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Growing Social Connection Through Food

By on April 29, 2015

4-29-2015

Each year when the weather warms up, I think back to an afternoon when my family picked blackberries by a road’s edge. I remember thorn pricks, bee stings and the pinging sound the berries made in our metal bowls as we plucked them from the brambles. Later, we turned the berries into jam that we shared with our neighbors for weeks.

What I don’t remember as well are all the grocery store jams I’ve bought since then. Much of today’s convenient, mass-produced food is void not just of nutrients and flavor, but of a story—of what elevates food from a glob of calories into something that brings people together.

As we work to build a Culture of Health across the country, two healthy eating strategies are improving access to healthier food and creating social connections: farmers’ markets and community gardens.

Since farmers’ markets allow farmers to sell food directly to consumers, the markets can increase access to fresh, locally- grown-and-raised fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods that might not otherwise be available within a community. Evidence even suggests that farmers’ markets reduce disparities in healthy food access and affordability. In addition to other potential benefits, like an improved local economy and opportunities to walk, there are social benefits:

  • Farmers’ markets provide a “third space” outside of home and work where people can gather and interact with others.
  • In communities struggling with a lack of social cohesion due to race or income differences, farmers’ markets allow diverse groups of people to share the same space in an equitable way.
  • Farmers’ markets facilitate conversation between farmers and consumers. Consumers are able to ask questions and hear stories about the food they buy, and farmers have the opportunity to get direct feedback about their products. By creating an ongoing conversation about food, communities can build a sense of locality and identity.

Community gardens, like farmers’ markets, increase access to and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. These gardens may even increase surrounding property values and decrease crime, as well as provide gardeners with opportunities to be physically active. People who are directly involved in community gardens’ upkeep also benefit socially:

  • The gardens can create a sense of community ownership and stewardship, since they allow members to care for a space in their own neighborhood.
  • Community gardens foster gratitude and reciprocity, because people work not only to feed themselves, but also to feed other members of their community.
  • Finally, the gardens give people in rural, suburban and urban communities alike a space for teamwork, social connection and hands-on learning about the attentiveness, patience and collaboration that goes into growing food.

Farmers’ markets and community gardens don’t seed themselves, though. They need investment, dedication and community engagement in order to be sustainable and reach more people. This spring, we at Active Living By Design look forward to coaching grantmakers and communities through the process of improving healthy food access. As for me, I’ll be waxing nostalgic about blackberries somewhere at a farmers’ market.

Share your favorite healthy food memory with us! We’d love to hear how you connect to your community through food.

Sarah Moore

Sarah Moore |

Communications and Marketing Manager

Designer, walk/bike advocate, traveler and urban enthusiast with rural roots.

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