Vol. 22, No. 2, July 18, 2002


Plant a garden, help grow a community, professors' study shows

Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor
(217) 333-5491; melissa@illinois.edu


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — As interest in community gardening continues to flourish in many urban areas, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign suspect participants are reaping far more than just fresh, homegrown vegetables.

Leisure studies professors Troy Glover and Kimberly Shinew, along with graduate student Diana Parry, are doing some digging of their own, mining data collected in the metropolitan St. Louis area to determine whether community gardens there are serving as bridges between the racially diverse groups that weed, hoe and harvest side by side. The Illinois researchers recently presented their preliminary research findings at the 10th Canadian Congress on Leisure Research.

Their study, based on 195 telephone interviews with mostly African-American and Caucasian community gardeners, was conducted in partnership with Gateway Greening, a St. Louis-based nonprofit organization that provides tools, training and materials to more than 150 neighborhood associations in low- to middle-income areas of the city. The goal of the study, according to the researchers, was "to examine race and its relationship to perceptions and benefits of community gardening."

"Among the things we were interested in," Shinew said, "was what impact participation in community gardening was having on residents' sense of community – their sense of belonging to groups, and whether or not there was interracial interaction in leisure situations among groups that might not otherwise experience much interracial interaction."

Community gardens, she said, have generally – and anecdotally – been regarded as spaces that serve mixed social functions. They allow urban residents from similar groups the opportunity to "bond," while also serving as a bridge that links participants who might not otherwise interact socially.

"However, although the popular and academic presses proclaim community gardens as effective sources for bringing together racially diverse groups, no empirical work has been conducted to test this assumption," Shinew, Glover and Parry said in their report. So that's what they set out to do.

Among their preliminary findings:

Both African Americans and Caucasians reported a fairly high level of identification with their garden, and were interested in what others thought of their gardens.

There was agreement among both groups that their neighborhood was a good place to live; they felt comfortable in their neighborhood, and expected to live there a long time.

Both groups reported similar motivations for becoming involved in community gardening, including to "improve my neighborhood," "enjoy nature" and "relax."

Both groups indicated support for the statements, "Community gardening brings together people who belong to different racial groups," and "Community gardening brings together people who wouldn't normally socialize together."


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