Community Gardens in Upstate New York: Implications for Health Promotion and Community Development
Community gardens provide participants with access to fresh foods and nature, and health benefits. They also help improve individual psychological well being and social relations.
Armstrong, D. (2000). A survey of community gardens in upstate New York: Implications for health promotion and community development. Health & Place, 6(4), 319-327. doi:10.1016/S1353-8292(00)00013-7
There is a long history of the use of community gardens to improve psychological well being and social relations, to facilitate healing and to increase supplies of fresh foods (Francis et al., 1994; Hynes, 1996; Murphy, 1991; Boston Urban Gardeners, 1982).
The purpose of this descriptive study was to identify and survey community garden programs throughout upstate New York, during 1997 & 1998. Characteristics of community garden programs, individual gardens and gardeners were documented, and characteristics which may be useful to facilitate neighborhood development and health promotion were analyzed and discussed.
Twenty community garden programs in upstate New York (representing 63 gardens) were surveyed to identify characteristics that may be useful to facilitate neighborhood development and health promotion.
The most commonly expressed reasons for participating in gardens were access to fresh foods, to enjoy nature, and health benefits. Gardens in low-income neighborhoods (46%) were four times as likely as non low-income gardens to lead to other issues in the neighborhood being addressed; reportedly due to organizing facilitated through the community gardens.
Overall, the most common reasons reported by the coordinators for participation in community gardens were access to fresh and better tasting food, to enjoy nature, and because of health benefits, including mental health. The data are suggestive of some differences between rural and urban programs. In urban areas, the enjoyment of nature/open spaces, benefits to mental health, and a food source for low-income households were cited more frequently than in rural areas, and the practice of traditional culture was more commonly cited for rural areas. A lack of access to land, which people were permitted to cultivate, was a common theme mentioned by coordinators in both urban and rural areas.
The coordinator of a garden in a retirement condominium community, described the importance of their garden for helping residents transition from a lifestyle of home ownership to the retirement community, which involved a lack of personal land.
Approx. 35% of the gardens were cultivated by a bi-racial group of gardeners (i.e. approx. 25±49% were minority gardeners), the remaining gardens (35%) had a majority of Caucasian gardeners. Slightly over one half of the gardens had bulletin boards, for announcements, and a sitting area with a bench was present in 44% of gardens; one garden incorporated a path, designed to encourage walking for exercise. In 87% of the gardens, gardeners worked to some degree cooperatively, such as sharing tools, vegetables and cultivating Additional research on community gardening can improve our understanding of the interaction of social and physical environments and community health, and elective strategies for empowerment, development, and health promotion.
A variety of community organizations and private businesses were involved with the gardens by providing the program coordination and/or the land, by cultivating a plot, or by providing volunteer labor in the gardens. These organizations included the Hunger Action Network, Ameri Corps, Aids Housing Project, a battered women’s shelter, day-care center, children’s theater group, after-school organization for teens, a rehabilitation program for the developmentally disabled, and gardens located on the properties of an urban once building and a Coca Cola plant.
In 28% of the gardens, a local school or church maintained a plot in the community garden. Variations in the physical structuring and organization of gardens were related to the types of community groups involved, especially depending on the primary organizer.
Having a community garden in a neighborhood was reported by coordinators to improve the attitudes of residents toward their neighborhood for 51% of the gardens. This was usually evidenced by improvements in the maintenance of other properties in the neighborhood, reduced littering and increased pride in a neighborhood.
In 33% of the gardens, coordinators described additional community organizing which was made possible by a community garden. Examples of the activities and accomplishments which were reported by coordinators to result from community organizing initiated through the community garden, are described in Table 4. Additional neighborhood beautification, tree planting, and crime-watch efforts were common activities stemming from the community gardens.