The topic of community gardens is a great opportunity to link our work on shrinking cities to the capstone work of a fellow classmate in the Virginia Tech MURP program in Blacksburg, Basil Hallberg. He wrote his major paper in May 2009 on urban agriculture, entitled: “Using Community Gardens to Augment Food Security Efforts in Low-Income Communities.”

This is a great accompanying resource for the posts of Lindsay and myself on community gardens. Basil’s paper has more of a focus on health benefits of community gardening and food security that is very interesting. He notes that:

“Thirty-one million Americans live in homes with limited or uncertain access to adequate nutrition (Lawson & Knox, 2002). The same demographic that disproportionably suffers from food insecurity, low income minorities, is also prone to higher rates of diabetes, stroke, asthma, obesity, heart disease, cancer and other chronic health issues.”

He also links the lack of access of people in low-income communities leads to “poor diets which are high in caloric intake but inadequate in nutrients” and therefore connected to obesity and a realm of other health issues. The bulk of the paper is a very comprehensive and thoughtful analysis of urban agriculture and local municipalities role in encouraging and maintaining community gardens. Among a diversity of other issues, he also touches on the benefits of local foods and the empowerment associated with neighborhoods growing their own food.

Basil overviews two case studies, one of which is on the Philadelphia Horticulture Society’s Philadelphia Green program. A city like Cleveland could gain a lot from this program, as Basil summarizes:

“Community gardens clean-up vacant land that would otherwise blight Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. Transforming derelict lots of land into gardens is used as a crime prevention strategy in the city’s neighborhoods. Community gardens help retain and attract residents and business to their locations. Many Philadelphia community gardens are utilized to address food security issues within low-income neighborhoods. Nonetheless, while Philadelphia neighborhoods and communities receive many benefits from community gardens, it is important to recall that they exist as primarily a redevelopment strategy to attain other objectives.”

His emphasis on quantified short-term gains of the Philly Green program that ultimately serve the long-term goals of redevelopment is particularly poignant to shrinking cities.

Should anyone be interested in contacting Basil about his research and expertise in this area let me know and I will connect you!