Harvesting the City:
Community Gardening in Greater Madison, Wisconsin
By Geoff Herbach
Madison Food System Project Working Paper Series MFSP-1998-01
For the Madison Food System Project
A Pilot Project of the Wisconsin Food System Partnership
Phone: (608) 263-7940
Madison has been the home of community gardens since the early part of the 20th century. Indeed, a May 1912 edition of a Madison newspaper reported the creation of a community gardening organization in the city (Kloppenburg 1997). During the World Wars, citizens were encouraged to plant everywhere they could find suitable soil, using the slogan "marching to victory via the victory garden" (Hynes 1996). And, during the Great Depression, Madison community gardeners grew vegetables to supplement their food budgets (Kloppenburg 1997). Now, in the late 20th century, interest in community gardening in the city is blooming once again. In fact, for a variety of reasons, interest is rising all over the country.
Several societal trends provide the impetus for this resurgence nationwide. Community gardening provides a partial answer to questions raised by the conservative political impulse to reduce the size of government, the communitarian impulse to create civil communities, and the sustainability movement's emphasis on organic production techniques and healthy cities. Community gardeners save money on food bills; they build community spaces; they eat more nutritiously than their non-gardening counterparts; and they help to create neighborhoods with character, with a sense of place. In a time when government subsidies to the poor are shrinking, when many people are looking for a better, more community- oriented way of living, and when neighborhood political organization is becoming increasingly important, it is likely that community gardening will flourish.
As we have seen in Madison, however, the common product of these trends--a resurgence in interest in community gardening among members of all socioeconomic classes and an increased need for community gardening plots, especially among low-income people impacted by welfare reform measures--does not, in itself, create new community gardens. In fact, as interest in and need for new gardens has increased in the city, the actual number of available plots has decreased. Madison has lost nearly a garden a year over the last twelve years.
A movement to maintain existing community gardens, and to create new ones is alive in the city. It has had notable successes, especially on the city's Northside where a large community garden on Troy Drive has been preserved. This garden is on State-owned land that was in danger of being sold and developed. A coalition of garden, neighborhood, housing and green-space advocates fought for, and received, a lease that keeps a portion of the site in community garden use for at least sixteen years.
Saving existing community gardens, is an important strategy in a city where development pressures are strong. It is, however, only a partial strategy. While old gardens need to be saved, new ones need to be created.
This report has two purposes. First, it is intended to help both the City's residents and local government see the importance of community gardening. Second, and most importantly, it is meant to provide some new ideas about saving the old and creating new community gardens.
The first part of this paper can be thought of as a "state of community gardening" report. It begins with a discussion of the importance of community gardening to people and places. Then it details the supply of and the demand for community garden plots in the Madison area. It goes on to review the ways in which city government presently recognizes and supports community gardening. The second part of the report looks at land tenure issues and ways community gardeners in other places insure longer-term tenure arrangements. The third part is aimed at the establishment of new gardens in the city. It puts forth a list of physical and social criteria to be considered when locating new gardens. The concluding section of the report details the need for increased commitment on the part of City government, and describes the need for building institutional capacity within the community gardening movement.
II. Importance of Urban Gardens
The first step in a community maintaining old gardens and creating new gardens is to gain a total understanding of community gardening's benefits. For community gardening to become a serious part of public policy, the dialogue about its benefits needs to change. It should not be considered a purely recreational amenity. It should be considered for the entirety of the benefits it brings to a community. The following section seeks to shape the community gardening dialogue in such an "entire" way.
Community gardens are important to people and places for a number of reasons. Some of the benefits are more obvious than others. Gardeners save money on their grocery bills, for instance. The first part of this section deals with these economic benefits. In the latter half, the discussion will turn to some of the non-economic benefits of community gardening. Although harder to measure, these benefits are vital for understanding the real worth of community gardening.
2.1 Economic Benefits
Community gardening's economic benefits, which accrue to both participants and to units of government, are the most easily measured and often the most societally sanctioned justification for investing in community garden space.
The economic returns of community gardening are, of course, climate dependent. Certainly community gardeners in California are able to grow more during their long growing season than are gardeners in Madison. The amount of vegetables that can be grown, measured in dollars, in Madison-like climates, is still significant.
A Rutgers University study showed that the average New Jersey community garden plot (about 700 square feet) produced approximately $500 in vegetables during an average growing season. The average cost of inputs was twenty-five dollars. These New Jersey gardeners netted $475 tax free dollars each season (Patel 1991).
Philadelphia community gardens in a recent Penn State study produced, on average, between $160 and $178. The difference in production between the two studies is would likely be explained by sample differences or differences in the average plot size of the gardens. No average plot size was given in the Philadelphia study. The study did indicate that the range in plot production went from two dollars for the season all the way up to $1134 (Blair, Giesecke and Sherman 1991).
Larry Sommers, a Vermont Community Gardener and writer, claims that a 600 square foot plot produces about 540 pounds of high-quality produce. In 1984, that translated into approximately $450 in savings (Sommers 1984). It would be more when adjusted for inflation. Also, training gardeners in high intensity techniques greatly increases the amount produced.
Community gardening can economically benefit government, as well. In the twenty-three city program, a program encouraging community gardening, sponsored by the USDA and managed by university extension programs, for every dollar of government investment, six dollars in vegetables were produced (Hynes 1996). No other food-related program could claim that sort of economic efficiency.
It is worth noting here that development and maintenance of garden space is less expensive than development and maintenance of parkland. A Sacramento study compared the development and maintenance costs of a park containing 140,000 square feet with the same costs in a community garden that contained 121,300 square feet. The researcher found that the park cost $46,000 to develop and $15,000 per year to maintain while the garden cost $2,200 to develop and $550 per year to maintain (Francis 1985). It has been suggested that the costs of garden construction and maintenance have increased relative to the costs of parks since this study was completed. There are likely regional differences based on climate, as well. Clearly, however, community gardens are less expensive to build and maintain than are parks.
2.2 Non-Economic Benefits
Many benefits associated with community gardening are non-economic. These benefits are often called "soft", not because they are unimportant, but because they are hard to measure, and, in some circumstances, are devalued by society. These benefits, however, are as important, if not more important than the economic ones. In fact, the non-economic benefits are the key reasons why community gardening makes for better, more livable places. The non-economic benefits are especially potent at neighborhood-based gardens that are woven into the fabric of the community, as opposed to allocation gardens where gardeners rent plots and come from anywhere in the region to use them.
2.2.1 People and Place Enhancing Benefits
Gardeners say that community gardening enhances a persons psychological, spiritual and physical sense of well being (Sommers 1984). Gardening adds beauty to the community, and heightens peoples awareness and appreciation for living things. They are places for natural retreat, right in the city.
Community gardening helps to create a sense of place and a spirit of community in neighborhoods. A 1991 poll of New Jersey community gardeners done by a Rutgers University extension agent showed that a third of the participants developed new friendships through the gardens. In addition, a third of the participants spent time helping other gardeners and nearly a fifth shared produce with other gardeners.
Gardening promotes a community atmosphere and gives people an opportunity to meet others, share concerns, and solve a few problems together (Patel 1991).
2.2.2 Benefits to Youth
In many cities across the country, community gardens are being used to teach biology to young students and to teach both job and life skills to at-risk youths.
Literally hundreds of volunteer Master Gardeners in the San Antonio area are teaching Fourth and Fifth grade kids in the citys school system to grow plants in community gardens. As of 1995, 133 schools in the district were participating in the program, with an average of 15 new schools added each semester. Although the program started out as a means for the Master Gardeners to share their love of gardening with young people, the benefits of the program have far exceeded this modest objective. A University study indicates that kids who are participating in the garden program have better school attendance and have gotten their parents more involved in their schooling than have non-gardening kids. A teacher involved in the program, Helen Campos-Sanchez, says that kids learn science, math, health, social studies and language arts lessons in the gardens. Other teachers say the kids' feelings of accomplishment and beliefs in the importance of being responsible are the primary benefits of the program (Finch 1995).
The kids' community gardening program in Berkeley, California, called Strong Roots, stresses two goals. First, the garden is a way of restoring African American youths lost agricultural heritage. Second, it serves as a way to teach job skills. Participants in the program earn minimum wage through the federal Summer Youth Employment and Training Program. Again, coordinators and participants in the program highlight benefits that perhaps exceed the program expectations. These benefits include developing dispute resolution skills, and learning how to create rule schemes for participants (Chavis 1997).
Similar youth gardening programs exist in cities such as Boston (Naimark 1982); San Francisco (Nuru 1996); New York City (Sullivan 1996); and Dayton, Ohio (GWYN Undated) among many others.
Madison has children's programs, as well. The children's gardening network (CGN) currently has nine children's gardens in the city. A program to teach gardening skills has been in operation at Mendota Elementary School for several years. And, during the summer of 1997, a Youth Market Garden was established by the CGN and the Early Childhood Learning Center in South Madison. Low-income youth gardened and sold their vegetables at Park Bank, on South Park Street. They were taught gardening, cash-handling and accounting skills. At the end of the summer, each child was able to take home a portion of the total receipts depending on how much work he or she did.
Programs such as the new Youth Market Garden in Madison are of obvious worth. These programs represent some of community gardening's barely tapped potential.
2.2.3 Diversity Benefits
Cities sometimes argue that community gardens should not be developed on parklands because they limit park uses and engage fewer people (CityFarmer 1997). Research done on the West Coast shows that community gardens actually attract people onto public space that would not otherwise use such amenities.
In Sacramento, California, for instance, three quarters of city park users were under the age of thirty. Three quarters of the users in the city-owned community gardens were over the age of thirty. Community gardeners were more likely to use the land alone, while park users were more often in twos or groups. Another finding in the same study demonstrated the democratizing effects of community gardening. In Sacramento, a total of five people made decisions concerning the development and maintenance of parkland. Ninety-nine people had a voice in making the same decisions concerning city-owned community garden space (Francis 1985).
In Madison, about 65% of the nearly 1200 gardeners in the Community Action Coalition Garden Program are of Asian descent (CAC 1997). In this city, a profile of users by race would be very different for community gardens than it would be for the city parks.
Community gardens spread the benefits of common open space to groups of people that are not well served by traditional parks. And, because they are places where people interact, perhaps by providing one another information about different techniques, community gardens have the potential to be spaces where social integration takes place.
2.2.4 Nutritional Benefits
There is evidence that community gardeners and their children eat healthier diets than do non-gardening families.
A study of Philadelphia community gardeners showed that gardeners were more likely to eat raw vegetables in salads. The gardeners' frequency of vegetable consumption was slightly higher than the non-gardeners' consumption in all categories of vegetable other than iceberg lettuce, celery and fresh salad greens (Blair, Giesecke and Sherman 1991).
In a Rutgers University extension survey of New Jersey community gardeners, thirty-five percent cited improved diet as one of the prime benefits of gardening. Forty-four percent of gardeners believed they ate more fresh foods and vegetables than their non-gardening counterparts. (Patel 1991).
In developing countries, research into the benefits of urban gardening has focused on dietary improvement. A study of urban agriculture in Africa identified the nutrition produced in the practice as being the prime benefit (Maxwell 1994). A study conducted by Save the Children Fund (SCF) in 1987 in the Kawempe division of Kampala, Uganda showed that the long-term growth of children, as represented by height and weight, was much better for the children of urban gardeners than it was for the children of non-gardeners. In fact, the children of gardeners averaged a half standard deviation taller than the mean for the nation (when compared with the average height for age) (Maxwell 1995).
According to the Save the Children Fund, the practice of Urban gardening in Kampala is now so prevalent supplementary feeding programs in low-income areas of the city are not needed. Children of farmers are healthier than the children of wealthy families (United Nations Development Programme 1996).
*Sites Associated with the Community Action CoalitionTruaxTroy East/WestReindahl ParkBadger Road St. Paul Baird StreetNygard StreetOld SaukGammon RoadSheboygan Ave.Broadway/Simpson Rimrock
Because of cuts to entitlement programs, the importance of community gardens as a means of nutrition procurement is sure to increase.
In the summer of 1997, twenty-four community gardens were in operation in the Greater Madison Area (see appendix A). Just over half the sites are on publicly owned land, while approximately a quarter is on church land and a quarter on privately held land, respectively. The gardens are primarily distributed on the periphery of the city (see appendix B). These sites contain approximately 1600 individual plots. The Isthmus, the densest, most renter-oriented part of the city, contains no community gardens.
Six of these sites are managed by the Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin, INC. (CAC). Sites run by the CAC are allocated to low-income residents. The CAC sites contain about 600 plots. The CAC collaborates with seven other gardens in the city to place as many low-income Madisonians in community gardens as possible. Although they are associated with the CAC, these other gardens are managed independently.
In fact, other than the CAC gardens, all community gardens in Madison are managed by neighborhood or garden based organizations. Many of these gardens give residents of adjacent neighborhoods priority access. Some are associated with community centers, one is associated with a homeowners' association, others are associated with the University and give priority access to students, faculty and staff. The actual supply of community garden space thus varies depending on where gardeners live in the city. If there is no garden in the potential gardener's neighborhood, the supply is severely limited.
There is a community gardening organization in the city, Madison Community Gardeners Coalition (MCGC). The organization both represents the interests of community gardeners and gives assistance with garden organization and leadership. It is a city-wide umbrella organization, with representation from many of the gardens in the city among its membership. But, it is not involved in the actual management of any of the sites.
3.1 What Do the Numbers Mean?
Although it is known that twenty-four community gardens exist in the Madison area, containing 1600 plots, the garden supply cannot be completely understood by simply presenting such numbers. For instance, what does the term plot mean? How much land does it connote? At Eagle Heights, a plot means 640 square feet of land. Plots can be much larger. Plots at Reindahl, for instance, are 2500 square feet. In most places, however, plots are smaller. The Community Garden Handbook presents layouts for garden sites that contain plots of anywhere from 100 square feet to around 700 square feet (Sommers 1984). Thus, the number of plots is, at best, a reasonable proxy for the actual community garden supply in the city. Is there a better proxy? Perhaps it is total acres of garden space.
*Privately Run SitesSt. Paul- AtwoodEagle HeightsDryden II All SaintsHarvey RohlichMarlborough ParkShorewood HillsTamarack Trails Arbor/McDivittEast Main St.University Housing
About twenty acres of land in the City is dedicated to community garden use. Six of the acres are at Eagle Heights, which is, according to its own application literature, one of the largest community gardens in the United States (Eagle Heights Garden Committee 1997). Eagle Heights is open to the general public, but because it is on land owned by the University, the managers of the site are instructed to appropriate the majority of their slots to people connected with the University. This is not a difficult task. The gardens are adjacent to the University Family Housing complex that has a population of over 4000. Most of the gardeners live at Eagle Heights.
Another community garden, equal in size to Eagle Heights, is the Reindahl Park community garden. It too contains approximately six acres of garden space. Much of that space was not put to use during the summer of 1997. The Reindahl garden, which is on city owned land, is slated to become soccer fields in the near future. Apparently the gardeners' commitment to the site is waning. People do not want to invest time in working soil that is soon going to be taken from them (Mathers 1997). If these six acres, along with the Eagle Heights acres, are taken out of the total, the greater Madison area is left with only about eight acres of community garden space, or about one percent of a square mile.
3.2 General Trend in Supply
While demand for plots in the city has increased in recent years, for reasons that will be explained below, the supply of community garden plots has been dwindling. In fact, the city lost a third of its garden sites to development and other pressures in the last twelve years. A national survey of community gardens completed in 1997 shows that Madison has lost a bigger share of its community gardens than all but three other cities. (Monroe-Santos 1997). As the Reindahl Park case illustrates, the city is in danger of losing more garden space.
When asked about their city's system of tracking demand for gardens, community garden advocates in several cities across the continent had the same response. They have no formal system. A key staff person at City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture, answered the question in typical fashion. In Vancouver, where City Farmer is located, government came to believe that there was a groundswell of interest in community gardening based on the number of people calling for information. The city eventually felt it necessary to get involved. (Levenston 1997). In fact, cities rarely need to establish demand. It simply becomes obvious.
It would seem that Madison is experiencing such a rise in demand. Although interest in gardening has probably always been high in the city, with the awareness and mobilization created by the emergence of MCGC, accompanied by several high-profile battles to save or create gardens, the demand has become more apparent.
There have been no surveys done in the city to establish demand. And, although good demand numbers would provide a powerful bargaining point for garden advocates, such numbers are not necessary to demonstrate demand. Demand is being demonstrated in other, very obvious ways. MCGC participation is one way. Another is the large citizen movement that helped secure the Troy Drive lease, on which a community garden sits. Another is the enormous citizen turnout at a fall 1997 plan commission meeting that was to decide the fate of a potential new community garden on the Isthmus (both the product of neighborhood organization and the work of MCGC). The strong presence caused the plan commission to call for a city-wide study to locate new gardens. There are other, more concrete indicators which point to high demand for garden space in the city.
The most obvious of these indicators is the difficulty many citizens have getting plots in their neighborhoods. The Atwood Community Garden, for instance, maintains a two to three year waiting list. Both the Sheboygan and St. Paul community gardens fill up each year before the end of winter (CAC 1997).
Because demand is high, for the 1997 garden season, the Eagle Heights Community Garden discontinued their practice of leaving several rows of plots fallow each year, to allow the soil to rest. The garden leadership altered the practice because of demand. Fewer plots resting means that more gardeners can be accommodated. They expanded by approximately 100 plots and yet were at capacity during the summer of 1997.
The garden program at the Community Action Coalition does not have the luxury of expanding its gardens to meet demand. The programs coordinator has been forced to address demand by no longer advertising the program. The CAC first stopped advertising the program to the general public because they were forced to turn too many away. At that point they advertised only to a target group of low-income people. Starting in the spring of 1997, they stopped advertising the program at all (Mathers 1997). The CAC does not have room to accommodate even the people who need the garden program most.
Another way to establish demand is to extrapolate from national random surveys. Several have been done in the past. A Gallup poll in the 1980s found that 7 million American urbanites wanted to garden but did not have the land to do so (Patel 1991). In addition, 76% of people surveyed in a similar Gallup poll stated they wanted community gardens to be a permanent part of their communities (Sommers 1982). The 1991 Madison Parks and Open Space Plan used such data to recommend that the city help gardeners acquire a total of 2000 new plots.
V. City of Madison Support for Community Gardening
Several documents created by the Madison government call for increased municipal involvement in community gardening efforts. Two resolutions of the city council, one in 1990 written by then Alderperson, now Mayor, Sue Bauman and one in 1997 in reaction to the surge in interest in getting garden space on the Isthmus, have called for increased city support. Community gardening is also supported in the Isthmus 2020 Plan and the Citys 1991 and 1997 Parks and Open Space Plans. The language in the earlier Parks and Open Space Plan is particularly strong.
In June of 1990, the Madison City Council adopted a resolution calling for the establishment of permanent community gardens on City owned land, including City parks. It also called for changes in the zoning ordinance designed to encourage the inclusion of community gardens in newly platted areas of the City. Language in the resolution used to justify city action is particularly strong. It cites community gardening's multiple benefits.
Whereas, community gardens assist City residents in improving the quality of City life by revitalizing neighborhoods, stimulating social interaction, conserving and recycling resources, reducing family food budgets and creating opportunities for recreation, therapy, and exercise…(City of Madison, resolution 46,849 1990).
City government has been aware of the benefits of community gardening for some time. A committee was put together to work on the issue, but no program was ever implemented.
A new community garden resolution was adopted by the City Council on the sixth of October, 1997. The language in the new resolution is not as strong as the language in the 1990 resolution.
Whereas, the City of Madison has recognized the value which community gardens and voluntary efforts can add to the health of a neighborhood; (City of Madison 1997).
It does not call for community gardens to be established on City lands. It calls for the establishment of a Community Gardens Advisory Committee to research appropriate and effective ways the City can support and help to create community gardens.
5.2 Planning Documents
The Isthmus 2020 Plan supports the introduction of community garden space on the Isthmus with language in the Parks and Community Places section of the plan. Common places, where neighbors can meet, help define the character of a neighborhood (City of Madison 1997). Community gardens are one of the recommended common places.
The 1991 Parks and Open Space Plan contains stronger language. The following excerpt is from that plan.
This Plan further recommends that the Parks Division be capital funded to acquire suitable sites for as many as 2,000 City-owned, permanent garden plots of approximately 200-800 square feet in size each…(City of Madison 1991).
Currently, a new draft of the plan is in the works. The draft version drops the strong language, although justification for acquisition shortfall of about 2000 sites remains in the description of the problem. In fact since the 1991 plan, the city has lost four hundred plots. Thus far, the recommendations in the plans and resolutions have not been followed.
5.3 City Support for Community Gardening
The City does support community gardening in several significant ways. First, it has supported the Community Action Coalition Garden Program with Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for a number of years. The Community Development Authority (CDA) also helps facilitate community gardening by allowing community gardens to exist on some of the grounds of subsidized housing complexes it runs. There are Community Gardens at the Truax housing site, at Baird Street and new gardens on CDA land at Broadway-Simpson. Finally, the city has allowed community gardens to exist on land at Reindahl and Marlborough parks.
VI. Securing Tenure
Community gardens are often treated as interim uses by cities. A recent national survey conducted by the American Community Gardens Association (ACGA) showed that fewer than two percent of community gardens in their sample are considered permanent by the gardens' managers (Monroe-Santos 1997). At the same time, about thirty-one percent of the community gardens in the survey were over ten years old. The reason why managers do not consider the gardens permanent is that most of them are on land owned by non-garden interests. Very few gardens are owned by the community groups that run them. Still fewer are held in trust or are owned by cities that plan on keeping them gardens in perpetuity.
Lack of secure land tenure at community garden sites is an important issue in cities all over the country. In some cities such as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Dayton, Ohio; and Newark, New Jersey, inner city neighborhoods contain large numbers of vacant lots. In such places a lack of sure tenure is less constraining to community gardening activities. Although moving a garden creates a hardship for resident gardeners, at least there are other available sites on which to move. In cities where the land market is heated, and vacant lots are few, however, lack of secure tenure can quickly spell the end of gardening in a neighborhood. Madison is one of those cities. In fact, according to Madisons Parks and Open Space Plan, fully 60% of community gardens in the city are in imminent danger of being converted into other uses (City of Madison 1997).
The lands on which community gardens in Madison are located are owned by a variety of interests. The Dryden II community garden, for instance, is on land owned by a shopping center. The University, the State, the City, Churches, and railroad companies all own land on which community gardens are located in the city. In only a few cases is community gardening considered to be a permanent use on these lands.
The following is a list of tenureship arrangements at community gardens in other cities. Some forms are stronger than others are. Several of these might be used to make community gardening a more permanent land use in Madison.
6.1 City Owned and Managed
Several cities in North America have programs in which the city owns and operates community gardens. Three cities, in particular, provide models for the city of Madison. Each has a land market that is similar to Madisons. Each, like Madison, experienced a rise of interest in community gardening that prompted the larger city role.
6.1.1 Seattle, Washington
The city of Seattle is the most aggressive, and perhaps innovative American city in its approach to securing and maintaining community garden sites. The P-Patch program, the citys community gardens program, is part of the Department of Housing and Human Services. The program began in the 1970s with the efforts of gardeners on a two-acre truck farm. The project grew and the city was persuaded to take it over and expand it into other neighborhoods. P-Patch was originally funded and staffed with Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) funds. The Housing Authority provided funding for infrastructure development and staff time (Donnette 1997).
P-Patch, Friends of P-Patch (its non-profit partner), and the City Housing Authority currently manage gardens. When a group approaches the city with the desire to form a garden, the land must be certified as being available for at least five years. While there are no dedicated city funds for community garden development, it is possible for groups to obtain funding through Friends of P-Patch, CDBG, and conservation easements. This is combined with neighborhood matching grants, where neighborhoods are allowed to match city funds either through sweat equity (each persons labor is valued at $10/hour), or through donations (Donnette 1997). P-Patch also helps the neighborhood design sites and provides technical assistance.
P-Patch and its collaborating organizations now own and operate thirty-five community gardens. They have also established community gardening as a desired use within the City's comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan creates urban villages in the city. These villages are to be neighborhood sized and are to contain all the amenities an urbanite would desire to have in a community. These amenities include indoor meeting spaces, grocery stores, restaurants, parkland, etc. Community gardens are to be a part of the village. The plan calls for the establishment of one community garden to be within walking distance of every 2500 residents (Seattle Land Use Plan 1994).
Another interesting aspect of Seattles program is the way in which they acquire some of their sites. In order to put gardens in dense neighborhoods, the city uses the lots of houses that have been razed due to dilapidation or foreclosure as sites for new community gardens. In addition, in 1994 the community garden program received a one time, $650,000 grant from the city's real estate excise tax fund to be used to purchase land for garden plots. P-Patch was able to purchase a $350,000 piece of prime real estate to use as gardens. The rest of the grant is waiting to be used.
Seattle still occasionally loses community gardens to development pressures (Seattle Department of Housing and Human Services 1995). The measures that have been taken to solidify land tenure arrangements for community gardens in the city, however, ensure that the activity will be robust in the future and all the benefits gardening provides will continue to accrue.
6.1.2 Portland, Oregon
The City of Portland owns and operates twenty-three gardens, half of which are located on city parkland. It also has an ordinance on its books which facilitates the creation of new gardens. The ordinance authorizes land agreements between the City, property owners and participants in the Community Gardens Project. Portland does not treat community gardens as pure recreational amenities. Rather it treats community gardening as an activity worthy of government protection. The language in the ordinance demonstrates the belief that the facilitation of community gardening is important public policy.
Inasmuch as this ordinance is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public health, peace and safety of the City of Portland(Ordinance 139589 1975).
The results of the ordinance are strong. The City Parks and Open Space Department now houses a full-time garden coordinator. And, community gardening is a defined, allowed open space use in the citys zoning code. Most importantly, city owned sites are kept off of the speculative land market, and are thus protected from the strong development pressures.
6.1.3 Vancouver, British Columbia
This city has a program, backed by a new city ordinance, which allows citizens to petition for the use of existing parkland for community garden space. Vancouver is remarkable in the amount of parkland it has per resident (Levenston 1997). Much of it is underutilized. The policy encourages those who might not otherwise use the parks to get into city-owned common areas.
Vancouver helps to select sites and prepares gardens for use. They also have a garden coordinator sitting on the Board of Parks and Recreation (City of Vancouver 1996). According to City Farmer, the commitment to community gardening is new, and the success of the program, is yet unknown (Levenston 1997). Municipal government involvement in community gardening, and its formalization in city policy, certainly strengthens gardeners' chances of increasing sites and participation.
6.2 Land Trusts
The land trust model has grown out of the environmental movement where it is used as a tool for preserving farmland and natural areas. Putting land into trust takes it off of the land market. Land trusts conserve land in three distinct ways:
- By gaining easements on private land through owner donation
- By purchasing development rights
- By purchasing sensitive lands at risk of being developed, out right
Putting land in trust is now being used to secure gardeners tenure in places where garden sites are in danger of being converted to other uses. The way it might best work in the community garden setting is that a non-profit organization would purchase the development right for the garden site from a private owner. In that way, a conservation easement is placed on the land so that it can only be used as open or garden space in the future. Land trust organizations can either manage the gardens themselves or lease space to garden organizations. Any of the three conservation techniques used by land trusts, however, are appropriate for community gardens.
Currently, the trust idea, as applied to community gardening, is in its infancy. But, the idea is catching on. Community garden land trusts are already in operation in Boston, Philadelphia, Providence, New York City and Dayton, Ohio.
6.3 Leased Government Land
The most common form of tenure arrangement is a private organization leasing from the government. In Madison, several of the gardens are on CDA land, leased from the city. The Troy Drive Gardens are on State owned land, and are being leased, as of 1997, for sixteen years. In Missoula, Montana, the majority of the community gardens have been leased from the county.
If the lease is for one or two years, which, unlike the Troy Drive Gardens, is the usual agreement, the form of tenure arrangement provides little in the way of security. Cities are often eager to expand their tax bases in order to maintain and expand services. For this reason, vacant land and city-owned land is considered a liability. Neither vacant nor city-owned properties produce tax revenues. If the city is driven to expand the tax base, land occupied by community gardeners is as good to them as is vacant land. Unless the city has made a strong commitment to community gardening, more intensive, and lucrative uses could replace garden uses eventually. This situation is true even for cities currently experiencing depressed land economies. Once abandoned lots that were taken over by community gardeners in New York City, for instance, are now being sold by the City and developed. The land market changed. Community gardeners on these lots have little recourse when the city supports the sites development.
6.4 Private Land/Private Lease
Many gardens are leased from both public and private institutions and from private individuals by community gardening organizations. Gardens are often on land owned by churches, colleges and universities, and schools. Although such arrangements provide a great service to gardeners, the arrangement provides little overall security unless the institution, as is the case with the University of Wisconsin/Eagle Heights arrangement, is dedicated to keeping the site in community garden use. That kind of commitment, in most cases, cannot be counted on.
Clearly there are many ways in which land can become occupied by community gardeners. The best tenureship arrangements are the ones that provide the most tenure security. Community gardeners like to come back to the same plot year after year. They like to "build" their soil. The associated benefits, such as community building, are likely to take root and grow over the course of years, as well. Secure tenureship is a prime concern.
VII. New Sites For Community Gardens Criteria
As has been mentioned above, there is increasing interest on the part of the city to help site and start new community gardens. In this section, a set of site selection criteria is discussed. There are two areas of concern that need to be addressed when choosing a site. The first is neighborhood characteristics that support the successful introduction of a community garden or create demand for a community garden. The second is the site attributes. The question addressed is what makes for a successful site?
7.1 Neighborhood Characteristics
Community gardens can be successful in any sort of neighborhood wealthy, low-income or mixed-income. There are certain neighborhood characteristics, however, that drive demand for a community garden. These characteristics are described below.
7.1.1 Average Age of Household
Community gardens should be a priority in areas where there are higher concentrations of senior citizens, near retirement homes, for instance, or at apartment complexes where many elderly residents live. Community gardens not only provide an opportunity for seniors to engage in a healthy activity, they provide neighborhood residents a place to get to know a segment of the community they might not get a chance to meet otherwise.
7.1.2 Percentage Renters or Condo-Owners
Many renters and condominium owners do not have access to land. Community gardens are more likely to work in neighborhoods where a critical mass of people is looking for a place to garden. Neighborhoods with high percentages of renters and/or condominium owners provide that critical mass. It is important to note that high densities provide the same conditions. Several of the neighborhoods on the Isthmus contain groups of home-owners that have access to land, but because of high density constraints such as lack of direct sunlight and small yards, are unable to garden at their homes.
7.1.3 Percentage of Census Tract That is Low-Income
With the introduction of welfare reform, and the paring down of food subsidies, community gardens might play a more important role in feeding people in the future. Gardeners obviously come from every sort of socioeconomic category. But, priority should be given to neighborhoods with higher percentages of low-income residents. Community gardens can have significant value for people who are stretching their food budgets.
7.1.4 High percentage of recent immigrants from agrarian backgrounds
In Madison, a high percentage of community garden plots citywide are worked by immigrants from Southeast Asia. These people garden over half of the Community Action Coalition plots. A CAC staff person said that many of the recent immigrants describe gardening as their connection to home (Finkelstein 1997). It is interesting to note that some of them are not from rural settings, but garden to get access to food that they cannot purchase here. Community gardens will be successful and are in demand in places where there are concentrations of Southeast Asian immigrants.
7.1.5 Is the Neighborhood Served by Another Garden?
This is a commonsense point. Community gardens should be sited in neighborhoods that are not served by other gardens. Madison's Northside contains several community gardens, including Troy, a big one. It is important that all parts of the city that need gardens get gardens, not just the places that have a tradition of community gardening. The Isthmus and parts of Madison's west, south and far east are currently under-served.
7.2 Site Attributes
Even if gardens are located in the perfect neighborhood, one where they will be managed, maintained and used, community gardens can fail. Gardens cannot happen anyplace. Community gardens need helping hands from both nature and municipal infrastructure. The following is a list of criteria for choosing the right site on which to start a garden.
7.2.1 Soil Quality
In order for a garden to successfully bear vegetables, it is best to have at least eight to nine inches of topsoil. Topsoil or compost can be brought in from another source, but this adds to the development cost of the garden. Gardeners need also be concerned with the chemical content of the soil. Gardeners should have their soil tested for pH (the pH can be affected by adding ground limestone or sulfer), for the nutrient content (soil should contain five percent nitrogen, ten percent phosphorous, and ten percent potassium) (Sommers 1984). The soil should also be tested for contaminants such as lead, especially if the garden is on the site of a demolished building.
There is no established degree of slope that is considered prohibitive for vegetable gardening. Gardening on a slope causes erosion, however. The Eagle Heights Community Garden has gotten around the slope problem by terracing. Major landscaping, like bringing in soil, adds to the development costs.
7.2.3 Fencing, Curb Cuts, and Gates
The Boston Urban Gardeners (BUG) Handbook of community gardening recommends the following: A fence to prevent animals and people from easily accessing the vegetables. A nearby curb cut so that supply trucks are able to reach the garden. A tall gate to reduce vandalism.
First, the garden should have an open south face to maximize the plants access to sun. This is especially important in a northern climate. Second, vegetables need, at bare minimum, between six and eight hours of sunlight a day. When choosing a site, the more sunlight, the better.
Because we cannot count on adequate rainfall, it is necessary to have access to water. In some gardens, people put out barrels to collect rain (they also have a tendency to collect mosquito larvae). Other places use nearby buildings or get hooked up to the municipal water supply.
7.2.6 Distance from Major Streets
BUG recommends that gardens be at least 100 feet from major streets in order to prevent airborne pollutants from getting into the soil and settling on the vegetables. This may be less of a factor now that gas is unleaded, although cadmium used to make white wall tires and air borne particulates that plug plant pores are still problematic. There are other safety concerns, as well. Gardens tend to attract children. It is important to make sure the garden is situated in such a way that children will not be playing next to busy streets. There is some concern about the safety of children at the Saint Paul Community Garden, which is situated on an active rail corridor.
7.2.7 Site Configuration
Sites that require long, narrow corridors of gardens, such as those adjacent to rail corridors, can hinder community development goals. Gardeners tend to have less contact with each other at these gardens. Thus the social infrastructure that might develop from community gardening is less likely. The water costs are higher at these sites, as well. Less land is served per running foot of water pipe.
7.2.8 Visibility from Neighboring Residences
Easy visual access from the surrounding neighborhood is the best way to prevent crime and vandalism in gardens. Gardeners will feel safer and criminals will be dissuaded if they know that neighbors will hear calls for help or will see if something is going wrong.
7.2.8 Accessibility for Handicapped and Elderly
It is preferable to place gardens in places that can easily be accessed by handicapped and elderly gardeners. Steep slopes and long walks from access points are bad for these groups.
Although these attributes, both social and physical, should be considered when locating new sites for community gardens, it is important to remember that gardening, as a use, is in competition with a great many other uses, and pragmatism should be the ultimate guide. Community gardening will not be able to compete in economic terms with many forms of development. Battles should be chosen strategically, and offers for garden space should be turned down only when success at such a site would seem impossible. This is especially true if the site is in a neighborhood where social characteristics will drive demand. There are a number of ways to overcome physical barriers. If demand exists and the site is safe, gardeners should, at least, consider taking it.
VIII. Conclusion and Recommendations
The City of Madison is at a crossroads in its community gardening history. At the same time the need to create and maintain community gardens is increasing, the pressure to develop land that might be used for gardens is at its height. Madison is growing, and real estate is in demand, especially in places like the Isthmus where open-space is already lacking.
In the face of this development pressure, it is important to keep the benefits Madison can reap from a strong community gardening program in mind. Welfare reform, continued auto-oriented development, fast population growth, and social isolation due to peoples' growing capacity to work, shop and recreate electronically, all could hurt Madison's residents and the city's sense of community. Community gardening helps to mitigate the ill effects of each of these trends. This is a critical time.
Two things need to happen for community gardening to grow quickly in the city. First, city government needs to act on its resolutions and plans, and start providing stronger support for community gardens. Second, community garden activists must find a way to build an organization that has the capacity to act as manager, maintainer, promoter, and general responsible entity for community gardening. Without such an organization, community gardening's positive impact on the community is much smaller than it could be.
8.1 Expand the City Role
A commitment to community gardening is a commitment to a more livable, civil, and socially equitable city. Community gardens make places better. Enlightened cities with which Madison is oftentimes compared: Burlington, Vermont; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle, Washington, for instance, all have active municipally sponsored community garden programs. Madison should take these cities' example to heart. Gardens help to make places better. Community gardening is a unique urban amenity. Its benefits are multi-layered and it can have an enormous positive impact. Community gardening should become a greater policy priority in the city.
The city does not need to be the sole responsible entity, however. In cities where community gardening is most successful, Boston, Massachusetts; San Francisco, California; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for instance, it is a non-governmental organization that makes community gardening viable, even when city government is involved.
8.2 Need for a Strong Organization
Perhaps the largest barrier to increasing the number and size of community gardening programs in the city is a lack of institutional capacity. The city of Madison has no strong non-profit organization committed solely to the management, maintenance and promotion of community gardens.
The CAC community garden program, a program oriented to helping low-income residents make ends meet, is one of a myriad of programs run by the CAC. Their resources are already spread thin. The fact that the garden program continues to be so healthy is a real credit to the agency and especially the garden staff. The CAC is able to administer a program that serves 1200 low-income gardeners in the city with little in the way of labor and money. Garden staff still manage to find time to do outreach and advocacy, they should not be expected to do more without receiving more funding and other adequate resources.
The Madison Community Garden Coalition is an organization that works to increase garden participation and advocates for more garden space in the city. It has had great success in raising awareness about community gardens, and mobilizing when treasured gardens are in danger. And, although MCGC's members are dedicated, the organization lacks the resource endowment necessary to have a bigger impact on community gardening in the city. It depends entirely on volunteer labor. Core members of the organization are employed full-time in other positions. And, its mission does not include management of gardens. MCGC would need to change its identity if it were to become the kind of organization capable of shaping the community garden movement in the city. A bigger commitment is needed.
In Madison, gardens have been successful where a strong organization exists to manage and maintain the sites. Examples of such success stories are the Atwood community gardens, managed by The Atwood Community Center, Eagle Heights, which has been run by a strong organization since 1967, the CAC gardens, and the Sheboygan garden.
The importance of an organizing body that is willing to oversee the management of gardens is also illustrated in the cases of many of the community gardens that have failed. A member of the South Madison Neighborhood Center stated that they used to provide garden space along the side of their facility, but discontinued the program because gardeners did not adequately maintain the site. An organization that oversees the physical appearance of garden sites and provides education and assistance to gardeners could facilitate the continuance of such programs.
The problem of maintenance appears to be the biggest impediment to providing garden space on the grounds of subsidized apartment complexes, as well. The manager of an apartment complex in Madison which used to provide garden space claimed that the area became too messy to continue. He felt that management had too many other maintenance concerns to be able to spend time on gardens. He would be willing to put the space to garden use if some other organization would manage.
The evidence for needing a community garden organization is strong. The CDA demands a "responsible entity" to manage community gardens on land it controls (Mathers 1997). In an era when litigation is fashionable, an agency is needed to provide insurance. Residents who want to start community gardens are faced with dozens of hurdles. There needs to be an organization willing to lead residents over the hurdles, and willing to take responsibility for the garden to gain city support. Without such an organization, positive change in the community gardening scene will be slow. And, community garden losses will likely continue to out pace gains.
The author wishes to thank the following people for their helpful comments in reviewing this report: Joe Mathers of the Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin, Inc., Kathy DeMaster and Sharon Lezberg of Madison Community Gardeners Coalition, Hope Finkelstein of Grow Power Inc., and especially Jerry Kaufman of the Madison Food System Project. The views expressed in this report, however, are the sole responsibility of the author.
1. Blair, Dorothy, Carol Giesecke and Sandra Sherman. Dietary, Social and Economic Evaluation of the Philadelphia Urban Garden Project Society for Nutrition Education. August 1991
2. Chavis, Melody Ermachild. Strong Roots. Sierra. May/June 1997
3. Crook, Nigel and Jane Pryer. City of Hunger: Malnutrition in Developing Countries Oxfam Print Unit, Oxford. 1990
4. Donnette, Barbara. 1997. Interview With Author. November. Seattle, Washington
5. Egziahber et al. Cities Feeding People: An Examination of Urban Agriculture in East Africa International Development Research Center. Ottawa. 1994
6. Freeman, Donald B. A City of Farmers: Informal Urban Agriculture in the Open Spaces Of Nairobi, Kenya McGill-Queens University Press 1991
7. Finkelstein, Hope. 1997. Community Action Coalition Garden Director. Interview with Author. October. Madison, WI
8. Finch, Calvin R. San Antonio Success: City Kids and Master Gardeners Team Up to Reap the Rewards of Gardening, National Gardening Sept/Oct 1995
9. Grow With Your Neighbors. Dayton, OH Community Garden Information Sheet. 1995
10. Hynes, Patricia H. A Patch of Eden: America's Inner City Gardeners Chelsea Green Publishing Co., White River Junction, Vermont: c1996
11. Kloppenburg, Jack. 1997. Community Gardening in Madison, Newsletter of the North Isthmus Community Coalition. September.
12. Levenston, Michael. 1997. Interview. Editor, CityFarmer Homepage. October. Vancouver, B.C.
13. Monroe-Santos, Suzanne Longevity in Urban Community Gardens Draft 1997
14. Mattson, Merkle Hassan and Waliczek. 1994. The Benefits of Community Gardening, Community Greening Review
15. Mathers, Joe. 1997. CAC. Interviews with Author. June and October. Madison
16. Naimark, Susan. A Handbook of Community Gardening, Charles Scribner and Sons, New York. 1982
17. Patel, Ishwarbhai C. Gardenings Socioeconomic Impacts: Community Gardening in an Urban Setting. Journal of Extension. Winter 1991
18. Patel, Ishwarbhai C. Rutgers Urban Gardening: A Case Study in Urban Agriculture. Journal of Agriculture and Food Information. Vol. 3 (3) 1996
19. Peirce, Neal R. Cities Seek Ways to Make the Brownfields Bloom. Baltimore Sun Nov. 13th 1995
20. Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Urban Vacant Land: Issues and Recommendations Produced by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, 1995
21. Seattle Comprehensive Plan 1994
22. Smith, Adam. 1997. Interview with Kalinosky and Herbach for class report.
23. Sommers, Larry The Community Garden Book Gardens for All 1984
24. United Nations Development Programme. Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs and Sustainable Cities, UNDP, New York. 1996
Articles from the City Farmer Web Page in September of 1997
1. Drescher, A.W. 1997 Management Strategies in African Homegardens & The Need for New Extension Approaches
2. Maxwell, Daniel 1994 Internal Struggles over Resources, External Struggles for Survival:Urban Women and Subsistence Household Production
3. Nugent, Rachel A., Ph.D The Significance of Urban Agriculture
Search Our Site