Community gardens pt. 2: integrating newcomers

Community gardens that have been established in low-income and at-risk populations have provided a source of not only food but of community building, political empowerment, and business acumen.  Community gardens for immigrant populations have been successfully established in Toronto, which has the highest proportion of immigrants of any city in the world (Baker, 307).  Gardens have provided for them social and recreational spaces, cheap good food, community education, and an opportunity for supplemental income.

It’s clear that community gardens have been enormous advantages for low-income communities, and establishing them across economic classes and social groups (for example, establishing school gardens) will only reap more benefits for everyone involved.  School gardens have been shown to have a positive effect not only on children’s quality of food in schools, but on nutrition education, compassion for living things, academic achievement, and psychosocial adjustment as compared to control schools where no gardens were planted or maintained (Murphy, 6).

By increasing the number of community gardens, a community regardless of its tax bracket can become more economically self-sufficient and reduce its dependence on large grocery chains (and, by extension, fossil fuels).  Nationwide food scares will have less of an impact on communities that don’t need to rely on an international food chain for their dinner; monthly produce scares will be a thing of the past.  Moreover, taking advantage of the knowledge base of marginalized populations who know how to farm sustainably (not only the immigrant populations cited in Toronto, but the rapidly dying out population of farmers born in North America) will create jobs that maximize peoples’ individual skills and potentials for the benefit of their communities.

Moreover, the jobs will be better paying than comparable conventional jobs in agriculture:  in terms of building a more localized food infrastructure, local farmers create more jobs than traditional markets—1.3 jobs/farmer versus 0.9 jobs/farmer—and their crops generate higher sales per acre–$590/acre for local food versus $304 for an industrial farm (Hamerschlag, Local Food and the Farm Bill).  Local food markets provide a critical outlet for new small businesses—beginning farmers account for 48% of local West Coast food producers.

Community gardens accomplish a range of goals:  in terms of community building, they facilitate integration of low-income and new immigrant communities into the broader community in addition to strengthening the broader community itself.  Gardens have the potential to be a supplementary source of income for those low-income populations:  Nowtopia cites an example of low-income gardeners who produced $22.8 million worth of produce on a $3.5 million budget  (Carlsson, 93).  This is a cost effective method of community improvement and development that harnesses natural processes for human benefit at little cost to sponsoring organizations and governments.

For many new immigrants, community garden plots enabled women to have an independent source of income that wasn’t dependent upon them leaving their children at home.  Women who had traditionally tended gardens in their home countries were given the opportunity to supplement their household income in a way that was culturally acceptable to them and their families in addition to connecting them with the broader North American community.

They didn’t need to find babysitters for younger children, as they would with a traditional job, but could rather pass on knowledge to their children and maximize household resources—younger children could weed or play in the safety of the gardens, while older children could be productive helpers.  The gardens help them acclimate to North America, easing culture shock as they are able to grow familiar produce that would be otherwise difficult to find.

Senior citizen gardens in Toronto provided elderly immigrants with a sense of ‘food citizenship’—a sense of belonging in Canada through their connection with the land.  Older immigrants who struggled not only with the language but with adapting to a new country so late in life found a community of like-minded individuals.  Moreover, they were able to use skills that they had developed in their home countries to better their lives in Canada by either enjoying familiar meals with hard-to-find produce or selling their goods for a profit.

Community gardens are beneficial for everyone- but their positive impact on immigrant communities is especially valuable.