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Community gardens: sustainability, health and inclusion in the city

Bethaney Turner a , Joanna Henryks a & David Pearson a a Faculty of Arts and Design, University of Canberra, Canberra, Australia

Available online: 27 Jul 2011

To cite this article: Bethaney Turner, Joanna Henryks & David Pearson (2011): Community gardens:

sustainability, health and inclusion in the city, Local Environment, 16:6, 489-492


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Local Environment Vol. 16, No. 6, July 2011, 489 –492

Local Environment Vol. 16, No. 6, July 2011, 489 –492 EDITORIAL Community gardens: sustainability, health and

EDITORIAL Community gardens: sustainability, health and inclusion in the city

Food-producing community gardens have taken various forms over the past two centuries and have fulfilled a variety of roles. As we grapple with issues of food security, the use of biotechnology and artificial chemicals in agriculture, rising food prices and the environmental costs of growing and distributing food, the different functions of community gardens are coming under increasing attention. This issue of Local Environment is based on papers first delivered at a National Community Garden Conference in Canberra, Australia. The range of papers explores the key themes that emerged from the conference and deepens our knowledge of community gardens in both theory and practice. In particular, conference participants addressed various aspects of community gardening that centred on issues of sustainability, health and inclusion for urban dwellers.

Keywords: community gardens; urban agriculture; sustainability; local food

Community gardens In recent years, fears raised about future food security, concerns over the growing use of bio- technology and its implications, the use of insecticides and pesticides, food miles and rising food costs have increasingly politicised what we eat and how it is grown. Whilst the advent of industrial agriculture has led to a disconnection between people (particularly in cities) and the food system, the last two decades have seen a steady rise in food-based social movements and grass-rootsinitiatives aroundthe world, from slow food to community gardens. These prac- tices can encourage multiple points of reconnection with the food system, the environment, landscape, local economies and our communities. The papers in this special edition of Local Environment explore the possibilities and problems related to these points of connection and how the planning, structure and organisation of community gardens may contribute to this. Versions of these papers were first delivered at a conference on Community Gardens held at the University of Canberra in October 2010 and published, along with the keynote addresses and 13 other papers in the conference proceedings (Turner et al. 2010). The con- ference was jointly developed by academics in the Sustainability, Development and Food Security Research Cluster within the Faculty of Arts and Design in conjunction with the Canberra Organic Growers Society who manage 13 community gardens in the Canberra region. This gathering brought together representatives of different forms of community gardening practices, academics, policy-makers and urban planners to share knowledge, promote dialogue and assess best practice to promote more productive and sustainable engagement with local food systems through community gardens and city farms. We learnt a great deal from each other, particularly about the diverse forms these gardens can take including city farms, therapeutic gardens, school kitchen gardens and guerrilla gardens. These can be organised as land which is communally worked, or a more individual allotment system. They may be run by an overseeing organisation, a council, health prac- titioners, teachers or a group of dedicated gardeners. Lawson (2005) suggests that the

ISSN 1354-9839 print/ISSN 1469-6711 online # 2011 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/13549839.2011.595901 http://www.informaworld.com

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term community garden tends to be associated with the “neighbourhood garden in which individuals have their own plots yet share in the garden’s overall management” (p. 3) and thus prefers the broader term urban gardens as it encapsulates a broader range of pro- grammes such as demonstration gardens, horticultural therapy gardens and job-training gardens. To broaden the scope further, others prefer the terms urban or civic agriculture (see Bakker et al. 2000, DeLind 2002, p. 217, Lyson 2004). However, for the purposes of the conference and this special edition – we consciously decided to work under the banner of community garden as many of the stakeholders we hoped to engage were most familiar with this term and identified their practices in this way. From these stakeholders, we learnt that these diverse gardens can play an important role in promoting urban health, social inclusion, active civic participation and practices of sustainable living in urban environments. We also learnt about the challenges to achieving this including: the fact that gardens are often managed or supported by volunteer groups with no shortage of enthusiasm, but limited infrastructure and growth potential; the difficulties in acquiring appropriate land for food production in inner-city locations; and issues surrounding land tenure. The papers in this issue address various aspects of the potentials, pitfalls and challenges related to community gardens.

Community gardens in context Community gardens have a long history and have taken many forms around the world. They are thought to have their origins in the allotment gardens of Europe in the mid-1800s. These gardens have also played a significant role in the USA, where their beginnings are closely linked to the processes of industrialisation which brought vast numbers of people into cities to work in poor conditions in new factories (Lawson 2005). The need for food and a healthy workforce was supported by some entrepreneurs through the provision of garden- ing space. In Europe, the more well-to-do had access to “leisure gardens”, exemplified by Germany’s Schreber gardens, which were not only for food production but also for outdoor pursuits unable to be accommodated in urban apartment living (Gro¨ning 1996). Through whichever form community gardens have taken, they have come to play significant roles in times of crisis when citizens have been encouraged to play an active role in food production. This occurred during World War I and World War II, in the so-called victory gardens (the dig for victory campaigns) (DeSilvey 2005), the Great Depression as a means of producing food and also of engaging a large population of un- or under-employed people (Lawson 2005) and in the 1970s oil crisis, when transport costs of food were spiralling out of control (Thuring 2007). One of the most proactive and productive sites of communal gardening activities occurs in Cuba, particularly its capital, Havana. Following the withdra- wal of Soviet aid after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and in the face of US sanctions, economic necessity saw the nation turn to producing more of its own food. To assist, large swathes of city land were converted into these “popular” public access gardens (Premat 2003). More recently, we have seen similar concern spread around the world in response to food insecurity, particularly in parts of the developing world with particular effort and success being had in the Philippines (Mubvami and Mushamba 2006, pp. 53–86). In times of fear and crisis, we see people turn to food gardening. This may not simply be about the functional outcomes of food production, but may be about creating and supporting people’s efforts to establish a sense of connection and about grounding people in place and creating and supporting efforts to find a sense of purpose and belonging, not just to a com- munity, but to land and to nature as a personal and, sometimes rather intimate response to bigger picture issues over which we as individuals might feel we have little control.

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The keynote speakers at the conference spoke of the need to construct new “narratives” and “paradigms” to empahise the role community gardens can play in this “big picture”. Neil Savery, Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra and the Chief Planning Execu- tive of the A.C.T. Planning and Land Authority, spoke of their role in relation to “sustainable urbanism”. Myles Bremner, Chief Executive Officer of Garden Organic in the UK, suggested that the challenges for community gardens are to be clear what community gardening is and who its constituents are, to seek credibility with facts and figures, whilst developing and deli- vering a compelling narrative about what community gardens achieve. Indeed, Federal Australian Senator Christine Milne of the Greens Party noted that policy-makers needed to understand “that there is a relationship between the big challenges facing the planet and the nation, and growing food locally and sustainably”. For now, community gardening is largely seen to be a form of “feel good politics” (Hutton 2005, p. 3), and for policy- makers and urban planners, there is little focus on the impact these practices can have. However, in a newsletter from the Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network, the Conference was referred to as a “tipping point” for legitimising the practice and, thus, encouraging the provision of city land for community gardens. In the months following the conference, we have also seen one of our attendees, Caroline Le Couteur, a Greens Member of the Australian Capital Territories Legislative Assembly, table a motion that has resulted in the Government developing strategies to provide more support for community gardens, the Canberra Organic Growers Society as well as the more general concept of local food security. However, the role community gardens can play in the “big picture” needs further investigation and the development of responsive policy. The papers in this special issue aim to identify some of the key issues that need to be addressed if we are to take community gardens more seriously.

Organisation of the special issue This issue commences with three papers that explore different aspects of the claim that com- munity gardens can contribute to environmental sustainability in urban environments. The papers by Cameron and Turner both examine the role that bodily engagement and bodily learning can play in promoting proactive responses to climate change in urban settings. Cameron’s paper challenges the binaries of mind /body and nature /nonhuman by analysing the experiences of community gardeners through an innovative, collective “bus-trip” research methodology. Turner, on the other hand, explores the necessity of recognising the role of the individual embodied experience in these collective settings. The final paper in this section by Beilin et al. establishes a set of social and ecological indicators designed to measure the contribution community gardens can make to sustainable urban living. Picking up on themes introduced by Cameron and Turner, Hill’s paper explores the potential conflicts that emerge between the individual and the collective, or the “i-ness” and the “we-ness”, through an analysis of the creation of a local food system in the Philip- pines. This is followed by two papers that provide advice on two aspects of the successful management of a community garden. The first of these by Firth et al. identifies the importance of “social capital” in community gardens. This is followed by Henryks’ paper, which explores the challenges of managing volunteers who are often key stakeholders in community gardens. The final paper in this issue by Evers maps out the environmental and social goods of community gardening, whilst also highlighting the barriers to partici- pation in alternative food networks, such as community gardens in Perth. Inevitably, due to the diversity of community gardens and their multifaceted nature, these papers provide only a glimpse of community gardens. However, our intention is to focus attention on the need for further research in this area. This special edition is the

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beginning of what we hope will be renewed interest and focus on research into community gardens and the ways in which they can assist in tackling some of the challenges facing our communities, our food systems and our environment.


As previously mentioned, this special issue emerged out of a conference on Sustainability, Health and Inclusion in the City through Community Gardens that was held on 7–8 October 2010 at the University of Canberra in Australia. The authors of this editorial would like to thank all those who con- tributed to the presentations, workshops and discussions held at this conference. These enriched the written inheritance upon which many of the ideas developed in the articles for this Special Issue are based. We thank our special keynote presenters for their rich and diverse contributions: Costa Georgiadis, Myles Bremner, Andre Leu, Senator Christine Milne, Neil Savery and Keith Colls. Thanks also to Bob Evans for his support and assistance in making this issue a reality. Finally, we would also like to acknowl- edge the financial support provided by our supporters: University of Canberra, ACT Government through their Environment Grants, Canberra Organic Growers Society and ACT Land Development Agency.

Bethaney Turner Faculty of Arts and Design University of Canberra Canberra, Australia

Joanna Henryks Faculty of Arts and Design University of Canberra Canberra, Australia

David Pearson Faculty of Arts and Design University of Canberra Canberra, Australia


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University of California Press. Lyson, T.A., 2004. Civic agriculture: reconnecting farm, food and community. Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH: University Press of New England. Mubvami, T. and Mushamba, S., 2006. Integration of agriculture in urban land use planning and adaptation of city regulations. In: R. van Veenhuizen, ed. Cities farming for the future: urban agricul- ture for green and productive cities. Leusden, The Netherlands: ETC - Urban Agriculture, 53–86. Premat, A., 2003. Small-scale urban agriculture in Havana and the reproduction of the “new man” in contemporary Cuba. European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, 75, 85–99. Thuring, C., 2007. Green roofs are growing up. Native Plant Society of B.C., 12, 3–8. Turner, B., Henryks, J., and Pearson, D., eds., 2010. Community Garden Conference: Promoting Sustainability, Health and Inclusion in the City, 7–8 October 2010, University of Canberra. Available from: http://www.canberra.edu.au/communitygardens/conference-proceedings [Accessed 30 May 2011].