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Page 1: Community Gardens: Lessons Learned From California Healthy Cities and Communities

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C o m m u n i t y G a r d e n s : L e s s o n s L e a r n e d F r o mC a l i f o r n i a H e a l t h y C i t i e s a n d C o m m u n i t i e s

Joan Twiss, MA, Joy Dickinson, BS, CHES, Shirley Duma, MA, Tanya Kieinman, BA, Heather Paulsen, MS,

Liz Rilveria. MPA

Community gardens enhance nutr it ion and physical act ivity

and promote the role of public heaith in improving quality of l i fe.

Opportunities to organize around other issues and build social

capital also emerge through community gardens.

California Healthy Cities and Communities (CHCC) promotes

an inclusionary and systems approach to improving community

health. CHCC ha s funded community-based nutrit ion and physi-

cal activity programs in several cit ies. Successful community gar-

dens were developed by many cit ies incorporating local leader-

ship and resources, volunteers and community partners, and

skil ls-building opp ortunit ies for part icipants.

Through community garden init iatives, cit ies have enacted poli-

cies for interim land and complimentary w ater use, improved ac-

cess to produce, elevated public consciousness about publichealth, created culturally appropriate educat ional and training

mater ials, and strengthened community building skil ls.


exceplional in its ability Lo ad -

dress an an-ay of public health

and livability issues across the

lifespaii.' Community gardens

began al the turn of the 20(h cen-

tuiy and had a renaissance during

iho wo rld wars in response lo

food shortages.'^ Today, commu-

nity gartlciLs appe al to newly ar-

rived immigraiiLs. w ho use them

to help maintain cultural tradi-

tions, and to tliose eomniiUed to

sustainabiiiiy and lo personal and

iamily health. Populations witb

heallh disparities, who do iiol al-

ways have acecss to nutntious-

tbod outlets (e.g., grocery stores,

farmers' markets) ow ing to lim-

ited financial and community re-

s and inconvenient trans-

portation .systems, can usually ac-

eess these gaixlens, since they

often arc located within neighbor-

hoods and on [Hiblie propeity.

Community gardens build and

nurture commiuiity capacity,

which Mayer defines as "the sum

total of commitment, resources,

and skills that a commu nity can

mobilize and deploy to address

community problems and

strengUien com mu nity assets."

Strong community capacity in-creases the ei'iectiveness and

quality of community health in-


Publie hea lth professionals

often lament the (act that much

of their work is out of the pub lic

e y e . Com mimity gardens are a

tangible way to demonstrate pub-

lie health efforts through orga-

nized comm iinity-eentered activi-

ties that link many disciplines.

Professionals outside of main-

stream pu blic he alth often be-

eome new allies as a result of

their involvemenL Community

gardening fosters neighborhood

ownei"ship and eivie pride, whieh

in turn buil d a constituent base

lor a broader policy agenda.

Sinee 1988. California Healthy

Cities and Communities (CHCC)

ha.s supported over 65 com mun i-

ti( s wi th developing, im plement-i n g , and eva luating programs.

policies, and plans that addres

the environ men tal, social, and

economic determinants of he

Consistent with the Healthy C

and Communities M odel, CH

program participation require

convening and ongoing supp

a broad-based co llaborative, i

duding the public, nonprofit,

ness, and resident sectors; de

opment of a work plan with

eommunity-dtiven priointies a

strategies; and the commitmethe municipality, demonstrate

a council resolution and the d

cation of staff time and othe r

sou rce s,'' Several cities have

tablished community gardens

often building on past healthy

eommunity initiatives.

In general, participating C

fornia Healthy Cities (Table 1

that established eommunity g

dens responded to a request

proposals to improve commu

nutrit ion and physical activit

to enhanee food .seeurity. Ea

city's j^proach is unique to i

cireumstanees. Funding is pr

vided through grants from C

(a program o f the Center for

Civie Partnerships/Public He

Institute) {'lable 2). Significan

technical assistance is also p r

vided to loeal coordinators a

collaboratives by Ci ICC staf

its partners.

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TABLE 1-Demographics of Cities That Received G rants From

California Healthy Cities and Communities for Community Garden


City (County) Population'




(San Diego)

Loma Linda

(San Bernardino)


(San Diego)

San Bernardino

(Ssn Bernardino)

West Hollywood



^Based on 2000 census data.

Race/Ethnicity,' %


Household In come ;

102743 White, 55.3 44485

Asian/Pacific Islander, 16.4

African American, 13.3

Hispanic/Latino, 9.7

Native American. 0.3

Otiier, 0.6

133559 White, 51.9 42567

Hispanic/Latino, 38.7

Asian/Pacific Islander, 4.6

African American,2.0

Native American, 0.6

Other, 0.1

18681 White, 47.1 38204

Asian/Pacific Islander, 24.5


African American, 7.0

Native American, 0.3

Other, 0.2

161029 White.53.6 463 01


Asian/Pacificlslander, 6.6

African American,5.9

Native American, 0.4


1854 01 Hispanic/Latino, 47.5 31140

W h i te , 2 8 . 9

African American. 16.0

Asian/Pacific Isiander, 4.4

Native American, 0.6

Other. 0.2

3571 6 White,81.4 38914


Asian/Pacific islander, 3.8

African American, 2.9

Native American, 0.2

Ottier, 0.2

33871548 White, 46.7

Hispanic/Latino, 32.4

Asian/Pacific Islander, 10.9

African American, 6.7

Native American, 1.0

Other, 16.8 47493



While each city's approach

was unique, the following key

elements were integral to their

efforts: commitment of local

leadership and staffing, involve-

ment of volunteers and commu-

nity partners, and availahility of

skill-building opportunities tor


Local Leadership andStaffing

A city's comm itment of staff, fi-

nancial, and in-kitid resources is

critical to the success of coniinu-iiit}' gardens. City councils in each

of 2 cities purchased land valued

at $70 DOO or more for gardens,

one using funds from tlie Com-

munity Development Block Grant,

the other using mcmey fr-oni the

city's general fijiid. Botli provide

stafTitig on an ongoing basis.

Volunteers andCommunity


The partidpation and support

of diverse community' members

help a community garden to

thnve. These members include

residents, pailncr institutions

(e.g., schools, county health de-

paitments. universities), and vol-

unteers (e.g.. businesses, civic as-

sociations). The inclusivcness of

gardens allows individuals and

groups to contribute theii' knowl-

edge, skills, and experience. The

business commimity contrtbutes

tools and lends equipment Resi-

dents and volunteei"S oiten iden-

tify innovative strategies to lever-

age resources, such as the

intertm use of property and voi-

unteer stipends as an alternative

to hiring stall'.

Skill-Building Opportunities

Gardening workshops provide

opportunities for residents, staff,and vokinteei s of all ages to de-

velop skills in leadership, com

nity oi-ganizing, cuitural comp

tency, and program planning

plementation, and evaluation

Leadership development is e

hanced through experiential

learning, wbicb includes inte

erational and peer-to-peer me

toring and train-the-trainer m

els. Volunteers and staff lead

workshops, oi^anize taste-tes

events, facilitate discussions, a

cate for tbe garden, and deve

culturally a ppropriate resourc

(e.g., training mater ials, cook-

books, new sletters. Web sites

These ongoing, interactive lea

ing opportunities help to sust

momentum for the garden.



Commtuiity improvements

sulting fi-om gardening efforts

range from knowledge and sk

enhancement to behaviora! a

systems cbange. CalifoiTiia

Healthy Cities with communitgardens have experienced a w

variety of results (Table 2). Fo

stance, the city of West Holly-

wood complemented its schoo

gardening program with nutri

and physical activity educatio

Self-reported survey results de

onstrated that partidpants (n=

338) increased the numbe r of

physical activity ses.sions from

to 5.2 times per week (6%) an

increased consumption ol' frui

and vegetables From 3.44 to 3

servings per day (1O"/o). In th

city of San Bemarciino. tlie nu

ber of students tbat began gar

dening at bome after partidpa

in the school gaixfening progra

increased from 62 to75 (20%

The city of Berkeley passe

the Berkeley Food anti Nutrit

Policy, which supports small-s

sustainable agriculture (e.g.,c

munity gardens, local Iknns).

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TABLE 2-C hara cteri stics of Community Garden Programs Funded by California Healthy Cities and Comm unities (CHCC)

Lead D epartment CHCC Sup port, $

Berkeley Public Health 1 3 4 0 0 0

(over 5 years)


Loma Unda


San B ernardino

West Hollywood



Biock Grant


City M anager

Housing and



Public Services

Human Services

7 5 0 0 0

(over 3 yeafs)

3 8 0 0 0

(over 2 years)

7 5 0 0 0

(over 3 years)


(ovef 1 year)

7 5 0 0 0

(over 3 years}

FundingS ources'' Priority Populat ion






FA, Netw ork, TCWF Y oitt i, ethnically diverse

Ethnically diverse

Ethnically diverse

Ethnically diverse

Youth, intergenerational,

ethnically diverse

Vouth, inter^enetational,

ethnically diverse


Established 1 school garden and 1 day care center garden; supporte

existing school gardens; provided supplies to 3000 gardeners; opene

a Farmer's M arket in West B erkeley; p rovided nutrition or physical ac

education (or both) to 1800 residents; passed the Berkeley Food and

N utrition Policy.

Established 2 gardens with 228 garden plots involving 600 gardeners

opened a greenhouse to support year-round gardening; passed the

"Adopt-A-Lot" policy to encourage the interim use of vacant land for

gardens: app roved a no cost water policy for gardens on city property

Established 1 garden with 52 plots inv olving over 40 gardeners. Incr

average consumption of fruit s and vegetables amcng 35% of gardene

from 3 to 3.71 servings per day.

Established 2 gardens involving 85 households; started 2 school

gardens involving 115 student gardeners; added 10 plots to agarden serving seniors. Of the 228 residents receiving nutrition

education, 86 % indicated an intent to improve eating habits.

Established 3 school gardens involving 127 students; increased the

number of students gardening at home by 20% ; app roved the Vacant

B eautification Program that allow s public use of priv ate land and

city-owned vacant lots to establish gardens or pocket parks.

Established 5 school gardens involving 46 0 students; designated 2 p

at 2 community gardens for school use; started contamer gardening

programs at 3 schools; increased weekly physical activity sessions fro

to 5.2 times per week and increased consumption of fruits and veget

from 3.44 to 3.78 servings per day among 338 students participating

gardening and educational w orkshops.

"F A^ Foo dE orA li; N etw ork " California N utrition Network for HealthyActive Families, California Department of Health Services;TCW E= The California W ellness Foundation; OHS -Preventativ e Health

Health Services Block Grant, California Department of Health Sen/ices.

addition, the city of Hscondido

approved the "Adopt-A-Lot" pol-

icy, which allows for the interim

use ol public and private prop-

erty for community benefit This

policy provides a special no-feedty permit and an expedited land

use approval pr" that allows

normal /-oning regulations and re-

qiiiremenLs (e.g., those concern -

ing parking) to b e waived. The

policy con tributes to city beau titl-

cation, decreases code violations.

and increases space Ibr commu-

nity gardens.

While each city experienced a

vai"i(,'ly of results, there wert' sev-

eral common lessons learned aboutthe importance of the following:

• ongoing ti"aining. mentoring,

and leadership development for

gardeners and staff;

• building on successful

community-based programs

through partnei^ships:• public of the ben-

efits of communiiy gardens; and

• experiential work (e.g., classes

in gardening, exercise, or cook-

ing), which often led to municipal

codes and administrative policies.


Educating Stakeholders

Informing decisionmakers

about the benefits of eommunitygardens ean be time-ititensive.

Changes in leadershif) can slow

momentum. Communicating the

benefits beyontf the traditional

leadership to the community at

large can mitigate those chal-

lenges, heip build a broad-basedconstituency, and provide long-

tenn, consistent support of com-

riiiinity gai"dening as a norm.

Publications, electronic networks,

and convenings can support

learning across communities.

Integrating Community

Gardens Into Development

VVhik; the benefits of comm u-

nity gardens are many, land and

housing shortages may competefor gaixlening space. Because

community gaixlens are flex

in their design (e.g., containe

on patios and rooftops as op

to gi'ound planting), they can

incorporated har-moniously

new sti^uclures or into existincilities (e.g.. school c ampuses

parks, community centers).

Supporting Research

The deai'th of data on the

itive impacts of community

dens hinders the ability to m

a convincing ai"gument whe

sources (e.g., funding, land,

water) aie at stake. Anecdot

evidence abounds, but impo

outcomes such as the physicbeneiits of gardening and co

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