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Sustainability, garden definitions

  • Subject: [cg] Sustainability, garden definitions
  • From: Don Boekelheide <dboekelheide@yahoo.com>
  • Date: Sun, 4 Jul 2004 15:24:34 -0700 (PDT)

Hi, Catherine,

Please keep us posted on what you find, and consider
sending ACGA (American Community Gardening
Association) a copy of your finished paper. I'd
consider running an article based on your work in the
ACGA 2005 journal, The Community Greening Review,
which will focus on community gardening research
(submission deadline, January 2005).

Hopefully, you'll get other responses to your post
from people on this list. However, getting folks in
North America to pin down a definition of community
gardening (and greening) is about like herding cats. 

The one word all seem to agree on is 'community' -
however things are organized and whatever people grow
in their gardens, from tomatoes to native plant
butterfly gardens, community is an essential element.
"Community" can mean cooperation among members of a
neighborhood, group or groups; it can mean projects
that transform physical space within a community or
neighborhood; and it can mean building community
through encouraging democratic participation,
sponsoring youth programs, or any number of activities
that make communities more cohesive, safer and better
places to live.

The 'gardening' part is more controversial,
surprisingly. Some - myself included, and possibly the
majority of 'rank and file' gardeners ' - see
gardening as a central element, though defining
'gardening' ranges very broadly from traditional
allotment veggie gardens to school gardens, urban
forestry, shared community beautification or greenway
projects, or even home gardening with a community
tie-in. At the same time, a strong and very
influential "planner/organizer" wing of the community
garden movement sees gardening more as a means to the
greater end of effecting social change, especially in
the inner city and for disenfranchised populations.
Most community gardeners, of course, have a foot
firmly in both camps, and much of the dynamism of the
movement stems from this dual nature.

Adam Honigman, moderator of this list (who hopefully
will weigh in on this himself) has formulated
"Honigman's law": "Community gardening is 50%
gardening and 100% politics." 

However, North American community gardening is only
one perspective. You may find much of interest in
Crouch and Ward's book _The Allotment: Its Landscape
and Culture_, which gives a view of allotment
gardening in the UK. European allotments have many
similarities with 'community gardens', though with key

For a time, there was an international community
gardening listserv moderated by Jackie Foo. For him,
community gardening was much more a question of land
access and resource use, focused on the developing
world, where large 'community garden'-like urban
vegetable farms, comprised of a 'quilt' of small
holders, take root within and on the edge of large

I'd also suggest looking at the work of Dr. Laura
Lawson, landscape architect at the University of
Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Finally, ACGA board member Amanda  Edmonds, who reads
this list, I think, has done some work exploring
definitions of community gardening. (Yo, Amanda!)
Hopefully, she will share what she has developed.

It makes perfect sense to me to begin with
definitions. However, you may find defining community
gardening to be akin to defining an ecosystem or a
natural community: It is very likely to be strongly
influenced by the particularity of place; may well
comprise a 'nesting box' set of definitions rather
than a single simple (possibly tautological) sentence;
and will be a process that changes over time, rather
than a fixed element in the landscape like a road or

Good luck, keep us posted,

Don Boekelheide
Charlotte, NC

> My name is Catherine and I'm an Environmental
> Science honours student at The University of
> Newcastle, Australia and am completing a major
> research thesis on the role of community gardens in
> achieving sustainability (social, ecological and
> economic) with particular reference to the urban
> environment. 
> My research is taking place in the Hunter Valley of
> NSW where there are some existing community gardens
> but also many gardens beginning to get underway.
> I was hoping that members of this organisation would
> be able to provide me with their
> interpretation/definition of a community garden? Or
> maybe how you would describe a community garden to
> someone who had never heard of one before?
> So far in my research I have found that there isn't
> a concrete defintion of a commuinity garden and
> rather they are just described through a series of
> elements e.g. meeting place, social environment etc.
>  and I am interested in hearing some opinions of
> this group because community gardens have a longer
> and more established history in America than in
> Australia.
> Thank you and I look forward to reading your
> responses!
> Catherine Baird
> Catherine Baird
> School of Environmental and Life Sciences
> The University of Newcastle
> Callaghan, 2308
> Catherine.baird@studentmail.newcastle.edu.au

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