Green Infrastructure Evidence Base

9 Food Production


9 Food Production

Green Infrastructure

Green Infrastructure is the network of green spaces and water systems that delivers multiple environmental, social and economic values and services to urban communities. This network includes parks and reserves, backyards and gardens, waterways and wetlands, streets and transport corridors, pathways and greenways, farms and orchards, squares and plazas, roof gardens and living walls, sports fields and cemeteries. Green Infrastructure secures the health, liveability and sustainability of urban environments. It strengthens the resilience of towns and cities to respond to the major current and future challenges of growth, health, climate change and biodiversity loss, as well as water, energy and food security.


9.1 Introduction

Agriculture and productive agricultural land is a form of Green Infrastructure that can deliver a wide range of human health and well-being benefits that go well beyond providing a secure and healthy food supply. Urban agriculture includes the retention of valuable productive land on the urban fringe to provide more sustainable food sources for urban areas. Within cities urban agriculture provides social as well as healthy food production benefits, and includes community gardens, kitchen gardens and ‘edible landscapes’. Community gardens are one specific type of urban agriculture that provides a unique range of social cohesion and community building benefits. In a broader context, urban agriculture is part of ‘complementary’ or ‘alternative’ food networks that promote more sustainable practices in food production and distribution. These are proposed as alternatives to current global food production and distribution systems driven by supermarket chains and large scale primary producers. Figure 55 summarizes the food production roles of Green Infrastructure.

Figure 55: Summary of the food production role of Green Infrastructure. Source: M. Ely.

9.2 Overview

Figure 56 illustrates the positioning of community gardens within the broader context of urban agriculture and alternative food networks.

Figure 56: Community gardens, urban agriculture and alternative food networks. By author.

Alternative or Complementary Food Networks (CFNs) aim to achieve more sustainable models of food production and distribution, as alternatives to the current global system driven by large supermarkets and primary producers.
Urban agriculture is one component of CFNs, and is defined as food production within cities, and can also include agriculture on the urban-fringe (peri-urban agriculture).
Community gardens are one particular form of urban agriculture which has been shown to provide significant social cohesion and community building benefits that go beyond simple food production.

9.3 Alternative food networks

9.3.1 Overview

Urban agriculture and community gardens are one component of alternative or complementary food networks (CFN) (Firth and Pearson, 2010). In recent years CFNs have emerged as alternatives the mainstream systems of food supply. Our current food system is based on an extremely effective model developed by large retailers which involves global sourcing of a wide range of food products (Pearson and Hodgkin, 2010). According to (David and Hodgkin, 2010):

‘The current food system in many developed countries is dominated by large-scale agricultural production and global sourcing through supermarkets and the food service sector. Collectively the wide range of activities undertaken in urban agriculture provide an important supplementary source of food, which adds to national food security. These complementary food systems also provide additional environmental and health benefits. Within this productive urban agricultural landscape, community gardens provide unique social contributions. The importance and magnitude of these justify continued policy support from government to overcome the market domination by large organisations as well as negative attitudes towards gardening from some members of society’ .p.104.

In recent years people have been encouraged to engage as consumers with alternative food networks as a way of contributing to local and global sustainability (Halweil, 2002; Pretty, 2002; Halweil, 2004; McKibben, 2007). Alternative or complementary food networks have emerged from dissatisfaction with the modern industrial agricultural system. In essence the concept of alternative, or complementary food networks involves developing ways to grow and distribute food on a smaller, more localized scale (Pearson and Hodgkin, 2010). As defined by (Evers, 2010) alternative food networks can include:

  • Shorter distances between sites of food production and sites of food purchase/consumption
  • More ‘environmentally friendly’ production practices, including small-scale, organic/holistic farming (Pearson and Henryks, 2008)
  • An emphasis on fair trade, and sale venues that support local agriculture, such as farmers‘ markets
  • A commitment to socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable food production and consumption (Jarosz, 2008)

CFNs are typically driven by ‘people and communities’ rather than corporate interests. According to (Firth and Pearson, 2010) the main themes found in literature on CFNs are:

  • Alternativeness. CFNs are seen as alternatives to globalised conventional food networks, which are considered to be insensitive to place, people and local level concerns (Feagan, 2007).
  • Community. CFNs have their roots in community and consumer concerns about the ways in which food is grown and traded, and in the environmental impact of globalised food networks.
  • Access. An important aspect of complementary food networks is that of ‘localism’ and the aim of ‘re-localising’ food systems and shortening of food supply chains (Winter, 2003 ; Pearson and Bailey, 2009).

Sydney Food Fairness Alliance

The Sydney Food Fairness Alliance (SFFA) is a network of consumers, rural producers, health professionals, community workers and advocates who want to see food security for all within a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable food system.

In 2012 the SFFA aims to :

  • support farmers in the NSW Year of the Farmer as they face increasing pressure from urban development, expansion of mining and the drive to lower prices
  • draw attention to food insecurity among low-income groups & lobby for increases in benefits; showcase projects that address food insecurity.

The SFFA calls for the formation of an independent Food Policy Council with state-wide responsibility to develop and ensure the security of the state's food supply.

The Council would adopt an integrated approach inclusive of:

  • protection in perpetuity of prime agricultural land and the agricultural water supply
  • compliance of agricultural production and distribution with the principles of ecologically sustainable development
  • access to affordable and adequate fresh food irrespective of income
  • investigation of innovative measures such as tax reforms and subsidies to promote access to healthy foods and reduce the burden of chronic disease
  • a cautionary approach to approving new food production and processing technologies to ensure food safety
  • adequate funding for agricultural research and development that complies with principles of ecologically sustainable development and especially the growing organic industry
  • ensuring fair economic returns to farmers
  • support for the development of community-based and regional food systems which support regional economies and improve food access
  • ensuring people have access to information so as to make informed food choices


9.3.2 Scope of CFNs

CFNs include a range of ’local food initiatives‘ or projects including both commercial and community-based ventures (Winter, 2003). They encompass a wide range of practices including alternative food production, information and distribution systems. (Pearson and Hodgkin, 2010) provide the following examples:

  • Providing additional information to allow consumers to make more informed choices, including food labelling that incorporate food miles and/or a carbon footprints. Maps can be developed showing where food is currently being grown and the location of vacant land in urban areas with opportunities for food production, such as the VEIL project in Melbourne (Edwards and Mercer, 2010). The concept of ’terroir‘ is also being promoted, which is a term for specialty foods which are valued by consumers because of their association with a particular region (Feagan, 2007).
  • Farmers markets which can bring consumers in contact with local producers and encourage local and seasonal consumption (Mason and Knowd, 2010).
  • Another community-based model connects small local producers and purchasers through websites and collection centres around a city, for example Food Connect.
  • Increasing accessibility to local foods for example food-sharing schemes which may take place at community gardens, food swaps at fairs or simply by giving excess backyard produce to neighbours (Edwards and Mercer, 2010).
  • Innovations to increase the area used for food production for growing food. This can range from rooftop gardens (Skinner, 2006; Wakefield et al., 2007) to vertical farming in climate-controlled skyscrapers custom-built for food production (Sullivan, 2009).
  • Urban planning innovations such as ’eco-cities’. In these alternative models cities can produce their own food and energy, reuse their own water, and treat and reuse wastes. ‘Co-housing’ is a similar concept in which groups of houses provide a shared space that includes gardens and composting areas. Examples include Pinakarri in Western Australia and Christie Walk in Adelaide (Crabtree, 2005).
  • Gardening activities. Private gardens have been reported to make a noticeable contribution to food production, at around five per cent. However, they are not well represented in the literature on urban agriculture (Pearson and Hodgkin, 2010).
  • Community gardens. These are a special type of garden, and have been shown to provide the greatest social benefits of all alternative food systems, as well as providing valuable environmental, economic and health benefits (Pearson and Hodgkin, 2010).
  • Kitchen gardens. The suburban kitchen garden has a long tradition. Before the concept of ornamental gardens, plants were grown out of necessity. In Australia during colonial times and times of hardship (such as the World War Years and the Great Depression) vegetable gardens were an essential part of many Australian households. Community based kitchen gardens (which link food production, food preparation, cooking and eating) are now becoming an increasingly popular way for schools to promote environmental learning and to connect students with healthy food and lifestyles (Block and Johnson, 2009).
  •  Activities such as ’gleaning‘ (collecting fruit from street trees) and ‘guerrilla gardening’ (where public spaces are cultivated without official approval) can add to the sum of urban agricultural production in a city.

9.3.3 Benefits of CFNs

(Firth and Pearson, 2010) list the following benefits of CFNs:

  • Reducing unnecessary food transportation
  • Utilizing more sustainable food production systems
  • Increasing local employment
  • Retaining more money in the local economy
  • Providing better incomes for farmers
  • Creating greater trust and connection between consumers and producers (Pretty, 2001)

Some researchers however have questioned the benefits of CFNs, including claims by their supporters of being more ‘sustainable’(Winter, 2003; Born and Purcell, 2006). ‘Localism’ has also been criticized as a defensive reaction to protect local parochial traditions and practices (Holloway and Keasfey, 2000). Another major criticism of CFNs is that the food they produce is often expensive and accessible only to ‘elite’ urban consumers and not the majority of the population (Goodman, 2004).

9.4 Peri-urban agriculture

9.4.1 Overview

Agriculture on the edge of urban areas, (known as peri-urban agriculture) is not a new concept but was the traditional source of food for cities before cheap transportation enabled more distant production (Pearson and Hodgkin, 2010). Peri-urban agriculture is of value both as a source of agricultural production and by creating buffers between cities and surrounding areas (Merson et al., 2010). The importance of preserving urban agriculture, including market gardens and farming, on the urban fringe is increasingly being recognised (Paster, 2004; Mason and Knowd, 2010). Issues of climate change and sustainable development, especially the impacts of oil based transportation, highlight the benefits of retaining productive agricultural land in close proximity to cities (Knight and Riggs, 2010; Pearson et al., 2010). According to (Kent et al., 2011):

‘Urban agricultural lands play an important part in the production and supply of healthy food to urban areas in Australia and should be protected’  p.96.

9.4.2 Planning issues

There is widespread concern in many cities that suburban development is encroaching on, and alienating, viable agricultural lands in close proximity to urban centres (Sinclair, 2009).

Retaining agriculture on the urban fringe, however, often conflicts with other planning priorities, and productive land is often rezoned for residential use to accommodate population growth demands, at the expense of food production (Mason and Knowd, 2010; Merson et al., 2010). According to (Merson et al., 2010):

‘ is clear that land-use planning, particularly with reference to lot sizes, subdivision and zoning objectives, is of paramount importance in maintaining agricultural land on the urban fringe’ p. 80.

Despite its value, however, there appear to be few policies which protect and support urban and peri-urban agriculture (Mason and Knowd, 2010). Some argue that urban and urban fringe farmers may actually need incentives to remain in place (Knowd, 2006; Sullivan, 2009). In some areas communities have successfully used tourism to support the peri-urban agriculture (For example the Hawkesbury Harvest Farm Gate Trail on the edge of the Sydney urban area) (Pearson and Hodgkin, 2010).

9.5 Urban agriculture

9.5.1 Overview

The term urban agriculture encompasses a wide range of agricultural food production practices occurring within urban areas (Brown and Jameton, 2000; Drescher et al., 2006). The concept of urban agriculture is not new, but is now being revived by many communities. Urban agriculture was once common in Australian cities, however it began to decline in the 1980s (Gaynor, 2006). Gaynor  notes that urban agriculture is still common in many Asian cities. At least to the 1990s Singapore was self-sufficient in meat and 25 per cent self-sufficient in vegetables, and Hong Kong produced two-thirds of the poultry and almost half the vegetables it consumed (O'Meara, 1999). Although the situation is clearly different in Australia, it does show the potential for urban food production in even the densest cities.

9.5.2 Planning issues

(Evers, 2010) observes that today urban agriculture requires local and state government support in order to survive. In fact one of the reasons for the disappearance of urban and peri-urban agriculture (such as market gardens) from the Australian urban areas has been changes in land-use planning policies (Gaynor, 2006). It has been demonstrated, however, that planners can ‘re-integrate’ urban agriculture into land use planning. A recent survey of two northern American cities (Portland and Vancouver) reviewed efforts to better integrate urban agriculture into the planning process by first identifying land with a high potential for agricultural production. Preliminary indications were that this was being done successfully, however it was noted that both of these cities had pre-existing commitments to urban sustainability (Mendes et al., 2008).

9.6 Community gardening

9.6.1 Definitions

According to (Evers, 2010) a dense urban fabric does not mean that a city cannot provide at least some of its own food. However, dense cities often have little private green space, so publicly owned open spaces may often be the most suitable venues for urban food production. Community gardening however, is simply one form of urban agriculture, the common feature of urban agriculture being the production of productive vegetation within an urban setting. (Glover, 2003) defines a community garden as being:

‘organised initiative(s) whereby sections of land are used to produce food or flowers in an urban environment for the personal or collective benefit of their members who, by virtue of their participation, share certain resources such as space, tools and water‘  p. 264.

Community gardens have been defined by (Somerset et al., 2005) as spaces that:

‘provide an agricultural environment within city limits, where vegetables and fruit are produced, and in some cases livestock is cultivated. They are either owned and farmed by members of the community or subdivided into allotments cultivated by individuals’  p. 26.

The Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network provides a useful starting point for exploring the concept of community gardening. They define community gardens as ‘places where people come together to grow fresh food, to learn, relax and make new friends.’ (Astbury and Rogers, 2004) however consider that this broad description does not account for the many ways in which community gardens are manifest in urban areas. Projects vary considerably in size, from large-scale urban farms that occupy significant areas of land, to small-scale community allotments on restricted areas of vacant or unused public or private land. While community gardens are but one component of the wider urban agriculture system (and deliver the same economic, health and environmental benefits as urban agriculture) it is now recognized that they can make a unique contribution to social development and community building. (Pearson and Hodgkin, 2010) observe that this social contribution emerges from their unique structure, a structure which is also the major source of the challenges that they face.

Figure 57: Randwick community organic garden. Source: Randwick City Council.

9.6.2 History of community gardening

In the past community gardens were seen as an important way of overcoming food shortages during times of depression and war. Community gardening however declinedduring the post-war boom period when economic prosperity reduced the need for alternative food sources (Astbury and Rogers, 2004). In the past 15 years however there has been renewed interest in community gardens, supported by government (especially local governments) which recognise their potential as cost-effective tools for community building (Grayson, 2007).This has seen a shift of focus from community gardens as being primarily food sources to community gardens delivering long term social benefits.

Grayson (one of the inaugural founders of the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network) provides a detailed overview of the origins and history of community gardens in Australia, albeit from a Sydney based perspective (Grayson, 2010). The 1977 Nunawading Community Garden in Melbourne was the first documented community garden in Australia (despite reports of a possible earlier community garden in South Australia). Sydney‘s first known community garden was Glovers Community Garden in Rozelle, built on what was then health department land followed in 1991 by Sydney’s Waterloo Community Garden (on Uniting Church land) and Angel Street Permaculture Garden (on Education Department land). In Brisbane, Northey Street City Farm began around 1994 and became one of Australia‘s leading sustainability education centres, like CERES in Melbourne which dates from around 1984.

Darren Phillips created the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network in 1994 after coming across a large number of community gardens and other community-based initiatives in his PhD research, which were largely unknown to each other. The network is now an informal, national entity advocating and educating about community gardening and associated community food systems. Grayson observes that the late 1990s saw a steady growth in the number of community garden start-ups and this rate increased at the turn of the century. It was during this period that local and state government became involved in community gardens. State government began in the 1990s with the creation of Cultivating Community in Melbourne (which manages the community gardening and community food program for the Victorian Department of Human services Office of Housing). In Sydney Housing NSW adopted a policy for community gardens for their tenants on housing estate land. The first social housing community gardens, on the Waterloo Estate in inner urban Sydney, were assisted by South Sydney City Council through its 1995 food security policy which offered support for community gardens and other food initiatives.

Community garden start-ups increased at a more rapid rate from around 2003, due to a number of factors including growing support for community gardening from local government. Community gardens have become‘desirable’ things to have in a local government context, although many councils do remain uncertain about their presence. The other stimulus for the growth in community gardens has been their appearance on television gardening programs and other media, whichexposed the concept to a broader audience.

In Australia the number of community gardens increased from one in 1977 to over 40 in 1996, according to the pioneering survey undertaken by Dr Darren Phillips (Phillips, 1996) entitled 1996 Australian City Farms, Community Gardens and Enterprise Centres Inventory. Currently there are thought to be around 40 community gardens in South Australia alone, and details of 30 community gardens are listed in the 2012 Guide to Community Gardens in South Australia (Staniforth, 2012a).

South Australian Community Garden Directory

  1. Aberfoyle Park -Aberfoyle Community Garden
  2. Adelaide - Box Factory Community Garden, Secateurs Project One
  3. Adelaide - St Andrew’s Hospital Garden, Secateurs Project Two
  4. Adelaide – WalyoYerta Community Garden
  5. Aldinga Beach – Aldinga Community Garden
  6. Banksia Park Community Garden
  7. Bedford Park – Flinders University Community Garden
  8. Blanchetown Community Garden
  9. Brompton – Green Street Community Gardens
  10. Camden Park -Camden Community Garden
  11. Campbelltown -Lochiel Park Community Garden
  12. Christie Downs -Elizabeth House Over 50’sCommunity Centre
  13. Clayton Bay – The Clayton Bay Community Association Garden
  14. Davoren Park -Peachey Place Community Garden
  15. Dernancourt Community Garden
  16. Elizabeth – Anglicare SA Community Garden
  17. Fullarton – FernAvenue Community Garden/Alternative 3
  18. Gilles Plains – Wandana Community Garden
  19. Glandore – Glandore Community Garden
  20. Goodwood – The Goody Patch Community Garden
  21. Goolwa – Cittaslow Goolwa Community Garden
  22. Hackham South School Community Garden
  23. Hackham West – Urban Connection
  24. Hackham West Community Garden
  25. Henley Community Garden
  26. Hillcrest – KurruruPingyarendi Community Garden
  27. Kapunda Community Garden
  28. Magill - Chapel Street Community Garden
  29. Milang – Milang Community Garden
  30. Mitchell Park –Marion LIFE Community Garden
  31. Morphett Vale – Wakefield House Community Garden
  32. Mount Barker – Duck Flat Community Garden
  33. Mount Gambier – The Old Mount Gambier Gaol Community Garden
  34. Murray Bridge – Murray bridge Community Garden
  35. Naracoorte -  Naracoorte Community Garden
  36. Noarlunga Downs Primary School and Community Garden
  37. Parafield Gardens – Morella Community Garden
  38. Peterborough – Peterborough Community Garden
  39. Port Lincoln – Port Lincoln Community Garden
  40. Port Pirie – Port Pirie Community Garden
  41. Prospect – Prospect Community Garden
  42. Seaford – Seaford Ecumenical Community Garden
  43. Seaford - Seaford Meadows Scout Community Garden
  44. St Mary’s – Picket Fence Community Garden
  45. Semaphore – St Bede’s Community Garden
  46. Stepney – Linde Community Garden
  47. Verdun – Adelaide Hills Community Garden
  48. Victor Harbor – Victor Harbor Community Garden
  49. Wallaroo – Wallaroo Community Garden
  50. Williamstown – Williamstown Community Garden
  51. Woodville – Ridley Grove Community Garden
  52. Wynn Vale – Wynn Vale Community Garden
  53. Whyalla Norrie – EcoLETS Garden Group
Source: (Staniforth, 2012a).


9.6.3 Scope of community gardening

According to (Grayson, 2010) five models of community garden have evolved in Sydney over the past ten years, mainly related to the types of organizations that initiate these projects:

  • Self-managed gardens in which the gardeners make the decisions and have responsibility for the direction the garden takes and for its day-to-day operation.
    • This model forms the largest group of community gardens.
  • Council-volunteer community gardens in which the gardeners are council volunteers.
    • A council staff member has to be on site when gardening is taking place, so this suits only those with time available then. There are few gardens of this variety but Willoughby Council operates a successful community gardening team of the type.
  • Council-managed community gardens which operate much like UK allotment gardens, with council licensing access to an allotment for a fixed period.
    • Council remains responsible for major decisions and, although there would be potential to democratise the process to the gardeners, the extent that this happens is likely to differ between gardens.
    • For councils, this model requires a dedicated staff position.
    • There are only a couple gardens of this type in Sydney (Hurstville and Waverley community gardens).
  • Agency community gardens such as those started by a community centre or health centre.
    • These are reportedly in larger supply in Adelaide.
  • Social housing community gardens participation in which is limited to state government social housing residents.
    • Cultivating Community manage such gardens in Melbourne, while Housing NSW has a policy to support gardens on its land and the Royal Botanic Gardens Trust has set up the Community Greening program to assist social housing gardens.

The (City of Sydney, 2009) recognizes a number of community garden models, with the most common in Australia being:

  • Community gardens with a mixture of allotments for each member and some shared areas.
  • Communal gardens where the entire garden is managed collectively. Some examples of communal gardens are food forests (which include structured layers of plants such as edible groundcovers, shrubs and trees).
  • Verge gardens where garden beds are established on the nature strip. These are considered a type of community garden when they are managed collectively by a group of local residents and decisions are made jointly.
  • School kitchen gardens are defined as community gardens when local residents outside of the school community can join the garden and manage the garden in partnership with the school. In this model, the garden may include individual plots for residents’ communal garden beds that the school can manage and use for lessons on cooking, nutrition and the environment and provide produce for the school canteen. School kitchen gardens are not always set up as community gardens due to perceived problems with access and security for people outside of the school community.
  • Community gardens on public housing land usually contain a mixture of plots and common areas and are specifically open to residents living in public housing. They are supported by the Botanic Gardens Trust and Housing NSW Community Greening program.

(Grayson, 2010) also looks at new directions which have recently emerged for community gardening, (from a Sydney perspective) and suggests that ‘new directions’ in other states may possibly be a little different. These new directions include:

  1. The emergence of local government policy
  2. A structured approach
  3. Dedicated council staff
  4. Adoption of an educational role
  5. Multiple-use facilities
  6. Development of sustainability education hubs
  7. The ‘speciation’ of community gardening (i.e. the emergence of a range of different community garden models)

9.6.4 School kitchen gardens

School kitchen gardens provide opportunities to connect with nature and learn about healthy eating (Ozer, 2007; Carlsson and Williams, 2008). The Kitchen Garden Foundation, an Australian organisation founded by Stephanie Alexander, describes kitchen gardens as school gardens that are created to provide ‘edible, aromatic and beautiful resources for a kitchen’ (Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, 2012). The foundation claims that ‘the creation and care of a kitchen garden teaches children about the natural world, about its beauty and how to care for it, how best to use the resources we have, and an appreciation for how easy it is to bring joy and wellbeing into one‘s life through growing, harvesting, preparing and sharing fresh, seasonal produce.’

Figure 58: Kilkenny Primary School kitchen garden. Source: Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation.

(Henryks, 2010) has reviewed the literature on school kitchen gardens and found support for the positive impacts of kitchen school gardens on children in a number of ways including:

  • Educational outcomes such as the effect of green environments on children‘s learning ability (Wells, 2000; Bagot, 2005; Maller et al., 2009)
  • Nutritional knowledge (Graham and Zidenberg-Cherr, 2005)
  • Positively promoting physical activity for students (Bell and Dyment, 2008)
  • Children‘s psychosocial development, behavioural engagement and cooperation with peers (Pranis, 2004)

Henryks also observes that school kitchen gardens involve not only children but also teachers, parents and other volunteer community members and there is little evidence on the benefits to these stakeholders. The author investigated this gap in the literature through an exploration of the various ways the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden may have affected the lives of adult volunteers associated with the Majura Primary School in the ACT. A key finding was that volunteers experienced benefits they were not expecting and this had some effect on their lives.

9.6.5 Verge gardening

According to (Grayson, 2012):

‘Street verge gardening is the practice of growing ornamental, native or edible plants on the footpath. The rise in popularity of edible gardens has brought the planting of fruits, herbs and vegetables, sometimes mixed with flowers and native plants, to our street verges’.

Figure 59: Chippendale NSW verge garden. Source: (Grayson, 2012).

Verge gardening is another form of urban agriculture,which is now attracting attention and support in professional design circles. Verge gardening is also considered by some to be a form of community gardening, especially if there is collective management of the verge. Edible verge gardening is not new in Australian cities but can be traced to the period of immigration in the 1950s especially immigrants from Mediterranean countries. Some councils have also contributed to edible streetscapes (often unintentionally) by planting fruit and nut trees in urban streets and parks.

Urban agriculture and food security supporters are now advocating for councils to consider planting edible fruit and nut trees as part of street and park replanting schemes.These can provide the same ‘ecosystem services’ as other urban trees, but with the added benefit of an edible yield.One example is the citrus planted between eucalypts on the street verge adjacent to Glandore Community Centre in Adelaide. The citrus trees provide an edible understorey to the taller eucalypts, providing a pleasant and productive streetscape and a varied urban canopy. Others examples include the Myrtle Street plantings in inner Sydney and the community nut trees established in Totnes in the UK (Grayson, 2012).

Some street verge gardens however may be spontaneous installations constructed without the approval or knowledge of council. Councils however have a number of valid concerns including questions of public safety and liability related to their responsibilities for managing council owned streets and street plantings. Potential issues include:

  • Responsibilities for maintenance (as staff have may have no training in the maintenance of fruit and nut trees or skills such as pruning, pest management and harvesting).
  • Slip hazards from fallen fruit and nuts.
  • The possibility of homeowners abandoning their verge plantings. Where the verge garden is a community garden maintained by a team of local people the question is less relevant as such verge maintenance is a collective effort.
  • Conflict with other street uses and activities, such as pedestrian access and access to parked cars.
  • Conflicts with service infrastructure, both above and below ground.

One suggested solution with respect to fallen fruit is to ‘glean’ the fruit and nuts before they fall. Gleaners are already at work in cities harvesting apparently unwanted fruit, for exchange at food swaps. There is also potential for community organisations to take on the voluntary jobs of maintaining trees and harvesting produce. However if plantings are on public land it would appear that anyone can harvest from edible verge trees.

Some councils have taken a positive approach to verge gardening producing guideline documents (City of Sydney, 2011). Where a number of households on a street is involved, the City of Sydney covers verge gardening within its Community Garden Policy (City of Sydney, 2009). Justification for verge gardening may be drawn from a number of sources including:

  • Food security
  • Neighbourhood beautification/visual amenity
  • Urban re-greening
  • Increasing biodiversity
  • Carbon sequestration in soils
  • Reduction of urban heat island effects
  • Developing social capital and civic engagement

In Australia local councils are the traditional managers of the urban verge and have tended to limit resident initiatives in verge planting and management.  A number of councils, however, have recently adopted ‘Sustainable Streets’, ‘Adopt-a-Tree’ or ‘Adopt-a-Verge’ initiatives which allow local residents increased ‘ownership’ and responsibility for verge improvements and maintenance. Such initiatives, however, require careful management policies and practices, to prevent unsustainable outcomes for council. Some Australian councils with edible verge gardening policies include:

  • City of Sydney
  • Randwick City Council
  • Marrickville Council
  • Kogarah Council

The Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network has highlighted the need for design guidelines for edible verge gardens. The verge is often the ‘public face’ of the city and its treatment can determine the perceived amenity, desirability and attractiveness of a suburb. Past experience has shown that one of the most effective ways of obtaining community support is through well executed demonstration projects, especially when undertaken on a shared partnership basis. The other key to a successful project is a collaborative approach involving all of the relevant disciplines within and external to council. In 2012, The Network produced a useful guideline document Farmers of the Urban Footpath – Ideas for urban food gardeners and local government (Grayson, 2012).

9.7 Community Gardening Resources

There are now a large number of resources available in Australia to assist in the establishment and management of community gardens.

9.7.1 Community gardening websites

A number of state and national organizations maintain websites which are valuable resources for information sharing on community gardens and other forms of urban agriculture, including community gardening websites and guideline documents.

Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network

The Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network (ACGN) is an informal, community-based organisation linking people interested in community gardening from around Australia. It aims to promote the benefits of community gardening and facilitate the development and maintenance of gardens through information dissemination and advice. The Network was established in 1994 by Darren Phillips as a result of his PhD research into community gardens in Australia, which identified a lack of communication among various gardens, which were acting independently of each other rather than sharing information and providing support. The role of the ACGN has evolved over time to encompass a range of activities.

Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network

An informal, community-based organisation linking people interested in community gardening from around Australia. Within the limits of our capacity, the network:

  • advocates on behalf of community gardeners
  • provides information on our website
  • provides presentations and advice to local government, other institutions and communities interested in establishing community gardens
  • documents the development of community gardening in Australia
  • provides a list of contacts through which the public may contact community gardens

The Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network connects community gardeners around Australia.


SA Community Gardens

The Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network has links to networks in each Australian state including South Australia. The SA Community Gardens site provides access to the SA Community and School Gardens Network directory of SA Community Gardens produced by Jo Staniforth and the Adelaide Botanic Gardens Community and Kitchen Gardens Project (Staniforth, 2012a).

Kitchen Garden Foundation Stephanie Alexander

The stated aim of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation is to introduce pleasurable food education into as many Australian primary schools as possible. The fundamental philosophy that underpins the program is that by setting good examples and engaging children’s curiosity, as well as their energy and their taste buds, they can be provided with positive and memorable food experiences that will form the basis of healthy lifelong eating habits. The movement began in 2001 when cook and food writer Stephanie Alexander OAM partnered with an inner-Melbourne school community to establish the Kitchen Garden Program at Collingwood College. According to the Foundation this pioneering approach to food education is now flourishing in many schools, through the support of national and state government funding. Schools joining the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program commit to building the necessary infrastructure and delivering the program within the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation philosophy. Kitchen Garden Schools deliver regular kitchen and garden classes, enabling skills-based learning that extends across the entire school curriculum. South Australian schools participating in the program include:

  • Bridgewater Primary School
  • Christie Downs Schools
  • Clarendon Primary School
  • Coober Pedy Area School
  • Coomandook Area School
  • Elizabeth Downs Primary School
  • Elizabeth Park Schools
  • Hampstead Primary School
  • Happy Valley School
  • Hawker Area School
  • Indulkana Anangu School
  • Kilkenny Primary School
  • Littlehampton Primary School
  • Loxton Primary School
  • Macclesfield Primary School
  • McDonald Park School
  • McLaren Vale Primary School
  • Napperby Primary School
  • O'Sullivan Beach School
  • Pimpala Primary School
  • Quorn Area School
  • Stirling North Primary School
  • Sunrise Christian School – Whyalla Norrie
  • The Heights School
  • Ungarra Primary School
  • Wirrabara Primary School
  • Woodend Primary School
  • Wudinna Area School

Community Centres SA

In 2003-2004 Community Centres SA was funded by the Department of Health to co-ordinate a ‘Community Gardening in SA’ project. Community Centres SA sees community gardens as ‘places where people come together to grow food and community’. One of the outcomes of this project has been the ‘Community Gardening in SA Resource Kit’ researched and written by Claire Nettle. In 2009, the Resource Kit was revised and updated, and reprinted as ‘Growing Community: Starting and Nurturing Community Gardens’ (Nettle, 2009).

Kitchen Gardens SA

The Kitchen Garden Initiative is a strategic priority for the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide which promotes the development of kitchen gardens in homes, schools and communities in South Australia. As a collaborative partnership it encourages people to ‘create their own connections between food, plants and culture’. The Kitchen Garden Initiative aims to develop a social, cultural and environmental understanding of where food comes from, from a horticultural, cultural and global perspective.Kitchen Gardens SA maintains a website which is supported by the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, SA Health and Santos. The site includes a list of research publications including research into the benefits of children’s involvement in community gardens.Some South Australian schools with kitchen gardens include the following, although many other schools are known to have kitchen gardens:

  • Black Forest Primary School
  • Elizabeth Campus Childcare and Learning Centre
  • Elizabeth Downs Primary School
  • Elizabeth Vale Primary School
  • Goodwood Primary School
  • Immanuel Lutheran School Gawler
  • John Hartley School and Children's Centre
  • Mark Oliphant College
  • Woodend Primary School
  • Kilkenny Primary School

9.7.2 Community gardening guidelines

A number of organizations produce guideline documents for groups wishing to establish community garden projects. An important example is Growing Community: Starting and Nurturing Community Gardens (Nettle, 2009). Nettle was commissioned to write Growing Community: Starting and Nurturing Community Gardens for Community Centres SA and SA Health in 2009. The book and companion website were created to facilitate the establishment of new community gardens and to support existing gardens. Some other useful guideline documents include:

  • City of Sydney Draft Footpath Gardening Policy 2011 (City of Sydney, 2011).
  • Farmers of the Urban Footpath – Ideas for urban food gardeners and local government. Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network (Grayson, 2012).
  • Getting started in community gardening, City of Sydney (Thomas, 2008).
  • Community Gardens Policy Directions for Marrickville Council (Grayson, 2007).
  • Randwick City Council. Community garden guidelines (Grayson, 2010a)

Online links to a number of leading community garden projects are also available. Some examples include:

CERES Melbourne

CERES is an award winning environmental park in East Brunswick, Melbourne. The CERES Community Food System is a working collection of farms, seed and food swaps, and ethical retail businesses that train, employ and connect diverse groups of people through locally grown organic food. CERES mission is to demonstrate how an urban city farm can anchor a community and contribute to the local economy, providing an ethical market place, and employment opportunities.

Northey Street Farm Brisbane

Northey Street City Farm is a non-profit community organisation on Brisbane's Breakfast Creek in Windsor. The farm has been developed for people to enjoy and participate in the principles of permaculture. It is also intended to be a demonstration site where people of all ages can learn through practical, hands on experience.

Melbourne Community Gardens - Cultivating Community

Cultivating Community is a non-profit organisation based in Melbournewhich focuses on‘people, communities, gardening, farming, the environment and food’. Its mission is to 'work with diverse communities to create fair, secure and resilient food systems’. Cultivating Community was established in 1998 and is best known for its work supportingcommunity gardens for tenants of inner-city public housing estates. Its activities span urban agriculture,food hubs,school gardens, permaculture, Community Supported Agriculture, organic farming, food waste management and environmental education.

9.8 Benefits of urban agriculture

9.8.1 Introduction

Urban or community based agriculture, and the use of local produce, have gained popularity in recent years, as evidenced by the increase in farmers markets and community gardens. The diverse social, economic and environmental benefits of urban agriculture have been examined across a number of research fields (Pearson and Hodgkin, 2010; Pearson et al., 2010). As well as supplying fresh quality produce (with health related benefits) local food production can be seen as an integral component of community building. Key health and well-being benefits include access to healthy food options and the opportunity to undertake physical activity (Mason and Knowd, 2010). Farmers markets and community gardens also provide opportunities for social interaction and contact with nature, with related human health and well-being benefits (Teig et al., 2009; Maller et al., 2010; Pearson et al., 2010). At a broader scale, urban agriculture can help address issues of climate change and food security (Macias, 2008). The following section provides an overview of the benefits of Green Infrastructure in the form of urban agriculture, summarized on Figure 60.

Figure 60: Benefits of urban agriculture. Source: M. Ely.

9.8.2 Environmental benefits

Reduced food miles

Today there are often great distances between where food is grown and where it is finally consumed. Long distance food transportation generates a range of environmental costs including increased air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The distance that food travels from initial production to processing, packaging and finally to consumer has been termed 'food miles' (Pearson and Hodgkin, 2010). Concern about the environmental impacts of such food systems has led to emergence of a movement aimed at reducing these ‘food miles’ known as ’localism‘ (Edwards and Mercer, 2010). Urban agriculture is one way to potentially reduce ‘food miles’.

Figure 61: How far has your food travelled? Source; (SFFA, 2006).

Composting and waste reduction

Many cities face significant environmental issues dealing with waste, including a move to the recycling of some materials (Pearson and Hodgkin, 2010). Agricultural production in and around cities can support practices such as composting, which enables the re-use of high nutrient organic waste from food processing and consumption (Mougeot, 2005). This also provides a valuable resource for the intensive production methods often adopted in urban agriculture. Composting and recycling can also help to increases oil quality in urban areas.

Water reuse

Water scarcity has become a major issue in many Australian cities. Urban agriculture can utilize waste water from urban development as well as re-using stormwater runoff in the food production process (Barker-Reid et al., 2010). Sustainable production however requires that appropriate crops be grown which are suited to an area’s local water regime (Edwards and Mercer, 2010).


Compared with large scale agriculture, urban agriculture is made up of a large numberof small producers,resulting in increased biodiversity (Feagan, 2007). This biodiversity includes both spatial diversity (with a ‘patchwork’ of productive areas across the urban landscape) and biological diversity (with a variety of ecosystems associated with the different crops grown). Small-scale urban food producers also tend to avoid adopting high input monocultures, and production methods may often be more ‘environmentally friendly’ and can sometimes incorporate organic gardening practices.


Urban areas are subject to increased temperatures and urban agriculture is one way of increasing the sum of green areas within a city, which can assist in mitigating urban heat island effects (Skinner, 2006).

9.8.3 Social benefits

There are a number of practical ‘social’ reasons for growing food close to urban populations. These include health benefits, community education, fostering a sense of independence, and maintaining food security (Pearson and Hodgkin, 2010).

Health benefits

Urban agriculture has a number of human health benefits including (Pearson and Hodgkin, 2010):

  • Long distance transportation and refrigeration have been shown to decrease the nutrient content of many fresh fruits and vegetables, and locally sourced food can promote a fresher and more seasonal diet (Feagan, 2007; Pearson, 2007).
  • The diet-related human health risks of under-nutrition (malnutrition) or over-nutrition (obesity) may be reduced if people produce some of their own food, and at the same time reduce consumption of highly processed foods (Dixon et al., 2007).

Food knowledge and environmental awareness

  • Localized production has the potential to increase food awareness and knowledge. Open days and tours of urban farms are one way for consumers to learn where their food comes from and how it is produced (Knowd, 2006).
  • (Goltsman et al., 2009) highlight the link between environmental stewardship in children and health. They propose that children should be encouraged through learning and play to better engage with their environment. They advocate using neighbourhood parks and open spaces for children’s vegetable gardens or outdoor learning areas, rather than filling these spaces with ‘manicured park lawns and manufactured play equipment’ (Goltsman et al., 2009, p. 90). Their guidelines complement those outlined by (Wake, 2007) and (Rayner and Laidlaw, 2007) in an Australian context.

Urban greening

  • Land dedicated to urban agriculture can act as a buffers to urban expansion and infill, and can provide increased visual and physical access to green space for city residents (Merson et al., 2010).

Sense of independence

  • In countries such as Australia a ‘sense of independence’ is considered to be important to individuals (as epitomized by the dream of owning a free-standing house and private backyard). Producing one’s own food can be seen as supporting this sense of independence which can be socially empowering (Gaynor, 2006).
  • Producing one’s food can be an empowering experience, and this can occur through urban agriculture, including community gardens (DuPuis and Goodman, 2005). Using in-depth, key informant interviews to study the impacts of a community farm in Ontario, Canada, (Sumner et al., 2010) highlighted the important role of the community farm in connecting gardeners to both the community and the local food production process.

Food security

Food security is a global issue, and city dwellers are usually more vulnerable to food shortages than those in rural areas. It has been estimated that around one billion people, mostly in developing countries, are ‘food-insecure’ and at risk of under-nutrition (Pearson and Hodgkin, 2010). Food security, however,can also be an issue in developed countries.

  • It may be a particular issue for particular social groups include indigenous and aged people, migrants and the unemployed.
  • At times of significant stress (such as drought, depression or war) it can also impact on large sections of the population (Dixon et al., 2007).
  • Developed countries which rely on imported foods may also be vulnerable to food shortages triggered by global economic or political instability, or other production shortages (Millstone and Lang, 2008).
  • The production of food in cities in the form of urban agriculture may therefore contribute, in some small way, to national food security.

Figure 62: Factors influencing access to food. Source (SFFA, 2007).

9.8.4 Economic benefits

A number of economic benefits may also accrue from urban food production (Pearson and Hodgkin, 2010). These include:

  • Personal income can be generated from working on farms or selling one‘s own produce. (Houston, 2005).
  • Producing food for personal use can also lead to a significant reduction in food bills. (Pearson and Hodgkin,  2010) however note that while increases in food prices may have contributed to the recent widespread participation in urban agriculture, over the long-term the relative price of food has fallen significantly, suggesting that the direct economic advantage of urban agriculture may diminish.
  • Intensive small scale agriculture may be more ‘efficient’ than large scale agriculture in terms of productive output per hectare. In Australia peri-urban farms have been estimated to provide up to 25 per cent of the nation’s total gross agricultural production,from only three per cent of its agricultural land (Houston, 2005).

9.9 Benefits of gardening activities

Researchers have investigated the benefits of gardening as an activity, both individually and in a community garden context. According to (Staniforth, 2012b) :

‘Research shows that engagement in edible and community gardens is highly beneficial. People, especially children, gain multiple benefits in social, physical and mental health, gain understanding and appreciation for the environment and are more likely to be engaged with the community’.

The following is a summary of some of the benefits cited in the document Research that supports our work: Building support for your edible gardening program produced by the Kitchen Garden Initiative at the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide (Staniforth, 2012b):

Gardeners are more likely to eat fresh food, engage in healthy activity and have improved mental health.

  • Gardeners eat significantly more vegetables than non‐gardeners (Blair et al., 1991).
  • After gardening, children have shown more positive attitudes toward fruit and vegetable snacks (Lineberger and Zajicek, 2000).
  • Children who grow their own food are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables (Morris et al., 2001; Pothukuchi, 2004; Libman, 2007; Dyment and Bell, 2008a).
  • Adolescents who participated in garden‐based nutrition programs increased their servings of fruits and vegetables more than students in two other groups (McAleese and Ranklin, 2007).
  • Participants in six community garden programs increased their physical activity and their fruit and vegetable consumption (Twiss et al., 2003).
  • Participation in a community garden leads to increased fruit and vegetable consumption (Alaimo et al., 2008).

Gardeners have better levels of social engagement.

  • Parental involvement improves student achievementand this increases at schools with garden programs (Alexander et al., 1995; Dyment and Bell, 2008a).
  • After gardening, kids possess an appreciation for working with neighbourhood adults, and have an increased interest in improvement of neighbourhood appearance (Pothukuchi, 2004)..
  • Children engaged in gardening programs are more accepting of others who are different from themselves (Eames-Sheavly, 1994; Dyment and Bell, 2008a).
  • A United States telephone survey of 2,004 respondents showed that people engaged in gardening (picking vegetables, taking care of plants, or living next to a garden in childhood) were more likely to continue gardening as they aged and to form lasting positive relationships with gardens and trees (Lohr and Pearson-Mims, 2005).
  • Community gardens build community social cohesion and social capital (Glover, 2004).
  • Gardens improve social networks and community capacity through provision of social gathering space (Armstrong, 2000).

Gardeners have enhanced life skills and learning skills.

  • School gardening has been shown to increase self‐esteem, help students develop a sense of ownership and responsibility, foster relationships with family members, and increase parental involvement (Alexander et al., 1995).
  • In a project that involved integrating nutrition and gardening among children in grades one through four, students enhanced their understanding of good nutrition and the origin of fresh food and increased the quality and meaningfulness of learning (Canaris, 1995).
  • Children with learning disabilities, who participated in gardening activities, had enhanced nonverbal communication skills, developed awareness of the advantages of order, learned how to participate in a cooperative effort, and formed relationships with adults.
  • Students who are actively engaged in garden projects tend to enjoy learning and show improved attitudes towards education (Canaris, 1995; Dirks and Orvis, 2005).
  • Third to fifth grade students who participated in a one‐year gardening program showed a significant increase in self‐understanding, interpersonal relationship skills, and ability to work in groups compared to non‐participating students (Robinson and Zajicek, 2005).
  • Students engaged in designing and maintaining gardens show an increase in self‐efficacy (Poston et al., 2005; Lekies et al., 2006).

Children with special needs gain great benefit from involvement in gardening programs.

  • Juvenile offenders who enjoy gardening show improved self-esteem, inter-personal relationships, and attitudes towards school (Flagler, 1995; Waliczek and Bradley, 2001; Cammack et al., 2002).

Gardeners have greater understanding of nutrition, science, and environmental processes and place greater value on the environment.

  • Third, fourth and fifth grade students who participated in school gardening activities scored significantly higher on science achievement than those who did not experience any garden based activity (Klemmer et al., 2005).
  • Students engaged in garden programs show stronger positive attitudes towards the environment (Skelly and Zajicek, 1998; Mayer-Smith et al., 2007; Skelly and Bradley, 2007) and higher sense of environmental stewardship. They also place higher value on natural areas in adulthood (Lohr and Pearson-Mims, 2005).
  • Elementary school and junior high school students gained more positive attitudes about environmental issues after participating in a school garden program (Waliczek and Bradley, 2001).
  • Children involved in gardening programs have higher levels of nutritional knowledge (Morris and Zidenberg-Cherr, 2002).

9.10 Benefits of community gardens

9.10.1 Introduction

It is now recognized that community gardens are a special form of urban agriculture, which deliver the same benefits listed previously, but also make unique contributions to social development and community building. The benefits of community gardening have been well documented in recent years (Nettle, 2010). Increasing recognition of this range of benefits has also led to community gardening being adopted and promoted by a number of organisations including community centres, social service providers, public health agencies, local governments and schools (Nettle, 2010). A large body of research indicates that the benefits of community gardens extend well beyond increased physical activity and access to healthy food (Hynes and Howe, 2004; Thompson et al., 2007; Wakefield et al., 2007; Macias, 2008; Teig et al., 2009). Figure 63 illustrates some of the benefits of community gardening.

Figure 63: Benefits of community gardens. Source: M. Ely

9.10.2 Overview of the literature

According to (Firth and Pearson, 2010) literature dealing with community gardens is mainly drawn from the discipline of social science, with contributions from sociology, human geography and anthropology. Community gardens are generally seen to provide benefits in terms of food production as well as human and social development. (Cameron et al., 2010) review a wide range of academic material on community gardens, much of it highlighting the benefits of community gardening. For example:

  • Academic health literature has identified individual and collective health benefits (both physical and mental) from access to fresh food, improved nutrition, physical exercise and working alongside others (Armstrong, 2000; Teig et al., 2009; McCormack et al., 2010).
  • Community development literature highlights the role of community gardens in building community networks and social support, particularly in marginalised areas such as public housing estates (Saldivar-Tanaka and Krasny, 2004; Glover et al., 2005; Glover et al., 2005a; Kingsley and Townsend, 2006; D‘Abundo and Carden, 2008).
  • Environmental education literature includes research on community gardens as educational resources that can promote learning about sustainability, healthy living and even democracy (Ferris. J. et al., 2001; Glover et al., 2005a; Levkoe, 2006).
  • Social movement literature includes research on community gardens as sites of grassroots political organising, particularly when gardens are under threat from development pressures. For example in New York City in the 1990s, and more recently around South Central Farm in South Los Angeles (Schmelzkopf, 1995; Smith and Kurtz, 2003; Irazábal and Punja, 2009).

From a ‘sustainability’ perspective, (Stocker and Barnett, 1998)see community gardens as having the potential to promote physical, ecological, socio-cultural and economic sustainability in three key ways (p.180):

  1. The local growth of foods (often organic) can provide people with fresh, safe foods that are fundamental to physical and ecological sustainability.
  2. The making of community places provides opportunities for social and cultural interactions that form the basis for the evolution of socio-cultural sustainability.
  3. Community gardens can function as research, development, demonstration and dissemination sites for community science, horticultural techniques and innovative technologies, contributing towards economic sustainability.

9.10.3 Previous literature reviews

A number of research publications include literature reviews of the benefits of community gardens. Several of these are outlined below.

Community Gardening: An Annotated Bibliography.

Nettle has produced an annotated bibliography on community gardening for the Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network. The first edition was published in 2008 and a revised and expanded version, Community Gardening: An Annotated Bibliography was published in August 2010 including the latest research and analysis (Nettle, 2010).

Evaluation of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation.

An evaluation of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program was undertaken by a joint research team from the Faculty of Health, Medicine, Nursing & Behavioural Sciences, Deakin University and the McCaughey Centre: VicHealth Centre for the Promotion of Mental Health and Community Wellbeing, University of Melbourne (Block and Johnson, 2009). The evaluation included a review of literature on the benefits of kitchen gardens.

Healthy Built Environments: A review of the literature.

A literature review by (Kent et al., 2011) examined research evidence demonstrating links between the built environment and human health. The focus of the review was on the key built environment interventions or domains that support human health, which comprise:

  1. Getting People Active.
  2. Connecting and Strengthening Communities.
  3. Providing Healthy Food Options.

The study reviewed evidence supporting the proposition that ‘Community gardens are forums for incidental and organised interaction. They are spaces for people to establish and maintain contact with community and contact with nature’.

The researchers investigated the benefits of ‘participation and empowerment’ in producing one’s own food, in a community garden context, and concluded that ‘Participation in shaping the built environment supports interaction and psychological health by encouraging a sense of empowerment’.

The researchers also reviewed the benefits of healthy food options via. farmers’ markets and community gardens and concluded that ‘The link between exposure to community gardens and farmers’ markets, with increased consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables, is obvious although difficult to quantify. Markets and gardens also facilitate community interaction and physical activity. They are an extremely valuable element of a healthy built environment’.

Finally they reviewed the benefits of larger scale food production and concluded that ‘Urban agricultural lands play an important part in the production and supply of healthy food to urban areas in Australia and should be protected’.

A recent paper by (Guitart et al., 2012) at Griffith University in Queensland reviewed the extent of English academic literature on community gardens, including: who has undertaken the research, where it has been published, the geographical location of the gardens studied, and the various methods used to undertake the research. The researchers reviewed 87 papers and found the academic literature on community gardens to be dominated by studies investigating gardens in low-income areas with diverse cultural backgrounds. Research based in cities in the USA also dominated the literature. Scholars from a wide diversity of disciplines were found to have examined community gardens but research was mostly concentrated in the social sciences. The authors also found that the natural sciences were notably under-represented, and suggested that they have much to offer to the field, including assessing gardening practices to better understand the agro-biodiversity conservation potential of community gardens.

9.10.4 Community garden project reviews

A number of recent research projects have involved systematic reviews of existing community gardening projects, including assessments of the benefits reported by participants. These include:

(Astbury and Rogers, 2004). Evaluation of the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy: Gilles Plains Community Garden. A case study.

The Australian Government’s Stronger Families and Communities Strategy has funded a number of projects to help build family and community capacity to deal with the challenges they face. Capacity, at a community level, refers to the potential for action arising out of the interplay between human capital (levels of skills, knowledge and health status) social and institutional capital (leadership, motivation, networks) and economic capital (local services, infrastructure and resources). The Gilles Plains Community Garden project received funding under the Strategy, and provides insights into how this capacity can be developed, and then used. These insights are relevant to a broad range of capacity building projects, not just to community gardens. In this project, some of the capacity was very tangible (the physical infrastructure of the garden) but some was less tangible but equally important (the human capital of skills and knowledge; and the developing social capital of networks and trust).

A case study of Gilles Plains Community Garden project was conducted by (Astbury and Rogers, 2004). The researchers describe how the project was developed and implemented, its short term outcomes, and the potential for further outcomes through further use of the capacity developed in the program. The study analysed the factors seen to have been important in its success (including significant time and attention to planning and consultation, appropriate physical location, the development of effective partnerships, and building on previous developments).The case study also analysed the contribution of the Strategy to the observed outcome. It was concluded that with projects such as these, involving multiple activities and funders, support from the Strategy (through funding and assistance during project development and implementation) was a necessary component, and effective in combination with other efforts. The garden was seen as providing a useful metaphor for other capacity-building projects. Successful gardens and projects were seen to require thorough preparation and durable infrastructure. Once the initial construction has been completed, opportunities are created for a range of new activities and involvements.

(Urbis Keys Young, 2004). Community Greening Program Evaluation Final Report, The Botanic Gardens Trust and the NSW Department of Housing.

Urbis Keys Young was commissioned in September 2003 to conduct an evaluation for the Community Greening community garden program undertaken in partnership by the Botanic Gardens Trust and the NSW Department of Housing. The project was evaluated in terms of the five program objectives set out by the NSW Premier’s Department. The main findings were as follows:

Reduced crime and antisocial behaviour

The program’s main benefits regarding crime and anti-social behaviour involve reductions to vandalism and other opportunistic crime and increased feelings of safety and confidence moving about the estate for participants. A further, potential benefit is an increased likelihood to report crime.

Improved health and community resilience

The benefits of the program in terms of improved health and community resilience are apparent especially in terms of combating social isolation, increasing interaction between different cultures and between public housing and other residents, giving people a sense of place and of purpose, pride in their achievements and increasing ownership and use of shared spaces. Benefits to the physical health of participants through exercise and better nutrition are also reported to have occurred.

Improved educational and employment opportunities

There is one identified case of a participant taking up horticulture as a profession as a result of involvement in the program. A great number of participants consulted, however, were not of working age and some suffered barriers to education and employment outside the scope of the program (e.g. English language fluency). It is therefore unlikely that the program has had direct outcomes in terms of enhancing the employment status of most participants.

Improved local coordination and infrastructure

The program has generated cross- sectoral and cross-agency commitment at a local level. In addition there has been considerable partnership development between the business sector and the public sector, both at a local and a higher, program level.

Improved agency coordination and information sharing

The two principal partners in the Community Greening Program, the Botanic Gardens Trust and the NSW Department of Housing, appear to have developed a very successful partnership in which their skills have been effectively harnessed in support of the program.

(Thompson et al., 2007). The Role of Community Gardens in Sustaining Healthy Communities.

In this project the researchers studied a community garden operating in a public housing estate in Sydney’s inner west, and drew conclusions on the role of community gardens in building healthy and sustainable communities. The authors describedcommunity gardens as ‘places of refuge and social support, where knowledge is shared’.The study involved a literature review, data collection on the gardens, in-depth interviews with key stakeholders and five focus groups involving a total of 28 participants (50 per cent of all gardeners). The focus groups explored five key themes: activity and therapeutic benefit, ownership and belonging, social function, managing the garden, cultural diversity and safety. The study conclusions included:

  • Contribution to health and wellbeing. The gardens were found to provide a setting for physical health benefits, through physical activity, access to fresh food and medicinal herbs, as well as psychological benefits through relaxation, meditation, the maintenance of a daily routine, and spiritual connection.
  • Contribution to community and social life.The gardens were seen to facilitate social interaction and develop social capital within the community. The community gardens were identified as a place to develop friendships, care for others and break down barriers. Some gardeners also believed that the presence of the gardens improved neighbourhood safety and security.
  • Contribution to cross-cultural relations.The gardens provided a link to many participants’ traditional cultural practices. Specialised produce was grown for cooking ethnic dishes and the sharing of produce translated into the sharing of culture and knowledge.

(Kinsley et al., 2009). Cultivating Health and Wellbeing: Members’ Perceptions of the Health Benefits of a Port Melbourne Community Garden.

(Kingsley et al., 2009) studied a community garden in Port Melbourne, to investigate the ways in which community gardens can contribute to enhanced health, wellbeing and contact with nature for city dwellers. Ten members from an urban community garden were interviewed to explore perceptions of the health and well-being benefits. The study concluded that:

  • Many members saw the garden as a supportive place to discuss life issues. Spirituality was featured in the way members described their gardening experiences.
  • Gardening was seen to promoteenhanced connection with and enjoyment of thecommunity, enabling people to achieve goals they did not think themselves capable of.
  • Working in the gardens improved physical fitness and overall health through consuming produce.
  • The community garden had individual health and wellbeing benefits, not least through providing an escape from daily stress, and a social outlet in an urban environment.

The authors described community gardens as ‘places of refuge and social support, where knowledge is shared’. These conclusions are generally supported by other studies indicating that the benefits of community gardens extend well beyond physical activity and access to healthy food (Hynes and Howe, 2004; Thompson et al., 2007; Wakefield et al., 2007; Macias, 2008; Teig et al., 2009).

(Block and Johnson, 2009). Evaluation of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program.

An evaluation of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program was undertaken by a joint research team from the Faculty of Health, Medicine, Nursing & Behavioural Sciences, Deakin University and the McCaughey Centre: VicHealth Centre for the Promotion of Mental Health and Community Wellbeing, University of Melbourne, between 2007 and 2009 (Block and Johnson, 2009). The 2½-year study tracked the progress of children participating in food education activities at Kitchen Garden Schools (at Donald, Foster, Sunshine North, Surfside, Westgarth and Yarrunga) and comparison schools (at Castlemaine, Heatherhill, Melrose, Pinewood, Spensley Street and Tongala).The findings were seen to be extremely positive and demonstrated that the Kitchen Garden Program was encouraging positive health behaviour change in participating children. The evaluation also highlighted the transfer of benefits to the home and the broader community. In particular the evaluation found:

  • Strong evidence of increased child willingness to try new foods.
  • Garden and kitchen classes were greatly enjoyed by children, and children at Program schools were significantly more likely to report that they liked cooking ‘a lot’.
  • Significant increases in child knowledge, confidence and skills in cooking and gardening.
  • The Program was considered particularly effective at engaging ‘non-academic learners’ and children with challenging behaviours.
  • The Program helped to create links between schools and the community. This was noted as one of its most important outcomes.
  • Although the transfer of benefits to the home environment was not one of the goals of the Program, it strongly emerged as a flow-on benefit.
  • Increased integration with the rest of the curriculum helped to overcome competing priorities for class time.
  • Program schools on average generated $1.93 of additional resources for every $1 of government funding invested in the Program.

(Bartolomei et al. 2003). A Bountiful Harvest: Community gardens and neighbourhood renewal in Waterloo.

(Bartolomei et al., 2003) examined the social and ‘health-promoting’ roles of a community garden scheme in a Sydney high-rise public housing estate. The findings confirmed the role of community gardens in strengthening social interaction. The scheme was seen to be associated with increased opportunities for local residents to socialise and develop important cross-cultural ties in a very diverse environment. The authors noted that ‘…there were many stories of how participating in the Gardens has helped to diminish cultural boundaries and negative racial stereotypes’ p.5.

(Holland, 2004). Diversity and connections in community gardens: a contribution to local sustainability.

In a comprehensive study of the community garden movement in the UK, (Holland, 2004) concluded that while some gardens played a strategic role in food production, all gardens were ‘based in a sense of community, with participation and involvement being particularly strong features’.

(Wakefield et al., 2007). Growing Urban Health: Community Gardening in South-East Toronto.

(Wakefield et al., 2007) researched the health impacts of community gardens in Toronto, Canada. The authors concluded that community gardens encourage physical and psychological health. Psychological health was attributed to contact with nature, as well as a general sense of community from the opportunity of gardening together. The research also highlighted challenges faced in establishing urban community gardens, including a general lack of understanding of their benefits, both by decision-makers and the community.This research complemented findings from earlier studies regarding the health benefits of community and private gardens (Irvine et al., 1999; Armstrong, 2000; Brown and Jameton, 2000; Hancock, 2000; Doyle and Krasny, 2003; Twiss et al., 2003; Waliczek et al., 2005).

9.11 Environmental benefits of community gardens

9.11.1 Introduction

Community gardens are noted as contributing positively to improving local environmental  sustainability objectives within the urban landscape (Holland, 2004; Andersson, 2006).

9.11.2 Improving urban quality

Research shows that a significant proportion of land in many cities lies vacant and unused due to a number of factors, including population shifts due to de-industrialisation, patterns of irregular or small sized land parcels, and changing perceptions of desirable housing types (Schukoske, 2000; Astbury and Rogers, 2004). According to (Grayson and Campbell, 2000) community gardens can help improve the urban environments if they can ‘bring derelict land into productive use, re-green streetscapes and increase wildlife habitat’  p.2. Research shows that community gardens can contribute to urban environmental quality by:

  • Mitigating the effects of increased urban density and urban decay (Hall, 1996).
  • Reclaiming public space and blighted sites (Bartolomei et al., 2003).
  • Contributing to urban greening (Patel, 1991; Bartolomei et al., 2003).
  • Enhancing urban green spaces (Hess and Winner, 2007).
  • Providing habitat for urban wildlife (Matteson et al., 2008).

(Hall, 1996) argues that community gardens should become a planning priority, and should be recognised as valuable social facilities as well as sites of food production, and should be zoned appropriately to protect their tenure. Hall portrays community gardens as an ‘incremental step to more sustainable communities’ which ease the stress of alienating urban environments, and preserve green and community spaces in the middle of increases in urban density.

9.11.3 Education and awareness

Community gardens can enhance environmental awareness through:

  • Promoting awareness of organic gardening, permaculture and environmental sustainability principles (Astbury and Rogers, 2004; Crabtree, 2005).
  • Providing settings for environmental education (Howe and Wheeler, 1999; Bartolomei et al., 2003; Corkery, 2004).
  • Developing innovative urban agricultural practices and acting as ‘incubators’ for organic enterprises (Fulton, 2005).

9.11.4 Ecologically sustainable food production

Community gardens are also part of broader moves to ensure a secure and ecologically sensitive food supply (Nettle, 2009). Aspects of sustainable food production include the following. Local food movements

According to (Turner, 2010) the localisation of food production (in particular urban agricultural practices such as community gardening) can contribute to the creation of more sustainable cities, and has been the focus of a growing body of research. Community gardens can provide:

 ‘…the potential to redress the ‘urban disconnect’ from the food system. This disconnection is well documented and largely seen to be a response to the international restructuring of agribusiness, which has increasingly positioned food as a commodity and Western urban dwellers as passive consumers of food increasingly alienated from its production….this disconnection also contributes to the persistence of a nature–culture divide in urban areas. Indeed, a lack of engagement with food production and, more broadly, of regular engagement with nature in familiar, intimate urban spaces may be an important factor in maintaining this divide’. p.81.

According to Turner the separation of our everyday lives from nature contributes to the growing disconnect between urban consumers and the produce they buy and consume. Research indicates that this ‘disconnect’ is impacting adversely on local economies, personal and community health, the environment and social cohesion (Pothukuchi and Kaufman, 1999; Kingsley and Townsend, 2006).

Urban or civic agriculture and, in particular, local food movements, have been championed as ways of bridging this disconnect. In recent years people have been encouraged to engage as consumers with alternative food networks as a way of contributing to local and global sustainability (Halweil, 2002; Pretty, 2002; Halweil, 2004; McKibben, 2007). Localization of food production can help to reduce ‘food miles’ (Moskow, 1999; Pothukuchi and Kaufman, 1999; Drescher et al., 2006). Reducing food miles can reduce the energy used to transport produce long distances from growers, to processors, to retailers, to consumers.(Nettle, 2009). Sustainable production practices

Community gardens can also support and promote a range of more sustainable food production and land management practices. (Nettle, 2009) outlines a number of these benefits:

  • Organic practices adopted by many community gardens can lower the economic and environmental costs of food production by minimising or eliminating chemical use, and returning nutrients to the soil.
  • Genetic diversity of food may be protected by community gardeners who may grow seeds of local plant varieties which are better adapted to the local conditions and the cultures of the communities who grow them.
  • Community gardens can promote waste minimisation and nutrient cycling, demonstrating composting techniques that can be used in people’s home gardens, and providing community composting facilities.
  • Community gardens can demonstrate strategies for waste recycling and re-use. Community gardeners have found ways to redeploy waste resources without sacrificing safety or aesthetics.

9.11.5 Food security

(Nettle, 2010) has reviewed the potential contributions of community gardens to a more equitable and sustainable food system, and the ways in which food security has become a focus of some community gardening projects. (Rychetnik et al., 2003) note that some community garden schemes are seen as part of strategies to increase food production (Rychetnik et al., 2003). Australian national food supply is currently sufficient, and issues of food insecurity are associated more with unequal access to that food. It has been found that when households are consulted about preferred strategies for increasing food security, access to land to grow their own food is given a high priority (Deane, 2009). It has also been observed that the value of community gardens to food security can go beyond access to land for food production, but can also contribute to the building of skills and expertise to improve food knowledge and community food networks.

Recently Australian governments have funded a number of community garden projects which address food security issues (Tyrrell et al., 2003; Fergie, 2005; Rowe, 2007; Amy, 2008; Davis, 2010). At the local government level, community gardens have been an important part of programs to address food security (Moffett, 2010). A number of councils have developed community garden policies and these are increasingly being linked to food policy, as well as environment and community development themes (Nettle, 2010). Community gardens have also become an accepted strategy for addressing food access in remote indigenous communities (Browne et al., 2009).Community garden advocates have suggested that urban agriculture will become increasingly important as agri-food systems are impacted by climate change, water shortages, and oil supplies, and individuals took for alternatives to the industrialised food system (Nordahl, 2009). (Nettle, 2010) observes that:

‘In the light of climate change, dwindling water resources, peaking oil supplies, crises in agri-food systems, and persistent social inequity there has been heightened attention on food security. In this context, community gardens have increasingly been described and promoted as food security initiatives’.

9.12 Economic benefits of community gardens

Community gardens can provide economic benefits to both participants and their local communities. Researchers have found that community gardens can:

  • Contribute to household food budgets (Patel, 1991).
  • Contribute to household economies (Blair et al., 1991; Patel, 1991).
  • Incubate small enterprises (Fulton, 2005).
  • Provide a low-cost form of urban space management (Francis, 1987).
  • Lead to reduced crime and vandalism (Maxwell, 2002; Hatherly, 2003; Urbis Keys Young, 2004).
  • Reduce community health care costs through improved physical and mental health (Patel, 1991; Irvine et al., 1999; Armstrong, 2000; Twiss et al., 2003; Wakefield et al., 2007).

9.13 Human health and well-being benefits of community gardens

9.13.1 Introduction

In addition to food production, community gardening can have a range of social and human health and well-being benefits. According to (Kent et al., 2011):

‘The link between exposure to community gardens and farmers’ markets, with increased consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables, is obvious although difficult to quantify. Markets and gardens also facilitate community interaction and physical activity. They are an extremely valuable element of a healthy built environment’. p.96.

9.13.2 Physical health benefits

Community gardening is an active pursuit that can provide a range of physical health benefits (Astbury and Rogers, 2004). Researchers have found a number of health benefits from community gardening including:

  • Improving the ‘quality of life’ of participants (Blair et al., 1991).
  • Increasing participants’ physical activity (Twiss et al., 2003).
  • Exercise associated with gardening has been found to provide significant benefits to individual health including reduced cholesterol and blood pressure (Armstrong, 2000). In Australia, gardening is one of the most popular leisure pursuits and is a recommended form of physical activity.

9.13.3 Nutritional benefits

Participation in community gardening has been shown to enhance fruit and vegetable consumption through:

  • Increasing access to fresh (sometimes organic) produce (Lea, 2005; Alaimo et al., 2008).
  • Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption (Blair et al., 1991; Twiss et al., 2003; Alaimo et al., 2008).
  • Helping people become more familiar with fresh produce, and adding to the enjoyment of fresh fruit and vegetables (Somerset and Markwell, 2009).
  • By growing some of their own fresh fruit and vegetables individuals and families can increase their consumption of nutritious food and decrease their consumption of sweet foods and drinks (Blair et al., 1991).

Several qualitative research studies have examined the relationship between community gardens specifically, and increased access to and consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables (Hynes and Howe, 2004; Thompson et al., 2007; Wakefield et al., 2007).

(Wakefield et al., 2007) reported greater access to fresh fruit and vegetables as the most often cited benefit of community gardens in South-East Toronto (including increased intake, decreased cost, and increased variety and freshness).

According to (Hynes and Howe, 2004):

‘A study of 144 community gardeners in Philadelphia and 67 non-gardening controls evaluated the nutrition and economic benefits of community gardens. ...gardeners ate vegetables significantly more than comparable non-gardeners and consumed significantly fewer sweet foods and drinks and milk products’  p. 7.

In Australian (Thompson et al., 2007) examined the role of community gardens in building healthy and sustainable communities in a large high rise public housing estate in inner Sydney. Their research found that the food from community gardens was perceived to have medicinal as well as nutritional value, and that it was possible grow fresh produce not generally available in Australia.

(McCormack et al., 2010) reviewed 16 studies of farmers’ market programs and community gardens in terms of nutrition-related outcomes. The researchers also considered the ability of these programs to affect attitudes and beliefs about buying, preparing, and eating healthy food. The study found that such attitudes generally became more positive after exposure to a farmers’ market or community gardening experience, but it is not known if this is sufficient to affect long term dietary habits.

Another study by Larsen and Gilliland found that a farmers’ market increased local competition with nearby food stores, decreasing the price of fresh fruit and vegetables over a three year period (Larsen and Gilliland, 2009).

One study in Canada however found support for organic produce came primarily from highly educated professionals and that ‘class-based’ differences in market participation highlight the need for local food projects to engage across a range of social groups and geographical locations (Macias, 2008).

9.13.4 Psychological benefits

  • (Astbury and Rogers, 2004) note an extensive history of the use of community gardens in improving psychological well-being, through horticulture therapy, which has been used in prison and mental health settings as a form of rehabilitation.
  • Several of studies have explored the psychological benefits of gardening and found that it has the potential to relieve anxiety, stress, depression and promote relaxation through nature-based activity (Kaplan, 1973; McBey, 1985; Brown and Jameton, 2000).

9.13.5 Educational benefits

  • An important psychological benefit of community gardens is the ability to encourage learning and growth among individuals, as well as to facilitate community education. It has been suggested that learning to grow plants stimulates the mind and adds to an individual’s knowledge and skill base (Astbury and Rogers, 2004).
  • Community gardening can assist in community education on issues such as waste management, composting, recycling, water reduction and organic gardening. A number of community gardens have been used as learning venues by local schools, TAFE colleges and universities (Astbury and Rogers, 2004).
  • School kitchen gardens provide opportunities to connect with nature and learn about healthy eating (Planet Ark, 2012).

9.13.6 Cultural benefits

(Nettle, 2009) notes a number of ‘cultural’ benefits of community gardens including:

  • Community gardens can be places where people of diverse cultural backgrounds can practise and share traditional and contemporary expressions of their culture, which provides a unique opportunity for learning and exchange.
  • Community gardens often include community arts projects, from murals to sculptural installations, photo essays to poetry performance, and some community gardens create community culture through festivals and celebrations, including fairs, produce sales, farmers’ markets or music performances

9.14 Social benefits of community gardens

9.14.1 Introduction

It is often observed in the literature that community gardens can promote social inclusion and community-building (Glover, 2003; Saldivar-Tanaka and Krasny, 2004; Lautenschlager and Smith, 2007; Kingsley et al., 2009; Tan and Neo, 2009). A study by (Armstrong, 2000) of community gardens in upstate New York found that the attributes of community gardens (such as social support, an emphasis on informal networks, and community organising through empowerment) provide a valuable tool for public health promotion in socially and economically disadvantaged communities. According to (Nettle, 2009):

‘Community gardens engage and involve people in their own communities. They give people the chance to physically shape the character and culture of their neighbourhoods, and to take responsibility for their common land. Community gardens are meeting places, bringing together diverse aspects of local communities. They allow neighbours to meet on neutral soil, and provide common ground for people of varying cultural backgrounds, experiences, ages, and interests’.

An overview of the research shows that community gardens can:

  • Reduce social isolation (Urbis Keys Young, 2004).
  • Contribute to community development outcomes (Armstrong, 2000; Hancock, 2000; Bartolomei et al., 2003; Twiss et al., 2003; Saldivar-Tanaka and Krasny, 2004).
  • Build social capital (Armstrong, 2000; Kingsley and Townsend, 2006).
  • Create opportunities for communities to develop and tell success stories (Glover, 2003a).
  • Foster relationships across ‘difference’ (Shinew et al., 2004).
  • Provide community meeting spaces (Saldivar-Tanaka and Krasny, 2004).
  • Foster leadership development (Saldivar-Tanaka and Krasny, 2004).
  • Foster ‘civic values‘ and public spiritedness (Glover et al., 2005).
  • Address poverty and social deprivation (Hanna and Oh, 2000; Glover, 2003).

Alternative food distribution venues such as farmers markets can also provide a range of social benefits. Not only are consumers able to get to know the producers of their food, but sociologists have found that shoppers in farmers‘ markets have ten times as many conversations as shoppers in supermarkets (Halweil, 2002).

9.14.2 Building social capital

The concept of developing ‘social capital’ has been recognized as a particular outcome of community gardening. (Firth and Pearson, 2010) have analysed the ‘community’ aspects of community gardens in the United Kingdom. According to the authors:

‘Social capital is a term used to refer to social structures, institutions and shared values making up communities. It widely used as a means of explaining ways in which communities or individuals might (or might not) connect in a variety of community, civic, cultural, or economic structures. The degree of interaction and trust in one‘s fellow citizens is implicit in the idea of social capital, as is membership of a network, and a shared set of values. Hence social capital is a way of conceptualising community’.

(Woolcock, 2001) recognises several different types of social capital:

  • Bonding social capital. Defined as strong ties between individuals in similar socio-demographic situations, such as one’s immediate family, close friends or neighbours.
  • Bridging social capital. A term used to describe more distant ties to like persons such as workmates. Bridging social capital tends be outward-looking and brings people together across diverse socio-demographic situations.
  • Linking social capital. This refers to connectivity between unlike people in dissimilar situations, for example connections with people in power, such as those in politically or economically influential positions.

Research by (Firth and Pearson, 2010) explored the nature of community in and around community gardens. The authors concluded that community gardens do generate social capital, although this varied between different gardens. The authors identified five ways in which community gardens can generate social capital:

  1. Bringing people together with a common purpose.
  2. Creating a physical meeting place.
  3. Sharing in food related activities.
  4. Building bridges to other neighbourhoods.
  5. Providing links to institutions and funders.

The researchers also found that the most successful community gardens (in terms of community building) are likely to be those:

  • Initiated and managed by participants whose motivations and values are similar.
  • That are ‘place based’ and focussed on ’territorial communities‘.
  • Engaged through bridging and linking social capital with other community organisations and ethnic groups. This bridging and linking support is seen as vital to their longevity and ability to generate social capital.

Some community gardens however may be ‘externally driven’ and have little interaction with their local community. The authors regard these as ‘issue based’ or ’community of interest‘ and the social benefits can remain largely within the group and not extend to the wider community.

A local example of building social capital is that of the Gilles Plains community garden. A review of the community garden by (Astbury and Rogers, 2004) showed that it contributed to the social, economic, environmental, psychological and health outcomes for participants, as shown on Table 25.

Table 25: Outcomes for participants at the Gilles Plains Community Garden. Source: (Astbury and Rogers, 2004) p.26.

Types of outcomes for participants in community gardens

Examples from the Gilles Plains Community Garden


Sense of working together to accomplish something.

Sense of belonging.

Shared recreation with family.


Development of skills and knowledge related to gardening and plants.


Improved attractiveness of physical environment.

Increased awareness of water conservation, waste management, organic gardening, composting.


Sense of well-being and satisfaction.

Calming atmosphere.

Improved mental health.


Importantly, as shown on Table 26, the researchers found that the community garden had built capacity for further projects and development.

Table 26: Capacity building at the Gilles Plains Community Garden. Source: (Astbury and Rogers, 2004) p.27.

Types of capital

Examples from the Gilles Plains Community Garden

Human capital

Secondary and TAFE students’ knowledge of history and culture of the area, biology and science of plant growth, food production and preparation.

Horticulture skills development of volunteers.

Economic (including environmental) capital

Physical infrastructure of the garden which allows further developments.

Social capital

Co-operation between individuals.

Encouraging participation in organisations.

Institutional capital

Development of working group membership, processes and principles.

Co-operation between organisations.

9.15 Barriers to community gardens

Despite their benefits, there are a number of barriers to establishing and maintaining successful community gardening projects (Saldivar-Tanaka and Krasny, 2004; Grayson, 2007). (Pearson and Hodgkin, 2010) summarize the many challenges facing community gardens and other forms of urban agriculture including:

  • Availability of land.
  • Support from local government to allow land to be used for food production.
  • Attitudes of neighbours and general public to the land use.
  • Domination of the food market by large farms and supermarkets.

Societal attitudes have also been found to be significant barriers to urban agriculture. For example:

  • Gardens may be seen as ‘unconventional’.
  • Produce may stolen or vandalised,
  • Neighbours may complain about unsightly areas and unusual smells (Hujber, 2008).
  • Younger people in cities tend to be socialised for variety and novelty, which may not be compatible with adjusting to consuming local and seasonal production (Dixon et al., 2007).
  • There may be resistance to ‘things outside of the norm’ leading to a separation between those involved in urban agriculture and the rest of society (Feagan, 2007).

In addition, some government policies are not always supportive of urban agriculture. For example:

  • A number of authors argue that adopting appropriate zoning to maintain land for food production and protect it from urban encroachment (in both new green-field sites and urban infill) is essential to maintain a capacity for urban food production (Pearson, 2010; Pearson et al., 2010).
  • Some government policies (such as water restrictions, animal laws and rental agreements) can be unsupportive of urban agriculture (Pothukuchi and Kaufman, 1999).

Community gardens therefore face unique challenges. According to (Hujber, 2008) who reviewed community gardens in Melbourne, the limited amount of land available with suitable tenure is seen as the most important restriction on expansion. In addition, access to funds for garden establishment, ongoing insurance and restrictions on the use of water were also seen as challenges.

9.16 Summary

  • Food production in and around cities is considered to be one component of Green Infrastructure.
  • Research supports a range of benefits from retaining valuable agricultural land in close proximity to cities.
  • Agricultural production can also be integrated into urban areas in various forms including community gardens, productive verges and edible landscapes, and school kitchen gardens.
  • Research shows that these initiatives provide a wide range of benefits going well beyond healthy food options, including improving the physical and mental health and well-being of older people, children and the general population, and providing a venue for social interaction.
  • Community gardens in particular have become a focus for community building in recent years.
  • Researchers have reviewed the scope of recent literature on community garden benefits and have identified areas for further research, including greater involvement by researchers in the natural sciences.


9.17 References

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