Vision of an Accessible Jewish Community Garden: Benefits and Possibilities

By Dr. Madelaine Werier

I affectionately call my time spent in nature, my “vitamin N”. It is replenishing, grounding, and as essential as any other nutrient for my wellbeing. Getting my daily dose is a literal and figurative breath of fresh air! For city dwellers like me, urban community gardens are critical outdoor resources.

There is robust evidence for the link between access to safe greenspaces and a range of human benefits. Among them are individual health and mental health, community health and productivity, and community economy and safety. Beyond taking a walk in a garden for a little bit of exercise, there is a measurable impact from the calm of a garden, the connection with nature, the contact with the earth, and the relief from everyday stress. Interactions with others in these environments tend to be socially positive, restorative, and relationship-building. The metaphor couldn’t be better: sowing seeds of life and beauty in the garden and in our community

What makes a community garden successful? One short answer is equity and accessibility. For Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), I am excited to plant the seeds so equitable and accessible green spaces can help our community to thrive. This can take the shape of small efforts in our homes or a bigger vision for our collective community.

Systems with complexity, have better resiliency. Diverse ecosystems with more variety survive events that can otherwise cause devastation. A garden with diverse plants has staggered blooms and harvests, utilizes a variety of nutrients in the soil, and attracts a variety of animals and insects. If one species suffers a hardship, the others keep the system working and offer opportunity for renewal. 

Our Jewish community is also strengthened by our various voices, experiences, perspectives, talents, and traits.  Diversity is a keystone of Jewish sustainability. And community strength and resilience has never felt more critical. As we move through these volatile and uncertain times, we can support our community through the grounding and sustaining connection of a community garden. 

With spring just around the corner, the prospect of a Jewish community garden is exciting! Imagine meeting a friend there to do some weeding, checking on your green beans, spending time with an elderly relative, or taking cute photos with your kids. You can find ways to sprout the connection in your living spaces in simple ways too. Try starting some seedlings or adopt a house plant. Soak up that vitamin N! 

As we plan our gardens, let us approach it with the mindset of universal design. For us to reap the many benefits of a community garden, that garden must be accessible and welcoming to all members of our community: all ages, abilities, affiliations, genders, and backgrounds. This starts with the planning and design and continues with the evolution of the garden over time. 

In the spirit of Etz Chayim – the Tree of Life – let’s connect with our earth and with our fellow community members to plan the future!

Join our efforts to star planting diverse gardens by joining a wildflower event on February 8 or 22 from 2-4 pm in the Soloway JCC lobby. Email Jodi Green at and learn about all the events for JDAIM here.

Plant your first seeds of hope. See you there!

Madelaine Werier is a veterinarian, with an undergraduate background in Agroecology. She is currently finishing her Master of Public Health from The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with a concentration in One Health-how the health of humans, animals, plants, and ecosystems intersect and with a social justice lens. Madelaine is an enthusiastic volunteer in the Ottawa Jewish community and in disability advocacy venues and is the co-founder of JOIN- The Jewish Ottawa Inclusion Network.