review and analysis of of the benefits, purposes and motivations associated with community gardens in the united states

“The varied purposes and benefits of community gardening make it an ideal interventional strategy for community-based practitioners because myriad goals may be addressed through this approach.”

Community gardening emerged in the United States in the 1890s as, “a means to address urban congestion caused by immigration, economic instability and environmental degradation”. Immigrants, children and the poor were the original targets for the efforts, but economic strife caused by war and the Great Depression resulted in nearly universal participation until later in the century when the industrialization of agriculture resulted in the emergence of convenience foods. It was not until the recession in 2009 that community gardens enjoyed a resurgence (19% increase). This suggests that participation in community gardening activities is correlated with the socio-economic conditions of the time.

Beyond necessity, the five main purpose/concerns that relate to community gardens are:

  • Engaging Youth;
  • Health Benefits (dietary, mental, and physical);
  • Gardener vs. Land Holder Conflicts;
  • Social Capital;
  • Participant Motivations and Perspectives.

Positive outcomes are related to socializing opportunities and experiences. This includes social connections that are formed from accessing resources and developing collaborative efforts with outside organizations like universities, youth programs and health centers. Furthermore, multiple social processes (ex. reciprocity) formed during activities related to community gardening transfer to situations outside of the garden. This strengthens a widespread sense of community. This finding emphasizes that social interactions are imperative to the success and perpetuation of community gardens.

Community gardens have also been identified as a mechanism for individuals and communities to preserve, express and affirm culture. This is accomplished by growing specific foods, designing the gardens to reflect cultural heritage and providing a venue for cultural expression with dances, musical performances and festivals.

Participant motivations include access to fresh and better tasting food, enjoyment of nature, health benefits, opportunities to socialize, to beautify and give back to the community and to support the conservation of green space. Some participate in community gardens as a leisure and/or recreation activity. Others see community gardens as a means for neighborhood beautification and believe that they can serve as a way to revitalize distressed areas. Still, others anecdotally report that community gardens are correlated with a reduction in crime once the garden becomes established. This occurs when garden spaces become identified as safe places for individuals and families – especially those who otherwise lack access to open spaces – come together.

The fight for the right to public land use has given participants an opportunity to participate in local politics for the first time. This often occurred when there was an issue of land-use rights. In many of these cases, this conflict served as a means for instigating organization and mobilization of community members. Oftentimes, these individuals would not otherwise interact.

Finally, it was found that in many areas gardeners choose to donate a portion of their produce, typically to senior citizens, the homeless or poor individuals and families which works to improve food access networks for the community as a whole. This indicates that when people create something, they want to share it with the world.

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(4), 458-492.