and you’re more in touch with the natural progression of the seasons through your plants’ lives. Plus, if you’ve never tasted a vine-ripened tomato or another organic delicacy freshly picked, you’ve been missing out on one of the earth’s unmatched gifts.
Even better would be to get involved in San Francisco’s public gardening activities that will also connect you with a lively and active community. Some of these opportunities involve reserving a plot that you tend on your own, some offer membership to a garden tended by a community that also shares in the harvest, and others simply invite you to stop by and lend a hand in exchange for some fresh produce. Any way you turn, you’ll enjoy the company, support, and wisdom of neighboring gardeners.
SF Recreation & Parks Program
The first resource you’ll want to check out is the Rec and Park Department’s Community Gardens Program. The incredible amount of interest in San Francisco’s community gardens means you may need to join a waitlist for your nearest Rec and Park garden, but there are a lot of other opportunities to check out.
- Alemany Farms: You can get involved in one of Alemany Farm’s community workdays, take a tour of the farm, or sign up to volunteer on a regular, long-term basis—after going through a training program to help you put your particular skills and interests to work on the farm. Here, you can get an idea of the opportunities available for volunteers.
– Community workdays: 1st and 3rd Sundays Noon–5pm and Mondays 1:00pm–5:00pm
– Address: 700 Alemany Blvd
– Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- The McLaren Community Garden: Keep an eye out for updates to the McLaren Community Garden, which is currently undergoing exciting renovations and will offer certain features with older adults in mind, such as convenient raised beds and wheelchair accessibility in some areas.
– Address: Leland Ave and Hahn St
– Email: Alexis Ward, email@example.com
Tenderloin People’s Garden
What used to be a vacant lot is now a thriving community garden near City Hall. Join diverse volunteers from the neighborhood to help maintain this food garden and promote everyone’s right to healthy foods.
– Community workdays: Monday, Wednesday, Friday 10:00am–Noon and Tuesday, Thursday 3:00pm–5:00pm
– Address: Larkin St and McAllister St
– Email: Kamillah Gallofin, firstname.lastname@example.org
USF’s Community Garden
In the University of San Francisco’s Urban Agricultural program, college students “master advanced skills in organic gardening and urban homesteading and demonstrate an ability to grow, harvest, prepare, and preserve food grown in San Francisco.” They also maintain the USF community garden and invite you to join their community Garden Workdays. You can look forward to learning new skills in a space full of inspired and innovative energy and taking home a bag of fresh garden produce.
– Community workdays: Thursdays 11:00am–3:00pm
– Address: Kalmanovitz Hall 103, 2130 Fulton Street
– Phone: (415) 422-5152
– Email: Melinda Stone, email@example.com
An innovative Mission Bay community garden, NOMADgardens occupies vacant lots with mobile garden beds. By signing up for a NOMADgarden trough, you have access to expert support, soil, water, tools, the seed library, and the NOMAD community of gardeners. This can be a great option for beginner gardeners because everything is provided for you rather than having to purchase your soil and seeds separately—and the sites are supervised by Head Gardeners.
– Address: 1401 4th St
– Phone: (415) 636-6623
Garden for the Environment
This particular garden is committed to educating the community about sustainable gardening practices. Garden for the Environment specializes in smart planting to conserve water, composting in urban environments, growing food plants organically, and promoting native plant varieties. Every weekend, they offer classes and workshops that cost up to $45. The garden is also open from dawn until dusk every day and welcomes visitors.
– Address: 7th Ave and Lawton St
– Phone: (415) 558-8246
– Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
As you begin to reach out into the community and into the dirt, you may settle into a garden based on its proximity to home or how it speaks to your particular interests. Whatever the reason, it will connect you with San Francisco’s generous nature therapy. As you get outdoors more often this spring, notice how your physical, mental, and emotional wellness responds and evolves.
Gardening can be a great activity for caregivers and aging loved ones to do together—or for couples or families to enjoy together. Even heading out solo will quickly introduce you to new friends and new ideas. It takes a village to raise a garden and to raise our own healthy, integrated identities, so reach out to the community that awaits you.
Institute on Aging believes that graceful aging is supported by active and connected communities, and our overall health can be brightened by nature’s wisdom and generosity. For more ideas of local activities and community resources, get in touch with us today.