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Community Gardens In Upstate New York: Implications For Health Promotion And Community Development

Community Gardens In Upstate New York: Implications For Health Promotion And Community Development

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Community Gardens In Upstate New York: Implications For Health Promotion And Community Development
Community Gardens In Upstate New York: Implications For Health Promotion And Community Development

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A survey of community gardens in upstate New York:Implications for health promotion and communitydevelopment
Donna Armstrong*
University at Albany SUNY, Department of Epidemiology, SPH, One University Place, Rensselaer, NY 12144-3456, USA
Abstract
Twenty community garden programs in upstate New York (representing 63 gardens) were surveyed to identifycharacteristics that may be useful to facilitate neighborhood development and health promotion. The mostcommonly expressed reasons for participating in gardens were access to fresh foods, to enjoy nature, and healthbene®ts. Gardens in low-income neighborhoods (46%) were four times as likely as non low-income gardens to leadto other issues in the neighborhood being addressed; reportedly due to organizing facilitated through the communitygardens. Additional research on community gardening can improve our understanding of the interaction of socialand physical environments and community health, and e€ective strategies for empowerment, development, andhealth promotion.
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2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords:
Empowerment; Community development; Social networks; Community gardens; Health promotion
1. Introduction
There is a long history of the use of community gar-dens to improve psychological well being and social re-lations, to facilitate healing and to increase supplies of fresh foods (Francis et al., 1994; Hynes, 1996; Murphy,1991; Boston Urban Gardeners, 1982). During andafter both World Wars, community gardens providedincreased food supplies which required minimal trans-porting. During the Great Depression, city lands weremade available to the unemployed and impoverishedby the Work Projects Administration (WPA); nearly5000 gardens on 700 acres were cultivated in NewYork City through this program (Hynes, 1996). DuringWWII, the US Department of Agriculture reportedthat national health as well as personal well-being weredependent on the consumption of fresh vegetables,which led to the Victory Gardens Program and theproduction of approx. 40% of the fresh vegetablesconsumed in the US from an estimated 20 million gar-dens (Murphy, 1991).Research on community gardening suggests a varietyof additional bene®ts, for both individuals and forcommunities. One study reported that community gar-deners have greater consumption of fresh vegetablescompared with non-gardeners, and lower consumptionof sweet foods and drinks (Blair et al., 1991). There isevidence that community gardens bene®t the psycho-logical well-being (McBey, 1985; Francis et al., 1994;Ulrich, 1981; Kaplan, 1973) and social well-being(McBey, 1985; White and Lake, 1973; Gold, 1977;
Health & Place 6 (2000) 319±3271353-8292/00/$ - see front matter
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2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.PII: S1353-8292(00)00013-7www.elsevier.com/locate/healthplace* Tel.: +1-518-402-0402; fax: +1-518-402-0381.
 
Sommer et al., 1994) of gardeners and local residents(Sommer et al., 1994). One project estimated savingsof between $50 and $250 per season in food costs forcommunity gardeners (Hlubik et al., 1994). Further-more, this study reported that 5000 lb of vegetableswere produced by 37 gardeners and ``1000 lb of veg-etables were shared with friends and neighbors, localsoup kitchens and senior centers.'' Wider neighbor-hood support for gardens was demonstrated in onearea by an unexpected lack of vandalism in the com-munity gardens (Hlubik et al., 1994) (personal com-munication Dr Dorothy Blair, Pennsylvania State U).In New York City, an outpouring of local neighbor-hood support occurred in response to a city decisionto cancel the leases on numerous community gardens(Monaster, 1995; Rosser, 1994), some of which hadexisted as long as 20 years. Community gardens havegenerated particularly strong local neighborhood invol-vement with the inclusion of music, theater and story-telling, by incorporating a community performancearea and hosting such activities in the gardens (Fisher,1992; Raver, 1993; Martinez-Salgado et al., 1993; Win-keller, 1984). Also, how often city gardens and parksare frequented has been negatively correlated withlocal crime (Gold, 1977; Harold Lewis Malt Associatesfor US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development,1972; Baker, 1997).Health research has focused primarily on exercise as-sociated with gardening, and bene®ts to individual gar-deners (Blair et al., 1991; Hlubik et al., 1994).Gardening is one of the most commonly practicedtypes of exercise (Crespo et al., 1996; Yusuf et al.,1996; Magnus et al., 1979) and is a recommended formof physical activity (Pate et al., 1995). During 1988± 1991, 59% of men and 42% of women in the USreported gardening as a source of leisure time exercise(Crespo et al., 1996). Gardening has been ranked amoderate to heavy intensity physical activity (Brooks,1988; Ford et al., 1991; Dannenberg et al., 1989) andin one study a signi®cant change in total cholesterol,HDL cholesterol and systolic blood pressure was as-sociated with either walking or gardening, after con-trolling for confounders (Caspersen et al., 1991).Furthermore, participants spent a greater amount of time per week doing gardening (225 min/wk) comparedwith other leading activities, such as walking (160 min/wk) and bicycling (170 min/wk) (Caspersen et al.,1991).Gender roles apparently in¯uence levels and types of physical activity, such that men are more likely toexercise (Crespo et al., 1996; Yusuf et al., 1996; Kinget al., 1992) and to exercise more vigorously thanwomen (Crespo et al., 1996; King et al., 1992; Mitchellet al., 1994; Ford et al., 1991). However, there is evi-dence that women tend to spend equal or greateramounts of time gardening compared with men. In theFramingham O€spring study, approx. equal amountsof time were spent on gardening and walking duringspring and summer seasons, and women spent asmuch, or greater amounts of, time on both of these ac-tivities as men (Dannenberg et al., 1989). In a study inPennsylvania, gardening was the leading leisure-timephysical activity and was more common amongwomen than men of higher socioeconomic status, 25and 20% respectively, and there was little di€erencebetween women and men of lower socioeconomic sta-tus, approx. 14% (Ford et al., 1991).The purpose of this descriptive study was to identifyand survey community garden programs throughoutupstate New York, during 1997±1998. Characteristicsof community garden programs, individual gardensand gardeners were documented, and characteristicswhich may be useful to facilitate neighborhood devel-opment and health promotion were analyzed and dis-cussed.
2. Methods
Cooperative Extension oces serving 56 counties inupstate New York (all counties outside of New YorkCity) were contacted to identify community gardenprograms. In all states, Cooperative Extension is admi-nistered through land-grant universities (with grantsupport from the US Department of Agriculture), andfaculty in nutritional and agricultural sciences provideprogram direction, in-service training and teaching ma-terials for county programs. Cornell University servesthis role in New York State. Cooperative Extensionhas two main program components, nutrition pro-grams and gardening/agricultural programs, both of which aim to increase the self-suciency of families.One activity of the agricultural component of Coop-erative Extension is the Master Gardeners Program.This program selects and trains volunteers in a seriesof technical courses. These include soil diagnosis andenrichment, vegetable, fruit and herb gardening, dis-eases, insects and pest control, tree and shrub care,annuals and perennials, and integrated pest manage-ment. These trained volunteers help with gardeningand other home and grounds questions and help main-tain demonstration and public gardens throughout thestate. To remain active in the program, Master Gar-deners volunteer at least 30±50 h per year. CooperativeExtension sta€, especially in the Master GardenersPrograms, are often informed about all of the commu-nity gardens operating in their county, even when theyare not directly involved in the operation of a garden.Oces of city mayors and village clerks were alsocontacted in counties where Cooperative Extensionagents could not identify any community gardens,and in counties with larger cities (e.g. Bu€alo),
D. Armstrong/ Health & Place 6 (2000) 319±327 
320
 
which might have multiple privately operated gar-dening programs. Community garden program coor-dinators were also asked during the interview if they were aware of additional garden programs intheir county, city or village.A total of 25 community garden program con-tacts were identi®ed in 22 counties. One gardencoordinator declined to participate, we failed toreach one coordinator after numerous attempts, andthree community garden programs no longer existed,partly from lack of funding. Therefore, 20 programcoordinators were interviewed in the survey. If gar-den programs self-identi®ed as `community' gardensthen they were included in the survey.A standardized telephone interview was adminis-tered to community garden program coordinatorsbetween August 1997 and August 1998. The inter-views required 30 min to 3 h to administer, depend-ing on the number of gardens in a program. Ingeneral, the interviews were well received despite thelength, since most coordinators enjoyed the opportu-nity to describe their garden programs. Two ques-tions, regarding the surrounding neighborhoodswhere gardens were located and regarding antici-pated long-term use of the land on which gardenswere sited, were added after the ®rst two programswere interviewed. Data from the interviews werecomputerized using Microsoft Excel and data analy-sis was conducted using SAS 6.02. Information wascollected on both the characteristics of garden pro-grams and on all of the individual gardens in eachof the programs.Coordinators of a total of 20 community gardeningprograms were interviewed, these programs included atotal of 63 gardens. The involvement of garden pro-gram coordinators with individual gardeners varies, inpart, depending on the number of gardens in a pro-gram. However, coordinators generally enroll andinform each garden participant about the rules and or-ganization of a community garden (e.g. mandatoryparticipation in a workday), each year of their partici-pation. Coordinators also may organize the availabilityof garden materials (e.g. soil amendments) and or-ganize and attend cooperative activities. Therefore,coordinators have multiple opportunities to know anddiscuss motivations and program bene®ts as perceivedby gardeners. Furthermore, coordinators routinelyinteract with town administrations, who often donateservices (e.g. install a water outlet or provide trashremoval), and neighborhood organizations (e.g.churches and schools), which may help legitimize acommunity garden as a desirable community tradition.Therefore, coordinators are familiar with local neigh-borhoods and tend to be aware of community-level ac-tivities and organizing, which may impact or derivefrom each community garden.
3. Results
Fifteen of the 20 programs surveyed maintainedonly one community garden each, two programs main-tained 2±3 gardens each, and three programs main-tained 13±14 gardens each. Table 1 shows selectedcharacteristics of the 20 community garden programssurveyed, as reported by the program coordinators.Five programs were located in rural areas and 15 pro-grams were located in urban and suburban areas.Most of the programs (90%) had less than 200 garden-ers participating; the larger programs, with greaternumbers of participating gardeners, were located inurban areas. All of the community garden programsthat were located in rural areas were operated with thesupport of at least one paid sta€. One of the rural pro-grams and four of the urban programs were operatedby Cooperative Extension, the remaining were oper-ated by private organizations. One half of the pro-grams reported having 10 or more regular volunteershelping with the operation of their program, one half of the programs distributed a regular program newslet-ter. In addition, 90% of the programs provided techni-cal support to individual gardeners, 30% providededucational classes, 80% provided soil tilling to gar-deners, and 55% provided seeds and seedlings (datanot shown).Less than one half of the programs had soil testingperformed (40%), which would identify garden sites intheir programs that had contaminated soil, forexample, with heavy metals. Almost one half of theprograms in urban areas had testing performed (47%).Among the eight programs that had testing performed,only urban programs reported soil contamination, forexample, with lead, cadmium and organochlorides (e.g.PCBs).Di€erences in the underlying philosophies and goalsof community garden programs, as well as surroundingenvironmental and social conditions, were revealed byrules on chemical use and the sale of produce and byfencing of community gardens. Overall, 60% of theprograms either prohibited the use of any chemicals orallowed only chemical fertilizers to be used in gardens.However, 60% of rural programs compared with 33%of urban programs allowed the use of chemical herbi-cides and insecticides, which also may re¯ect greaterdiculty with garden pest control in rural areas. In ad-dition, none of the programs in rural areas fencedtheir gardens; furthermore, none of these rural pro-grams reported diculties with vandalism of the gar-dens (with the exception of limited vandalism byyouths). In urban areas, 67% of programs fenced theirgardens. However, approx. one half of the urban pro-grams reported problems with vandalism, with nodi€erences in the report of vandalism between pro-grams that did and did not fence their gardens. One
D. Armstrong/ Health & Place 6 (2000) 319±327 
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