Communities: Seattle/King County, WA, Milledgeville, GA, Benton County, OR, Chicago, IL, Houghton County, MI, Kingston, NY, Omaha, NE, Rancho Cucamonga, CA, Kane County, IL
Topics: Community gardens in schools, parks and public housing; community gardens and local policy; and community gardens and the local food system.
The American Community Garden Association defines “community gardens” as spaces used to grow flowers or vegetables in a rural, urban, or suburban place. A community garden could be composed of many individual plots, leased by individuals, families or other groups, or one larger plot. Community residents might produce food for themselves while other community gardens distribute produce and/or flowers to local soup kitchens, schools, or other organizations. In an effort to increase access to and availability of fresh fruits and vegetables, many community partnerships create community gardens. By developing sustainable and local food systems that provide non-processed foods, community partnerships hope to address the healthy eating side of childhood obesity. Results of a study from Toronto, Canada indicated that community gardeners attribute improved nutrition and access to healthy food, increased physical activity, improved mental health, and improved community cohesion to the existence of community gardens (Wakefield, Yeudall, Taron, Reynolds, Skinner, 2007). Healthy Kids Healthy Communities community partnerships are using community gardens in many ways, a few of which are described below.
Seattle/King County, WA & Milledgeville, GA: Community Gardens and Public Housing
In order to provide fresh produce to public housing residents, the Seattle/King County HKHC partnership is working in partnership with the King County Housing Authority to establish community gardens to increase access to fresh produce among the diverse group of residents, the ultimate plan being that the garden produce will reflect the cooking traditions of residents. The partnership has effectively engaged public housing residents throughout the planning and implementation phases, and there have been several barriers along the way. For example, one policy that prevented residents from having hoses; however, residents have made do by watering their gardens with buckets of water. To address residents’ concerns that the gardens may be vandalized, the partnership and residents are coordinating with the housing development management to carefully monitor the garden to ensure its success, which they will continue to do for the next year to ensure resident satisfaction and use of the gardens. Additionally, landscapers and residents of the Housing Authority will participate in trainings to develop gardening skills and knowledge to achieve project sustainability.
Whereas Seattle is working in an urban environment, the partnership in Milledgeville, GA is doing similar work in a rural area. A large community garden and fruit orchard has already been established by the partnership on a former school playground located in a low-income neighborhood. Project partners are now working to engage neighborhood residents in using the existing garden, while also establishing new gardens on the three Milledgeville Housing Authority properties. Each of these gardens will be managed by resident members of a Neighborhood Garden Association with guidance from the existing Milledgeville Community Garden Association.
Benton County, OR & Chicago, IL: Community Gardens and Parks
Another innovative location for community gardens is in parks. One of the benefits of this co-location is having play equipment in parks adjacent to healthy eating opportunities related to the gardens. Benton County, OR is lucky to have great topsoil due to the unique geological history of the area: following ancient floods, rich soil from Montana and Idaho washed down into Oregon and left a legacy of 10-15 feet of fertile topsoil in the parks in Benton County. Benton County community partners are tapping into this asset. The City of Corvallis Department of Parks and Recreation is just starting a year long process to write and adopt a Community Garden Master Plan. In the rural parts of the county, underutilized park land was donated to local garden advocates to establish “Alpine’s Foodsharing Garden.” Youth who visited the garden out of curiosity have since started working the soil themselves. The Dunawi Creek Community Garden at the City of Corvallis’ Starker Park, the most urban town in Benton County, hosts two adjacent gardens on-site, one for youth engagement and experiential learning and one full of plots for rent by residents and master gardeners. Adjacent to this garden site are a greenway path and an office park. Many employees of the office park tend to garden plots during lunch breaks and after work.
Learn more about the Benton County community gardens in this video.
In Chicago, parks are used as community garden sites. The Chicago Park District Community Garden Program is an application program allowing community groups to garden on park property. HKHC is assisting with promoting this opportunity for growing fresh produce. Pedro Albizu Campos High School will break ground on their half acre “Sofrito” Garden in the Spring of 2011 in Humboldt Park. “Sofrito” is a traditional base made from vegetables and herbs used in Puerto Rican cooking. The High School is responsible for purchasing the raw materials and managing and maintaining the gardens.
To learn more about how the Chicago partners are using community gardens, check out this video.
Houghton County, MI & Kingston, NY: Schools and Gardens
It’s no easy feat to start a garden in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where an average of 300 inches of snow falls each year and significantly shortens the growing season – but that’s exactly what the Houghton County partnership has done! In addition to a short growing season, the soil in the area is poor and often contaminated with tailings and debris from copper mining (in the late 1880’s the copper mines in the area produced more than half of the country’s copper), necessitating the use of raised beds with trucked-in soil and compost. The village of Calumet now sits on top of 2,000 miles worth of underground mine shafts, drifts and stopes, which have been empty for many decades. Despite all of this, Calumet Elementary School started a school garden as part of an environmental project and now integrates it with their curricula. Calumet teachers, students and parents have incorporated their copper-mining culture into their garden effort by planting two “pasty” gardens. Pasties were a main part of copper miners’ diets and are made with a mixture of meat, potatoes, rutabaga, carrots and onions and wrapped in a flour-based crust. The garden fills a gap in the area by creating opportunities to access fresh vegetables amidst high poverty. The garden continues to grow: the partnership added 19 beds in the spring with the hard work of 115 volunteers. The health department will be working with the schools to provide gardening classes and food-tasting events for children and parents, aimed at increasing fruit and vegetable consumption.
The community partnership in Kingston, NY is working to increase the number of food gardens located on school properties, park lands, and non-profit organization properties. Cornell Cooperative Extension in Ulster County, the City of Kingston Parks and Recreation Department, the Kingston Land Trust, and volunteers work together on communications strategy and policy in a garden committee to further the sustainability of existing and future gardens. The garden committee is developing and promoting two policies: 1) for adoption by the KCSD Board of Education a policy that will institutionalize the use of food gardens during after-school hours and for classroom learning and 2) for adoption by the Kingston Common Council a policy allowing the installment of food and community gardens on city property and in parks. The committee also supports schools and non-profit organizations to start gardens and has been instrumental in developing a Kingston City Gardens Coalition, where gardeners can share resources and knowledge. Eleven gardens were installed at schools in the Kingston City School District (KCSD) in 2010 with funding from a Learn and Serve America grant secured by the Parks and Recreation Department; several more gardens were piloted at non-profit organizations in 2010. The proposed policies and the development of a garden network provide a great example of institutionalization and sustainability.
Omaha, NE & Rancho Cucamonga, CA: Local Policy and Gardens
As part of the Omaha, NE HKHC project, the Douglas County Health Department and other partners have worked together to understand land and water use issues that affect community gardens. Gardens within this community face challenges such as land use, water availability, volunteer commitment, security, food waste, and soil composition. Despite these challenges, the community garden scene is thriving, in part through a community garden network which aims to assist current as well as potential gardens in achieving sustainability. The Health Department and multiple city and county offices (Planning, Parks and Recreation, City Attorney, and Public Works) have collaborated to shape the content of the Environment Element, which is the comprehensive environmental vision for the city as a component of Omaha’s master plan. Omaha by Design, a civic planning organization, has been instrumental in addressing community gardens and “ensure(ing) that city codes do not contain roadblocks that discourage community gardens and local food production and work with Douglas County offices to eliminate obstacles.” The Omaha City Council voted unanimously to adopt this document that includes language that is instrumental in the work of HKHC. The passing of this document creates a point of reference that will shape future rules, regulations, and ordinances that apply to day to day activities.
The Rancho Cucamonga Healthy RC Kids partnership is also working on local policy to facilitate sustainable community gardens in the city. With the City serving as the lead agency, partners have many opportunities to integrate policy work into their HKHC work plan. The partnership represents residents, community organizations, schools, and local businesses, as well as City staff across all departments helping to ensure multidisciplinary and cross-departmental coordination and maintain a comprehensive approach to health. Through an extensive community needs assessment including community forums, focus groups and key informant interviews, residents identified community gardens as one of the strategies to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables in their neighborhood. The Healthy RC Kids partnership is currently working to identify potential garden sites through a feasibility study, initially targeting areas of the city where opportunities for healthy eating are less accessible. In addition, the Partnership is working to establish city-wide community garden policies, including zoning laws regarding access, maintenance, and implementation of community gardens. The goal is to establish sustainable local policy that will facilitate all aspects of community gardens now and in the years to come. With health and sustainability serving as the guiding principles of the City’s General Plan, amending land use policies to facilitate better access to healthy eating furthers the goals of the General Plan and Healthy RC Kids.
Kane County, IL: Community Gardens and the Local Food System
The Kane County partnership is working across the whole county, identifying community garden opportunities and creating gardening networks. Kane County already had about 750 garden plots for lease through local park districts and a church partner; this year, the Kane County Forest Preserve designated land in East Aurora, an underserved community, to be leased and managed by the local park district, making 250 new plots available. Additionally, new community gardens were developed in 3 municipalities and two large, common gardens were planted at low income apartment complexes for the benefit of the local residents. The “giving garden” network has also grown. The giving gardens provide surplus produce to the Northern Illinois Food Bank, which was named 2010 Food Bank of the Year, and local pantries. Local farmers, specialty growers and churches and the gardening network all contribute produce to those in need in the community. New opportunities are being explored by partners for 2011, including adding gardens at a local hospital, schools and applying for funds to establish a farm that would eventually provide produce for the entire school district.
Learn more about Making Kane County Fit for Kids.
Community gardens are not just about growing vegetables and fruit. The diversity of these case examples underscores the multiple dimensions of community gardens. HKHC partnerships are showing that gardens can be established and well-used in a many settings, ranging from parks to schools to public housing. Community partnerships have been successful in their use of community gardens by fully understanding the local context and working within it – whether that is high yearly snowfall in Michigan, polluted soil in Omaha, an incredibly diverse population in Seattle, or coordinating with existing players in the local food system as the partnership in Kane County has done. Community gardens are a key link in the local food system, as well as an important strategy being used by Community Partnerships to reduce childhood obesity.
Wakefield, S., Yeudall. F., Taron, C., Reynolds, J., Skinner, A. (2007). Growing urban health: community gardening