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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Institute of Community Gardening

RWH Display at the Living Concrete/ Carrot City Exhibit

About 2 years ago I proposed a concept I called the Institute of Community Gardening. The concept was a learning center or centers that would teach about community gardening both to community gardeners and those interested in studying or researching community gardening.

Two events happening this week together come close to realizing that goal. The exhibit at the New School gallery called Living Concrete / Carrot City highlights urban agriculture in all of it's forms including community gardening through exhibits, panel discussions and other events. The rainwater harvesting display I built along with coworker Lars Chellberg and a booklet of rwh designs, photos and text that I did with drawings by Andrew Casner are both on exhibit. The panel discussions and talks touch on what could be courses taught at the Institute of Community Gardening.

Also this week, the Farm School NYC began registering people for classes and training to receive a certificate in the practical aspects of gardening or farming in the city. Farm School NYC gets it's inspiration from the Agroecology program in the University of California, Santa Cruz that several NYC community gardeners and advocates have attended. Put these 2 together and you have something like the Institute of Community Gardening concept.

Who knows, maybe that is the next step.

Here is the text from my original proposal:

We propose to create an Institute of Community Gardening. The Institute would train students in all aspects of community gardening from the hands on to the theoretical.

Community gardening has moved beyond being a fringe activity to an important phenomenon of urban life. It has manifestations nationally and internationally, has a rich history to study and learn from and provides a living and changing real world laboratory to analyze and write about.

The research that an Institute will undertake, contribute to or sponsor will provide a lot of information to anyone involved in community gardening. The information will empower them to be long-term stewards of the land.
Classes in the fields of Urban Policy and Planning, Geography, Social Work, Horticulture, Natural Resources, Law, Landscape Architecture and other related fields could be offered on the undergraduate, graduate and continuing education levels.
In the New York area, agreements could be made with local Universities, e.g. Columbia, NYU, Pace, Pratt, Cornell and CUNY campuses to offer the credit courses at the University levels.

A certificate program could be independently developed for community gardeners and community garden professionals or the average citizen covering courses in the physical, horticultural and social aspects of community gardening.

The Institute can also initiate and encourage community garden research by the instructors and students or in collaboration with researchers from the Universities.

University researchers have in the past or are currently involved in ongoing community gardening research projects , for example Dr. Jill Litt UCHSC is working with Denver Urban Gardens and the Growing Healthy Communities Project to investigate the health and social benefits of community gardening
(The Underground News, winter 2006,vol11 no 2 p7).

A long term research project the
Whitmire Study, in St Louis undertaken by the Public Policy Research Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis is examining positive effects that cgs have on their communities such as: crime reduction both to property and people, increased property values and improvement of property, improvements in the overall appearance of the neighborhood, and increased feelings of safety.

Jill Florence Lackey and Associates an independent professional evaluator conducted a
statistical evaluation of the southeast Wisconsin Community gardens showing community gardeners eat more fresh vegetables than in the previous 24 hours and engage in more physical exercise than the previous week while gardening.

Researchers studying crime and neighborhood interaction sometimes conclude that community gardens are a tool to help deter crime as in the case of Dr. Fenton Earls, professor of human behavior and development at the Harvard School of Public Health.

“His study, based in Chicago, has challenged an immensely popular competing theory about the roots of crime. "Broken windows," as it is known, holds that physical and social disorder in a neighborhood lead to increased crime, that if one broken window or aggressive squeegee man is allowed to remain in a neighborhood, bigger acts of disorderly behavior will follow.

In a landmark 1997 paper that he wrote with colleagues in the journal Science, and in a subsequent study in The American Journal of Sociology, Dr. Earls reported that most major crimes were linked not to "broken windows" but to two other neighborhood variables: concentrated poverty and what he calls, with an unfortunate instinct for the dry and off-putting language of social science, collective efficacy.

"If you got a crew to clean up the mess," Dr. Earls said, "it would last for two weeks and go back to where it was. The point of intervention is not to clean up the neighborhood, but to work on its collective efficacy. If you organized a community meeting in a local church or school, it's a chance for people to meet and solve problems.

"If one of the ideas that comes out of the meeting is for them to clean up the graffiti in the neighborhood, the benefit will be much longer lasting, and will probably impact the development of kids in that area. But it would be based on this community action — not on a work crew coming in from the outside."

As for policy implications, Dr. Earls said that rather than focusing on arresting squeegee men and graffiti scrawlers, local governments should support the development of cooperative efforts in low-income neighborhoods by encouraging neighbors to meet and work together. Indeed, cities that sow community gardens, he said, may reap a harvest of not only kale and tomatoes, but safer neighborhoods and healthier children.

The Furman Center at NYU has done a study on the effect of community gardens on property values, “
The Effect of Community Gardens on Neighboring Property Values” by Vicki Been and Ioan Voicu. The research shows the effect to be positive and increasing over time. There is a higher impact the closer the property is to the garden.

Some research has produced books such as
The Struggle for Eden by Malve Von Hassell. This book published in 2002 makes extensive reference to social theories while documenting the struggles to preserve community gardens that took place in New York City in the last 2 decades of the 20th century.

The publication of a detailed history of community gardening,
City Bountiful by Laura Lawson in 2005, firmly roots community gardening in the history of the past 120 years.

This varied and extensive research raises new questions, offers opportunities for study replication to refute or support previous findings and points to serious gaps in the knowledge about community gardening and community gardeners. Most notable is the lack of anything beyond a wild guess as to the number and location of community gardens in the country. Many cities have web pages, published maps or brochures highlighting that city’s gardens. New York City has an on line interactive website
OASIS locating and documenting over 700 community gardens.
(note: the current number is 483. I'll document the difference in a future post)

Undertaking a national or bi-national inventory would be an important undertaking. Maintaining and updating a garden database is a task that requires an ongoing focused effort for which the Institute of Community Gardening would be an ideal venue.

The Institute could also offer or host symposia or conferences on specific aspects of community gardening.
Income would be derived from course fees, contracts from agencies, non-profit and for profit corporations, grants, endowments, sponsorships and donations.

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