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Older Adults & Community Gardening: 

Fostering Elder-Friendly Spaces

Hello, my name is Sydney Gill, and I am a recent graduate from the Department of Occupational Therapy at Tufts University. As a part of the Doctoral Experience Component of my program, I explored the accessibility and participation experiences of older adults living in the community at community gardens in the Boston metro area. Community gardening can be a way for older adults to improve their well-being through participation in an active activity and be part of a meaningful community. Various stakeholders provided their time and expertise to this exploration, including local older adults aged 60+ and community garden organizers. I am beyond grateful for the time and expertise these stakeholders provided and the ongoing support the Somerville Community Growing Center gave for this exploration. 

This project resulted in the creation of a report about improving accessibility and participation for this population in Boston Metro community gardens. Organizers, organizations, or garden community members may use this recommendation report to consider potential ways community gardens can better facilitate spaces and programs for this population. Below are some key takeaways to consider. Explore the full report if you are interested in learning more! 

Key Takeaways from this Exploration: 

Accessible Pathways: Clearing pathways of items and other obstructions can be an easy way to improve safety and accessibility. Ideally, the design of pathways should allow for the use of mobility devices like rolling and standard walkers. It is important to consider the width, slope, and pathway materials to create spaces where these devices can be used. 

Access to Seating: Seating options are important for providing older adults with a place to rest or participate in gardening activities. Seating that can be easily moved can be beneficial as it allows members flexibility. Ensure seating has a broad base and can support a range of body weights. 

Access to Shade: Access to a shaded area is essential for resting and providing a place to escape the heat. Consider placing seating in the shaded areas of the garden. 

Artificial Lighting: Lighting features in a community garden may benefit those with low vision and increase the hours individuals feel comfortable visiting the garden.

An accessible pathway in the garden; our new pergola that provides seating, shade and lighting; and a wheelchair-accessible raised bed in our Demonstration Garden.

Types of Garden Beds/ Plots: Raised garden beds can make it easier for some older adults to participate in gardening. Various garden beds, including tall raised beds, can allow members to participate in a way that fits their needs. 

Access to Information: To complement online information delivery methods, community gardens may want to consider additional ways to share information about registrations and participation. This could include a community information board at the garden and a physical drop box where members can fill out a form to register to participate. Translating documents into other languages common in the region is also essential. 

Bathroom Facilities: Bathrooms are part of age-friendly community spaces. Ideally, community gardens should have access to a bathroom on-site, but alternatively, they may consider building relationships with nearby parks or businesses to provide access to a bathroom. 

Financial Barriers: Community gardening can potentially include financial costs for members, including registration fees and materials costs. To lower financial costs, community gardens may consider having a sliding fee for registration, shared gardening equipment, and systems for members to trade/source gardening equipment. 

Social Environment: Community gardens can be places for gathering and community building. Regular community events and group activities can provide older adults and all garden members with opportunities to connect with their wider community. 

Community events are a way for older adults and folks of all ages alike to gather and socialize.

Additional Areas to Consider:

  • Various gardening equipment in community garden spaces allow members to engage in gardening in a way that best suits their needs. 

  • Ensure older adults have options to take on leadership and mentorship positions if interested.

  • Institutions overseeing these community gardens should ensure that any changes are based on the community's needs and wants. 

  • Access to parking and nearby public transit may increase access to community gardens for some members.

  • Community Garden Models: Gardens with individual plots may want to consider opportunities for shared gardening spaces to provide various options for participation. 

The recommendations outlined provide a starting place for individuals in these spaces to consider when creating accessible and meaningful programming for the older adult population. Two main takeaways were identified. First, accessible spaces for members with disabilities aid the older adult population. Second, community gardens should provide flexible programming, including multiple ways for older adults to participate and flexibility in the available activities, tools, and garden plots. If you have any questions about this report or blog, feel free to reach out!

Sydney Gill, OTD



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