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Posts Tagged: community gardens

Gardens contribute vegetables, ease hunger among San Jose residents

A Santa Clara County resident works in a community garden.
People who grow their own vegetables in a garden typically consume enough fresh produce to meet the USDA Dietary Guidelines for a healthy diet, according to a recent UC Cooperative Extension survey of San Jose residents.

A diet containing lots of vegetables is lower in calories and higher in fiber and good for our health. Yet, not everyone has easy access to fresh vegetables in the United States.

“Growing vegetables and having a garden is an effective intervention to promote increased vegetable consumption among all Americans,” said Susan Algert, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Santa Clara County, who conducted the survey. “This is evidence for bringing back popular home gardens or ‘Victory gardens' of the past rather than investing exclusively in SNAP benefits for purchased foods.”

SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps), now allows participants to buy seeds with their benefits, which helps low-income people who want to grow their own veggies, she said.

Vegetable consumption falls well below the U.S. Dietary Guidelines in much of the U.S., particularly among African American, Latino, low educational attainment, and low-income populations.

Algert and fellow UC Cooperative Extension researchers looked at background characteristics, vegetable intake and program benefits of people who cultivated a home garden versus those who participated in a community garden.

“The home gardeners were significantly younger, had lower incomes, were less likely to have completed college and were more ethnically diverse than the community gardeners,” said Algert, who specializes in nutrition. “In other words, the background characteristics of the two groups varied significantly. In spite of these significant demographic differences, both groups increased their vegetable consumption from the garden to the same extent, by about two servings.”

In fact, by supplementing with food from their gardens, both groups met the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for recommended daily servings of vegetables to promote optimal health.

A lack of experience as gardeners didn't affect the results much. Fifty eight percent of the home gardeners reported having less than two years of experience whereas only one-third of community gardeners were novices.

“This study demonstrates that growing fresh vegetables in either a home or community garden setting can contribute significantly to a person's nutritional intake and food security at all income levels by making it a more affordable to maintain a healthful diet,” said Algert. Urban gardeners also experience a number of other benefits including exercise, stress release, and learning about gardening from their peers and mentors.

The study was a partnership with the Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department of the City of San Jose and La Mesa Verde, a project of Sacred Heart Community Services of San Jose. The UCCE research group worked with the Parks Department to administer a 30 question background survey to 83 community gardeners in four different gardens during April through September 2012. The same survey, slightly modified, was administered to a group of 50 home gardeners participating in Sacred Heart's La Mesa Verde project between September 2013 and April 2014.

Posted on Thursday, December 4, 2014 at 1:14 PM

Growing Solutions in Urban Communities

On Saturday, March 31, Angelenos celebrated the Mayor's "Good Food Day of Service."  Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa, the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, and numerous community partners organized this city-wide event to highlight the importance of healthy food and celebrate the legacy of César Chávez. There were 100 participating sites around the city, all featuring community service focused on healthy food access.  

I participated at the Glassell Park Community Garden in Northeast Los Angeles by giving several short workshops on container gardening. I had not visited this garden before, and found its history especially interesting. Wedged between apartment buildings and houses, the garden just got started last July, yet already seems to be a hub of community activity.  Previously, it was the site of a house that was a notorious drug distribution center. The story of this site was featured in the Los Angeles Times last April. The house was demolished and the lot donated to the City. The area's city councilman believed that a community garden on the site could help the neighborhood heal from years of exposure to criminal activity, and enlisted the partners necessary to make it happen.

In this situation, a community garden was viewed as part of a solution to an urban problem.  The notion that growing gardens can help solve urban challenges is becoming common among policymakers. Many municipal leaders are now looking to community gardens and other types of urban agriculture to address issues that range from illegal dumping on vacant lots to lack of access to fresh produce in urban "food deserts."  Cities around California and the U.S. are developing policies to support urban agriculture. San Diego, for example, recently passed new policies supporting urban agriculture.  A summary of urban agriculture policies in other major US cities was recently released that shows how extensive this movement is across the country. Urban agriculture can encompass everything from community and school gardens, to small commercial farms, to raising bees and chickens in the city.  

As for members of the Glassell Park Garden in Los Angeles, they are happy with their small piece of urban paradise. After a drawing, the winners of two remaining plots were  announced Saturday, to the great excitement of all participants. To hear from one of the garden's organizers, who is also a UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, visit this Good Food LA YouTube clip.   

Urban agriculture can help improve access to healthful food
Urban agriculture can help improve access to healthful food

Photo shows hands holding white cauliflower, purple cauliflower and a bunch of orange carrots.

Posted on Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 9:10 AM

A community garden takes root

Carrots grown and harvested in the UCR Community Garden

Growing your own food. Raising awareness of food and environmental injustice. And creating a green community. These are the goals of the UC Riverside community garden initiative called Cultivate R-Space. At the community garden – a student-run “living experiment” that partners with UCR Sustainability – students grow and harvest their own food such as tomatoes, squash, potatoes and lettuce. Those who want just the experience of working in the garden grow flowers.

Located on campus, the nearly quarter-acre community garden has 20 plots to offer.  Tools, water and seeds are provided at no charge to users. UCR Dining Services supplies the compost.

“It’s not as easy to work in the garden as it sounds,” cautions Cynthia De Leon, a junior who got involved in managing and using the garden last year. “It requires energy and a whole lot of passion. If anything, the garden teaches you how hard it is to grow food and exposes you to issues surrounding food and agriculture. Working in the community garden takes commitment, time and effort. To make sure interested students are fully dedicated, we ask that they first volunteer about two hours a week. If after a few weeks they continue to show an interest, we assign them a plot.”

A plan being worked out now by Cultivate R-Space is to allow faculty and staff to use the community garden for a small membership fee. The fees will kick in when the garden moves, in the very near future, to a location close to campus, occupying about an acre of land. Plans are also under way to get colleges on campus – the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Bourns College of Engineering – involved to promote research and hands-on learning about various social issues around agriculture and the modern food system. Serving as a learning platform, the community garden already is being used for soil science; the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program; and Undergraduate Research in the Community.

“Our goal is not to feed everyone with this garden, and we understand we cannot grow food for all,” says junior Elizabeth Tizcareno, who also got involved with the garden last year. “This space is a model for tangible solutions that other communities in Riverside and elsewhere can adopt. The garden is an integral tool for researching how to develop sustainable neighborhoods. It is about developing a model that can be recreated elsewhere in order to sustain ourselves, our families, and live healthier and more equitable lives.”

Elizabeth Tizcareno, an active user and manager of the UCR Community Garden

The community garden has helped launch an Urban Garden Seminar at UCR that De Leon and Tizcareno facilitate. Held in the spring quarter, the weekly seminar includes a discussion of a food-related topic, guest speakers and field trips.

“The seminar has opened up an invaluable learning space – with hands-on experience – for students to learn about the garden and agriculture, as well as food injustice, such as the very high cost of some foods, occurring in Riverside and elsewhere,” Tizcareno says. “Food connects people and facilitates community formation. The goal of the seminar is that the students, even after they graduate, will create gardens in their communities for growing food.”

Students at work in the UCR Community Garden

Both De Leon and Tizcareno plan to attend freshman orientation each year to spread the word about Cultivate R-Space and how it works with community-based organizations such as Growcology, a nonprofit in Riverside that creates sustainable programs, and Riverside’s Parks and Recreation Department. They hope to recruit many new users of the UCR Community Garden.

They plan, too, to take with them a sustainability award that Cultivate R-Space received in July 2011 from the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference: the Best Practice Award for Campus-Community Partnerships.

More information about Cultivate R-Space can be obtained by emailing or

Posted on Monday, September 19, 2011 at 12:07 PM

Master Gardeners develop garden at Veterans' Home

Beautiful gardens are brimming with color and life at the Veterans’ Home in Ventura. These gardens have been planned, planted and cared for by a group of Ventura County UCCE Master Gardeners and many people in the community.

Flowers and ornamental trees provide color and shade. Raised garden beds are filled with a wide assortment of vegetables to enhance nutrition and dinner salads of residents. An orchard of donated fruit trees has taken root on the west side of the building. Garden lectures provide enrichment for the mind.

An additional vegetable garden and succulent garden are planned.

Started shortly after the home opened, the gardens and the activity they generate provide much joy and nutrition to the Veterans’ who reside at the home. To learn more, or if interested in becoming involved, contact Master Gardener Barbara Hill.

Raised garden beds allow elderly residents to garden without bending over.
Raised garden beds allow elderly residents to garden without bending over.

A resident enjoys a 'dry stream bed' in the Veteran's Home Garden.
A resident enjoys a 'dry stream bed' in the Veteran's Home Garden.

Posted on Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 12:04 PM
  • Author: Chris M. Webb

Grant High School grows food and leadership

Recently, UC’s Agricultural Sustainability Institute gave me the opportunity to visit Grant Union High School in Sacramento to learn about their GEO Environmental and Design Academy, which includes a gardening and cooking program.

The school is in an economically challenged area, and about half the students are English language learners.

Teacher Ann Marie Kennedy said something interesting about the students enrolled in the program: “They are disconnected from agriculture, but they are not disconnected from food.”

The Grant garden is essentially a shared school and community garden, which I believe is one of the best models for school garden sustainability. Community gardeners have individual plots, but assist in the school garden areas. Some of the community gardeners have children or grandchildren enrolled at Grant, but others are connected to the school simply through their love of gardening and the opportunity to cultivate food.

During our visit, we worked alongside the students to harvest, wash and chop vegetables to make chicken and vegetable chow mein and garden-fresh salad for lunch. We also sampled Grant’s salsa, which is sold commercially, providing a real-life business incubator for seniors in the program.

The lunch was simple ... and simply amazing. Not only the food, but the chance to speak with students and learn about how the program has influenced their lives. The students said they are eating more fruits and vegetables and bringing the practice home to their families.

I ended my visit with enormous gratitude for the work of Grant Union High staff and profound awe for the students. I have a great deal of confidence in a future that includes their leadership.

But I also left with the idea that this exceptional program should not be the exception, but rather, the norm. If we are truly committed to a healthy future and a healthy nation, we need programs like this, that provide opportunities for youth engagement with soil, healthy food and mentors who will encourage their leadership abilities.

Posted on Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 7:28 AM

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This material was funded by USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - SNAP. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. The USDA does not endorse products, services, or organizations. 

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