medium_SCRA_logomark_4col.jpg

The
Community
Psychologist

Volume 49 Number 3
Summer 2016

Environment & Justice

Edited by Laura Kati Corlew

Community Psychologists in Community Gardens: A Fertile Ground for Ecological Inquiry

Written by Sarah Hernandez and Laura Kati Corlew

Literature Review
Community gardens are plots of land typically in an urban setting that are grassroots, community-based efforts to grow food. Community gardens have been historically created in response to a crisis; the earliest gardens emerged in response to poverty during the economic crisis of 1893 in Detroit (Kurtz, 2001). During both World Wars, community gardens were used to increase the supply of food for Americans, and by World War II, the “victory garden” campaign was established. By 1944, 18 to 20 million families were supplying 40% of America’s total vegetable supply (Okvat & Zautra, 2011). Victory gardens sprung up in response to economic hardships and food shortages as a way for communities to independently develop their own source of food. This victory garden model now serves as the foundation of traditionally organized communal style gardens in urban areas today.

In communal community gardens, members collectively decide on the purpose of the garden, design, and the usage of the space (Firth et al., 2011). These decisions are usually contingent on garden members’ worldviews, culture, and community needs. The community takes ownership of the garden, which is often viewed as a space that inspires shared action. In contrast, allotment style community gardens require membership fees and assign individual plots to members within the overall garden space. Social networking and collaboration is not necessary in allotment gardens because the individual plot is not collectively owned by several gardeners.

Benefits of Community Gardens
The literature on community gardens is relatively new and a majority of the early research focused generally on what community gardens do for people and why they are created.

Community gardening has a host of benefits across multiple domains of people’s lives, including psychological benefits through reducing stress and depressive symptoms and health benefits by improving diet and exercise (Nishii, 2011). In addition, one of the first literature reviews on community gardening reported on how gardens served to provide people with a greater sense of food access and security in their neighborhood (Draper & Freedman, 2010). Community gardens were also tied to an increase in neighborhood economic development through the use and preservation of open space (i.e. many community gardens were created from previously vacant lots). Lastly, gardens were also a way for communities to beautify their neighborhoods and provide better spaces for leisure and outdoor recreation (Draper & Freedman, 2010). Overall, community gardens are beneficial neighborhood settings because they provide residents with a multitude of health benefits.

Social Context of Community Gardens
Beyond the direct health benefits of community gardens, participants often report that the social context of the setting is considerably more impactful (Draper & Freedman, 2010). More specifically, gardens improve social interactions, cultivate relationships between different groups of people, and strengthen residents’ social networks considerably more than their urban settings normally allow (Draper & Freedman, 2010). By facilitating improved social networks in lower income and ethnic minority neighborhoods, gardens play a role in community development as well (Malakoff, 1995). Improving residents’ social networks can also result in knowledge and skill enhancement and systems change in the neighborhood (Twiss et al., 2003). Because gardens provide apolitical spaces for communication, deliberate co-learning, inclusiveness, and resource sharing, particularly among diverse garden members, these settings contribute to community resilience as a form of systems change (King, 2008). Generally, community gardens are settings that bring different groups of people together who would not normally socialize and improve social networks among diverse people.

Although most of the literature on community gardens refers to the strengthening of social networks, few studies connect this theme to specifically intercultural or interracial relations (Glover, 2003; King, 2008; Malakoff, 1995). Most of the research on culture and race in community gardens is framed with social capital theory, because the setting is conducive to cooperation, bridging between different groups, and improving trust (Alaimo, Reischl, & Allen, 2010; Firth et al., 2011; Glover, Parry, & Shinew, 2005). In one of these studies based in the UK, one gardener reported, “A few years ago there were barriers between the Asian and Black communities, but these have been broken down as people have joined in our food-related activities” (Firth et al., 2011). As a function of bridging social capital, community gardeners seem to recognize their gardens as settings that allow them to form meaningful relationships with people of different ethnic and racial groups through a common connection of growing and cooking food (Firth et al., 2011; Kurtz, 2001; Saldivar-Tanaka & Krasny, 2004).

In a critical analysis of race in community gardens, Dunford (2009) engaged in an ethnography of vacant lot community gardens in the North Lawndale community in Chicago. In Dunford’s (2009) exploration of race in the gardens, she found that Black and White participants valued gardening quite differently, and moreover held misperceptions of others’ values. The most prevalent discourse was from the staff and non-local White individuals assuming the motivation for the Black gardeners stemmed from “gardening like they used to in the South.” This assumes that the Black gardeners were good at gardening and enjoyed the activity, when in fact some of them did not (Dunford, 2009). Several Black gardeners associated gardening with a history of necessity that symbolized burden rather than opportunity; buying food at the store was a way of “getting ahead in life” because it implied more financial security. For urban Blacks in North Lawndale, gardening represented practical and functional purposes, whereas for urban Whites, gardening was a luxury tied to aesthetic, ideological, and social relationships (Dunford, 2009). This study illustrates the complexity of community gardens’ social contexts; even though gardens have general health benefits, an ecological perspective that attends to history and varying motivations paints a nuanced and multifaceted picture of how people interact with one another in these unique neighborhood settings.

Community Psychology and Community Gardening
In general, community gardens are interesting and complex areas of study, particularly for community psychologists. An ecological framework in the study of community gardens reflects a contextually based understanding of these unique social settings (Trickett, 1998; Trickett, Kelly, Vincent, 1985). Community gardens illustrate the interdependence of people in the various social, physical, and cultural contexts in which they live. Resources (e.g. garden members, events in the garden, and the garden itself) are interdependent and embedded in the history of each garden and surrounding neighborhood. Understanding the historical subtext is essential because the ways in which these settings are created shapes the function of the space and those who garden in it. Moreover, community gardens are often framed as empowerment projects that are capable of bringing different groups of people with a clear diversity of worldviews and histories together in positive ways (Dunford, 2009). These central themes of focusing on context, history, community building through social networks, and empowerment merit particular attention from community psychologists.

Deep Roots: SCRA Members Cultivate Gardens and Community
In Fall 2014, the second author of this paper began to create a community gardening course with her colleague Dr. James Cook, a sociologist. There was, technically, a community garden already on our campus, but it had lost all institutional support due to budget cuts and was left fallow. The loss was felt deeply; the garden had produced over a thousand pounds of food two years running for the local food bank and was also a resource for community and recreation for faculty, staff, and students. However, with no supporting office, resources, or coordinator, the volunteers dwindled until only one or two die-hard faculty wound up carrying the entire workload. It was unsustainable.

The first goal of the course was to bring the garden back. It would not be sufficient to simply get some students in a class to work the land because there would be a lack of volunteers once the semester ended. Instead, the students would learn theories, principles, and strategies from Community Psychology and Sociology. Once familiar with research on community organizing (e.g. creating partnerships, organizing and mobilizing volunteers, community and place identity), the students would put theory to action, creating a sustainable, lasting, and institutionalized process to carry the garden forward past the end of term.

“Cultivating Community: The Garden Course” was offered for the first time in Spring 2016. This spring, the students formed a club, which comes with the institutionalized support of club funds. They created partnerships with the local pantry, schools, businesses, and even the prison to organize volunteers. They voiced their message to local media including a major newspaper and morning radio show, which mobilized unconnected community members to reach out to volunteers. The students also developed plans, including a crop rotation, composting with the cafeteria, a pest guide, and teach-in lessons on gardening and food preservation for future volunteers. As of this writing it is finals week, so now the real test begins. Will this carry this forward? Did the theories translate into real
community change?

Having previously reached out to the SCRA community about gardening literature at the beginning of the course creation process, I knew there was a high level of interest and experience. And so I reached out again, asking for stories and weblinks. Community gardening does indeed have strong roots in Community Psychology. Below are the edited responses.

Community Gardens in Educational Settings
Lauren Lichty, wrote:

I teach an upper level community psychology undergraduate course on prevention and promotion through community gardening (as a community-based learning experience). It’s a multi-layer project where the students observe and participate in community gardening off campus as we work to bring a community garden to our campus.

Fabricio Balcazar, wrote:

Two summers ago I facilitated a summer internship for a group of 7 high school African American youth with disabilities from a Chicago Charter school for former dropouts. The students worked hard to build a garden located in a lot that the school purchased from the city for $1. The Illinois Division of Rehabilitation Services paid for the internships and the team of students spent 8 weeks working on the garden. We made a short video of the experience available at the following web site: http://ccbmdr.ahslabs.uic.edu/projects/add-us-in-chicagolandconsortium/

August Hoffman, wrote:

At Metropolitan State University, located in St. Paul, MN, we coordinate a very productive community garden with our partner school (Inver Hills Community College) where students from both institutions collaborate and grow a variety of vegetables and fruits. All foods are donated to local food resources serving low income families in St. Paul. Last year, we grew over 1200lbs. An added benefit is that the students from the community college are able to work with upper division psychology students and graduate students from Metro State, which leads to a more successful transfer rate.

The student volunteers are enrolled in courses (typically psychology) at either institution. In my course, I give students the option of a 10 hour volunteer gardening program at the garden or writing a 5-10 page APA style paper on a related topic in psychology (needless to say – the majority choose the garden option).

Regina Day Langhout, wrote:

In 1996, I helped to begin a community garden that was connected to an elementary school. I helped to maintain that garden until 2001. My reason for helping to start the garden was because I noted, with Thom Moore’s guidance, that there were many people in the surrounding neighborhood with amazing vegetable gardens. At that time, the school was interested in starting a “children’s garden” in the courtyard area (center and only visible to those on the campus) of the school. It seemed to me that a community garden on the outskirts of the school would be a way to develop a stronger relationship between the school and the surrounding neighborhoods by building on community strengths. I asked the school if they were interested and they said yes. I then went door to door and asked if anyone was interested in working on such a project and pulled together a list of enthusiastic and knowledgeable neighbors. Students in grades 3-5 drew what they would like the garden to look like and then community members developed plans based on the drawings. We built a model of the garden and displayed it at the school. We had open meetings so that we could dialogue about the plans. With the agreement of the school district, we developed the garden. The garden is now known as the Randolph Street Garden and is run by an amazing community member, Dawn Blackman. You can learn more about the garden here: https://randolphcommunitygarden.com/

Community Gardens Research
Carlie D. Trott, wrote:

For my dissertation project, I designed a climate change education and action program for 10- to 12-year olds called Science, Camera, Action! This project was made possible in part by SCRA. It received a first place Doctoral Dissertation grant. The program combines science activities and games with Photovoice methodology, culminating in climate action projects designed and carried out by the youth. I’m presently running the program with 3 groups of Boys and Girls Clubs kids in Northern Colorado. One group chose to speak at their Town Hall and initiate a local tree-planting campaign. Another is planning a community event and building a website. The largest group is establishing a garden at their Club, including a compost system to save food waste from the landfill and nourish their garden. Since the 16-week program was set to ‘end’ when school lets out in just a couple weeks, a newly-established Garden Club is taking root for the summer and is open to all ages. Even in these beginning stages, they are proud of their work and excited to provide food to Boys and Girls Club families later this year.

Ashley Anglin, wrote:

At the Atlantic Health System, we are part of a funding collaborative called the New also suggests that Community Garden may increase a sense of community, developing membership and social bonds, increasing the social capital. Furthermore the phenomenon has an important role towards environmental problems.

Community Gardens in Our Personal Communities
Andrea Solarz, wrote:

Starting this year, I’m the volunteer manager for the community gardens in my condominium development. We have a record 21 gardeners signed up for plots this year. I had a small plot for the first time last year and am still very much a beginning gardener, but when the previous manager solicited for a replacement, I stepped up.

One of my goals is to help develop a greater sense of community among the gardeners this year as there was very little interaction or communication last year once people picked their plots. An ongoing challenge last year was getting people involved in volunteer roles (grounds crew, etc.), but I’m optimistic that increased communication and connection will help to overcome that. We’ll also be collecting produce periodically for delivery to local food banks as a way to share the bounty with others, which should also work to engage the gardeners. So far, there is a lot of enthusiasm for getting started, so the challenge will be to sustain that through the ups and downs of the growing season!

Mary Tauras, wrote:

I’m very grateful to have a fantastic local organization in our city working to increase the number of community gardens for residents (Visit http://www. millcitygrows.org). At my apartment building, we have some gardens also. I’m new to the Jersey Healthy Communities Network. Our largest initiative is a grant program that funds communities that are taking action to address healthy eating and active living via policy change and improvements to the built environment. We currently fund 43 communities across the state (13 through Atlantic Health) and many of these grantees are working on gardens in many different settings. I provide monthly technical assistance to a cohort of seven grantees. We also conduct evaluations for the different communities and gardens.

Camilla Borsini, wrote:

In this study the aim is to explore the growing phenomenon of community gardens in an Italian town. We choose a qualitative method in order to describe the phenomenon and compare the results with other
studies and experiences.

33 participants (21 females, 12 males; average age 36) actively participate in the organization of 3 Community Gardens in Florence. We conducted 20 semistructured interviews and 3 focus groups to gather qualitative data. The main areas explored were: origin, structure and management of the garden; participation; participants’ expectations; perceived advantages both on individual and community level.

From the content analysis, it emerged that the phenomenon may have a role in promoting individual and collective wellbeing. Participation in the activities of the Community Garden seems to affect health by increasing a healthy diet, contact with nature, and physical activity. Moreover, the phenomenon may affect psychological wellbeing through individual and collective self-efficacy. Analysis also suggests that Community Garden may increase a sense of community, developing membership and social bonds, increasing the social capital. Furthermore the phenomenon has an important role towards environmental problems.

Community Gardens in Our Personal Communities
Andrea Solarz, wrote:

Starting this year, I’m the volunteer manager for the community gardens in my condominium development. We have a record 21 gardeners signed up for plots this year. I had a small plot for the first time last year and am still very much a beginning gardener, but when the previous manager solicited for a replacement, I stepped up.

One of my goals is to help develop a greater sense of community among the gardeners this year as there was very little interaction or communication last year once people picked their plots. An ongoing challenge last year was getting people involved in volunteer roles (grounds crew, etc.), but I’m optimistic that increased communication and connection will help to overcome that. We’ll also be collecting produce periodically for delivery to local food banks as a way to share the bounty with others, which should also work to engage the gardeners. So far, there is a lot of enthusiasm for getting started, so the challenge will be to sustain that through the ups and downs of the growing season!

Mary Tauras wrote:

I’m very grateful to have a fantastic local organization in our city working to increase the number of community gardens for residents (Visit http://www.millcitygrows.org). At my apartment building, we have some gardens also. I’m new to the building so this is our first year, but for the following reasons I am very excited to participate:
• Self-efficacy, mastery, and personal mental health (e.g., spending time outdoors with soil, experiencing appreciation and gratitude for the growth process);
• Having a collaborative process with my loft-mates to decide what to grow and who will do what, when;
• Beautification of our very industrial landscape which signals to our neighbors, police, and local representatives that we care about where we live;
• Contributing to waste reduction (composting), soil remediation, and energy reduction on the transportation side of food systems.

Bernadette Sanches, wrote:

During the last couple of years, my family and I participated in a community garden in our neighborhood in Chicago, at Hello!Howard. See http://petersongarden.org/. We did it as a way to learn how to grow fruits and vegetables, to participate in something positive in our neighborhood and support the block it’s on, and to get to know our neighbors. The block that the garden is on has a reputation (e.g., gang activity) and the community has been working to improve it. We thought that would be a good way to support those efforts. We also thought it would be something fun to do with our preschool aged children so they can learn where food comes from.

Conclusion
A garden is a natural setting for community psychologists to invest in and connect to communities. Gardening can be practical (when people need food), transformational (when neighborhoods need community), and even revolutionary (when food systems are no longer just). Gardens are a space where people can gather, where groups can bridge divides, where recreation and community development can both be met. Community psychologists should continue to invest in community gardens in both academic and non-academic ways. Opportunities exist for extensive ecological inquiry into a wide range of topics that are deeply important to community psychologists because of the well-established overlap between community gardens, human wellbeing, and social justice. Community psychologists will also find opportunities in gardens to increase civic engagement in their courses and communities, as demonstrated by our members.

References
Alaimo, K., Reischl, T. M., & Allen, J. O. (2010). Community gardening, neighborhood meetings, and social capital. Journal of Community Psychology, 38(4), 497-514.

Draper, C. & Freedman, D. (2010). Review and analysis of the benefits, purposes, and motivations associated with community gardening in the United States. Journal of Community Practice, 18, 458-492.

Dunford, C. M. (2009). Deploying nature: A performance ethnography of community gardens, gardeners, and urban change in a Chicago neighborhood. Retrieved from ProQuest Digital Dissertations. (UMI 3355681)

Firth, C., Maye, D., & Pearson, D. (2011). Developing “community” in community gardens. Local Environment, 16(6), 555-568.

Glover, T. D. (2003). The story of the Queen Anne memorial garden: Resisting a dominant cultural narrative. Journal of Leisure Research, 35, 190-212.

Glover, T. D., Parry, D. C., & Shinew, K. J. (2005). Building relationships, accessing resources: Mobilizing social capital in community garden contexts. Journal of Leisure Research, 37(4), 450-474.

King, C. A. (2008). Community resilience and contemporary agriecological systems: Reconnecting people and food, and people with people. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 25, 111–124.

Kurtz, H. (2001). Differentiating multiple meanings of garden and community. Urban Geography, 22(7), 656-670.

Malakoff, D. (1995). What good is community greening? ACGA Community Greening Review. 16-20.

Nishii, J. (2011). The therapeutic benefits of gardening: Cultivating health through interaction with nature. (Order No. 3454202, Alliant International University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 157. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/868413303?accountid=14552. (868413303).

Okvat, H. A. & Zautra, A. J. (2011). Community gardening: A parsimonious path to individual, community, and environmental resilience. American Journal of Community Psychology, 47, 374-387.

Saldivar-Tanaka, L., & Krasny, M. E. (2004). Culturing community development, neighborhood open space, and civil agricultural: The case of Latino community gardens in New York City. Agriculture and Human Values, 21, 399–412.

Trickett, E. J. (1998). Toward a framework for defining and resolving ethical issues in the protection of communities involved in primary prevention projects. Ethics and Behavior, 8, 321-337.

Trickett, E. J., Kelly, J. G., & Vincent, T. A. (1985). The spirit of ecological inquiry in community research. In Community Research, pages 283-333.

Twiss, J., Dickinson, J., Duma, S., Kleinman, T., Paulsen, H., & Rilveria, L. (2003). Community gardens: Lessons learned from California healthy cities and communities. American Journal
of Public Health, 93, 1435-1438.