Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture

Participating in Urban Gardening, or "City Farming" - Results of an Online Survey conducted by City Farmer

By Alison M. Meadow
Graduate Student
Department of Anthropology/Resilience and Adaptation Program
University of Alaska Fairbanks

The complete paper can be downloaded here. (407K Word Document) (4,140 Words) Participating in Urban Gardening, or "City Farming" - Results of an Online Survey conducted by City Farmer

On this web page you can read the "Introduction" and "Conclusion" of the paper.


Gardens have been a part of urban life for centuries. In North America vegetable gardens gained popularity during the years surrounding World War II when citizens were encouraged to plant Victory Gardens to supply their own food and take pressure off production industries and resources needed for the war effort (Smith and Kurtz 2003). Another type of crisis helped to launch the resurgence of the gardening movement in North America in the late 1970s - the decline of inner cities (ibid). As post-war white flight, fiscal crises, and divestment in inner cities grew, residents of these communities found themselves facing financial problems and lowered access to food markets both of which contributed to a situation known as food insecurity. The abandonment of inner cities by municipal governments, industry, and wealthier families led to rundown, un-maintained, and decrepit surroundings for those unable to escape the declining neighbourhoods (Hynes 1996). However, this abandonment also created space, in the form of empty lots, for a grassroots beautification and food security movement in the form of gardens (Smith and Kurtz 2003). Internationally, urban agriculture - as it is known in the development literature - is a popular tool to combat food insecurity and other economic crises (Altieri et al. 1999; de Haen 2002; Castillo 2003).

Whether gardens are the outgrowth of a food security initiative, a community movement, or a hobby have the potential to play important roles in urban areas. Increasing urban green space has been linked to increased plant and animal diversity (Gilbert 1989; Honnay et al. 1999; Pickett et al. 2001), improvements in soil (Hynes 1996), and beneficial changes in microclimate (Bach 1972) and hydrology by providing shade, absorbing carbon dioxide and reducing rainwater run-off (Malakoff; Schaake 1972). Gardening for food has been shown to improve the nutrition of participants and the surrounding community (Blair et al. 1991). Urban food production also benefits the broader community by reducing the transportation of food. In North America the average food from a store has traveled 2000 kilometres and has cost eight fossil-fuel calories to deliver one food calorie (Smit 1999). Given the positive benefits of gardens and gardening in urban areas, an important question for planners, community activists, and environmental activists is how to encourage more people to participate in gardening activities. In order to increase participation in gardening, we must learn more about what attracts people to the activity now - an undertaking Gilbert states is the ideal role for social scientists to play in the environmental movement (Gilbert 1989).

This study is based on a survey conducted by one of the organizations working to encourage participation in urban gardening and urban greening activities in general - City Farmer, based in Vancouver, B.C. City Farmer conducted an online survey over the course of 4 years. The survey asked respondents about their interests and experiences with gardening in urban areas ("city farming") [Appendix A]. The survey garnered 500 responses at the time of writing. Each respondent was asked 19 different questions about their experiences with gardening. Only a small selection of questions were analyzed for this study - those concerned directly with reasons for participating in gardening activities and the size and location of respondents' gardens (questions 7,8, and 9 as well as demographic data such as age, country of residence, and sex).


Much of the literature on urban agriculture, community gardens, and urban gardening in general tends to focus on its role in reducing food insecurity and creating a more stable food system for urban dwellers (Fairholm 1998; Altieri et al. 1999; Smit 1999; de Haen 2002; Brown and Carter 2003; Castillo 2003). However, the results of the City Farmer online survey, as well as research conducted by Blair et al. (1991) have found that the primary reason people choose to participate in urban gardening projects is for enjoyment or recreation. The links between urban food production and improved nutrition and food security are clear - urban gardening projects provide participants and other community members with access to affordable and healthy foods (Blair et al. 1991; Fairholm 1998; Brown and Carter 2003). In order to ensure that more people benefit from these nutritional improvements as well as the many other improvements gardens can bring to a community - environmental changes, better aesthetics, better community relations, and increased physical activity to name a very few (Hynes 1996), more people should be encouraged to participate. Surveys like City Farmer's will help that organization as well as other advocacy, community development, and environmental agencies target their programs to attract the greatest number of participants - not just those who might benefit from the food security improvements. A wider base of people participating in gardening and urban greening projects will allow the benefits of these activities to spread even farther throughout urban communities.

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Revised Monday, May 30, 2005

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture