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Community Gardens as Communication Assets: Community Benefits and Challenges in Urban Agriculture

Urban farming and urban community gardening offer a variety of benefits for local communities and residents, while they contribute to the broader food security and food justice efforts in the city. They provide a valuable green space in neighborhoods that often lack such facilities, they provide fresh, organic fruits and vegetables at a low cost, help cultivate knowledge about food production and healthy eating, and can bring together community members from a variety of ethnic, socio-economic and personal backgrounds in a shared community project.

MetaConnects team member Garrett Broad was fortunate enough to be a part of a group that helped found Fountain Community Gardens in East Hollywood a few years ago – along with several other community members, they worked with Eric Garcetti's City Council Office and received support from the LA Community Garden Council and LA Conservation Corps to build a community garden. What was once a vacant lot that was a hotbed of crime and an eyesore for community residents was turned into a vibrant space where hundreds of residents can come in and out on a given week. It has developed into what we at MetaConnects like to call a “Communication Asset” – a place in the community where residents come together to engage in shared conversation and positive social interaction.

With that said, community gardens face a variety of challenges, many of them related to communication. As valuable as it can be, a community garden alone will not transform a neighborhood into one of perfect community life.

Factors to Consider when Planning a Community Garden:

  •   The maintenance of a community garden or urban farm requires time, energy and money. They usually require either paid staff or dedicated volunteers to keep the maintenance in order.
     
  •   The multi-ethnic and multi-lingual reality of many LA neighborhoods can present a challenge to community gardens. Language barriers can prevent gardeners from getting to know each other, while the governance structure of a garden often does not include full representation of the backgrounds of its gardeners.
     
  •   In the case of Fountain Community Gardens, for instance, those involved in the initial steering Committee were primarily English-only speakers. With meetings held in English, the group struggled to reach out to Spanish-speaking Latino gardeners, who made up a large percentage of the neighborhood and of the garden itself, to get them involved in garden decision-making processes.
     
  •   It's not always easy to grow food! Plants need time and attention, and if they are not given this the harvest can be a disappointment.

These are challenges that Fountain Community Gardens and others have faced over time. Indeed, some of these challenges and tensions might never quite go away. However, they can be managed by being honest about the obstacles that are faced and by making explicit efforts to handle them as best as possible. If this is the case, community gardens can serve as a valuable communication asset that can work to strengthen the community's neighborhood storytelling network.
 

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