Testimony to the New York City Council: The Committee on Parks and Recreation

by Charles Platkin
Testimony of Charles Platkin, Ph.D., J.D., M.P.H., Distinguished Lecturer, Hunter College, CUNY; Executive Director, Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center
Title of hearing: The State of Community Gardens and Urban Agriculture and Intro No. 1059 A Local Law in relation to a report on community garden food processing and agriculture.
January 27, 2021

Thank you to Chairperson Koo and the members of the Committee on Parks and Recreation for the opportunity to submit written testimony regarding “The State of Community Gardens and Urban Agriculture and Intro No. 1059: A Local Law in relation to a report on community garden food processing and agriculture.”

I am providing this testimony on behalf of the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center, of which I am the executive director. The Center was created in 2012 to develop collaborative, innovative and evidence-based solutions to prevent diet-related diseases, promote healthy eating and reduce food insecurity in New York City and other urban centers. The Center works with policy makers, community organizations, advocates and the public to create healthier, more sustainable food environments. We thank the City Council and the Speaker’s office for their support of our Center.

Community Food Gardens 

The benefits of community gardens extend far beyond providing food to urban dwellers. Community gardens are a source of valuable open space and provide important shared green sites to grow food, serve as dynamic classrooms for New York City schoolchildren, create a sense of community, and encourage connection among community members.

The benefits of community gardens are extensive and include the following:

  • Improved Health Benefits
    • Research has demonstrated that community and home gardens can reduce diet-related chronic disease,[1]increase the consumption of fruit and vegetable,[2],[3] make improvements in body mass index[4] and foster physical activity.[5]
  • Reduce Food Insecurity
    • A growing body of research suggests that urban agriculture, including community gardens harvest nutritionally and economically meaningful amounts of nutritious food,[6],[7] which is especially valuable in areas where access to fresh fruits and vegetables are limited.
  • Social Capital
    • Numerous studies have reported that community gardens enhance the social capital of communities by increasing the social bonds and networks among neighbors. Community gardens can reduce tensions, foster integration and bring people from diverse backgrounds, different positions of power, ages, cultures, religions, socioeconomic classes, genders, and educational backgrounds together with a shared sense of purpose.[8],[9],[10],[11],[12],[13],[14],[15]
    • Community gardens can serve as “third spaces”–those beyond the home or work that function as safe, gathering spaces for community members to interact. One case study in a Latinx community in New York City showed the power of community gardens to serve more as cultural and social neighborhood centers than as agricultural production sites.[16] Another case study in Detroit noted the satisfaction and healing community members felt cleaning up vacant lots.[17]
  • Social Change
    • Food justice organizers and organizations often use home and community gardening as a tool for anti-oppression and other transformational strategies for creating health, equity, sustainability and food sovereignty within the food system.[18],[19]
    • Still others have documented the power of seed propagation with promoting social change.[20]
  • Mental Health
    • Gardening can support mental health and well-being by reducing stress, providing physical and purposeful activity, improving self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment, facilitating healing and strengthening relationships with nature.[21],[22],[23],[24],[25]
    • Community gardens can provide an increased feeling of social support that may allow communities to overcome racial and social structural disadvantages, thereby facilitating improved access to health-promoting resources such as education, transportation and healthcare.[26]
  • Decreased Crime
    • Urban green spaces, which include parks, recreational spaces and community gardens have been associated with reduced crime rates in low-income neighborhoods and have been shown to be a sense of pride for community residents.[27],[28],[29],[30]
  • Increased Property Values
    • Community gardens can be facilitators in improving the aesthetics of a neighborhood, decreasing crime and increasing community connections. These factors, particularly in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, are associated with higher property values and tax revenues in a 1,000-foot radius.[31],[32],[33]
    • Particular attention should be paid to protecting community gardens from development projects and to ensure that community residents are given a voice in decision-making around urban agriculture and economic development issues pertaining to their surrounding neighborhoods.[34]

Community Gardens in New York City

New York City community food gardens have played an important role in the City’s recent history. During the financial crisis of the 1970s, there were vacant and abandoned lots, and the nonprofit environmental group the Green Guerillas, lobbed “seed bombs” containing seeds, water and fertilizer into vacant lots to beautify them when they were not able to get into the area. Eventually the efforts of the Green Guerillas were recognized, and a movement was started. After a few years, the GreenThumb program was established.

“Realizing the wisdom of outsourcing the maintenance of vacant city–owned lots to energetic community groups willing to tend to them and wanting to encourage grassroots neighborhood revitalization efforts, the City initiated the GreenThumb program in 1978 to provide assistance and coordination. Originally sponsored by the City Department of General Services and funded by federal Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grants (GreenThumb is still funded largely by community block grants from the federal Housing and Urban Development program), GreenThumb coordinated the leases for city–owned vacant land. Whether through vegetable plots or lush flower or herb gardens, residents transformed unattractive and sometimes unsafe spaces into green havens, providing open space in especially underserved areas.[35]

GreenThumb is one of the largest urban gardening programs in the country with more than 550 gardens.[36]  The program also assists with workshops and helps other potential and current community gardens become established. Including the GreenThumb gardens, and more than 50 NYCHA gardens, collectively, there have been more than 900 community gardens total documented in New York City in recent years.[37] Approximately 80 percent of New York City’s gardens grow food.[38]

The Future of Community Gardens: Recommendations and Suggestions

We recommend the following:

  • Continue and expand the GreenThumb urban gardening program.
  • Increase development of urban agriculture, including hydroponic production gardens, rooftop production gardens, and other measures to combat food insecurity in under-resourced communities.
  • Create and expand community gardens and/or other community production gardens, including hydroponic production gardens and rooftop gardens, in NYCHA public housing.
  • Explore additional ways community gardens and urban agriculture can contribute to the New York City food supply.
  • Ensure the protection of community gardens from future development projects.
  • Develop legislation and/or tax incentives that promote urban agriculture.

We at the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center stand ready to support community garden food processing and agriculture.

The Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center recognizes that New York City community gardens play an integral role in promoting health and food education, improving food access in under-resourced neighborhoods, decreasing crime and connecting community members to one another and the food they eat.

For more information about the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center, visit our website at www.nycfoodpolicy.org or email Dr. Charles Platkin at [email protected].

Thank you again for the opportunity to provide oral and written testimony.

References:

[1] Porter, C. (2019). What Gardens Grow: Outcomes From Home And Community Gardens Supported By Community-based Food Justice Organizations. J Agric Food Syst Community Dev.

[2] Soga, M., Gaston, K. & Yamaura, Y.(2017). Gardening Is Beneficial For Health: A Meta-analysis. Prev Med Rep. 92-99.

[3]  Alaimo, K., Packnett, E., Miles, R., & Kruger, D. (2008). Fruit and Vegetable Intake among Urban Community Gardeners. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 40(2), 94-101.

[4] Utter, J., Denny, S., Dyson, B. (2016). School Gardens And Adolescent Nutrition And Bmi: Results From A National, Multilevel Study. Preventive Medicine. 83, 1-4.

[5] Armstrong, D. (2000). A Survey Of Community Gardens In Upstate New York: Implications For Health Promotion And Community Development. Health and Place. 6(4), 319-327.

[6] Porter, C. (2019). What Gardens Grow: Outcomes From Home And Community Gardens Supported By Community-based Food Justice Organizations. J Agric Food Syst Community Dev.

[7]Carney P, Hamada, J, Rdesinski R, et al. (2012). Impact Of A Community Gardening Project On Vegetable Intake, Food Security And Family Relationships: A Community-based Participatory Research Study. J Community Health. 37(4):874-881.

[8] Santo, R., Palmer, A. & Kim, B. (2016). Vacant Lots to Vibrant Plots: A Review of the Benefits and Limitations of Urban Agriculture. Johns Hopkins Center for Livable Future.

[9] Firth, C., Maye, D., & Pearson, D. (2011). Developing “Community” in Community Gardens. Local Environment, 16(6), 555-568.

[10] Glover, T.D. (2004). Social Capital in the Lived Experiences of Community Gardeners. Leisure Sciences, 26(2), 143-162.

[11] Teig, E., Amulya, J., Bardwell, L., Buchenau, M., Marshall, J.A., & Litt, J.S. (2009). Collective Efficacy in Denver, Colorado: Strengthening Neighborhoods and Health Through Community Gardens. Health & Place, 15(4), 1115-1122.

[12] Poulsen, M.N., Hulland, K.R., Gulas, C.A., Pham, H., Dalglish, S.L., Wilkinson, R.K., & Winch, P.J. (2014). Growing An Urban Oasis: A Qualitative Study Of The Perceived Benefits Of Community Gardening In Baltimore, Maryland. Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment, 36(2), 69-82.

[13] Milbourne, P. (2012). Everyday (In)Justices And Ordinary Environmentalisms: Community Gardening In Disadvantaged Urban Neighbourhoods. Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability,17(9), 943-957.

[14] Shinew, K.J., Glover, T.D., & Parry, D.C. (2004). Leisure Spaces As Potential Sites For Interracial Interaction: Community Gardens In Urban Areas. Journal of Leisure Research, 36(3), 336–355.

[15] Wakefield, S., Yeudall, F., Taron, C., Reynolds, J., & Skinner, A.l. (2007). Growing Urban Health: Community Gardening in South-East Toronto. Health Promotion International, 22(2), 92–100.

[16] Saldivar-Tanaka, L., & Krasny, M.E. (2004). Culturing Community Development, Neighborhood Open Space, And Civic Agriculture: The Case Of Latino Community Gardens In New York City. Agriculture and Human Values, 21(4), 399-412.

[17] Poulsen, M. (2016). Cultivating Citizenship, Equity, And Social Inclusion? Putting Civic Agriculture Into Practice Through Urban Farming. Agriculture and Human Values. 34, 135-148

[18] Bradley, K., Herrera, H. (2015). Decolonizing Food Justice: Naming, Resisting, and Researching Colonizing Forces in the Movement. Antipode

[19]Sbicca, J. (2012). Growing Food Justice By Planting An Anti-oppression Foundation: Opportunities And Obstacles For A Budding Social Movement. Agriculture and Human Values. 29, 455-466.

[20]Follman, A & Viehoff, V. (2015). A Green Garden On Red Clay: Creating A New Urban Common As A Form Of Political Gardening In Cologne, Germany. The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability. 10, 1148-1174.

[21] Santo, R., Palmer, A. & Kim, B. (2016). Vacant Lots to Vibrant Plots: A Review of the Benefits and Limitations of Urban Agriculture. Johns Hopkins Center for Livable Future.

[22] Wakefield, S., Yeudall, F., Taron, C., Reynolds, J., & Skinner, A.l. (2007). Growing Urban Health: Community Gardening in South-East Toronto. Health Promotion International, 22(2), 92–100.

[23] Armstrong, D. (2000). A survey of community gardens in upstate New York: Implications for health promotion and community development. Health and Place, 6, 319– 327.

[24] Wolf, K. L., & Robbins, A. S. (2015). Metro Nature, Environmental Health, And Economic Value. Environmental Health Perspectives, 123(5), 390-398.

[25] Brown, K.H., & Jameton, A.L. (2000). Public Health Implications of Urban Agriculture. Journal of Public Health Policy, 20-39.

[26] Wen, M., Browning, C.R., Cagney, K.A. (2003). Poverty, Affluence, and Income Inequality: Neighborhood Economic Structure and its Implications for Health. Social Science and Medicine, 57, 843–860

[27] Milbourne, P. (2012). Everyday (in)justices and ordinary environmentalisms: community gardening in disadvantaged urban neighbourhoods. Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability, 17(9), 943-957

[28] Garvin, E., Cannuscio, C., & Branas, C. (2013). Greening vacant lots to reduce violent crime: a randomised controlled trial. Injury Prevention: Journal of the International Society for Child and Adolescent Injury Prevention, 19(3), 198-203.

[29] Kondo, M., Hohl, B., Han, S., & Branas, C. (2015). Effects of greening and community reuse of vacant lots on crime. Urban Studies [online before print].

[30] Kuo, F.E., & Sullivan, W.C. (2001). Environment And Crime In The Inner City: Does Vegetation Reduce Crime? Environment and Behavior, 33(3), 343–367.

[31] Guitart, D., Pickering, C., & Byrne, J. (2012). Past Results And Future Directions In Urban Community Gardens Research. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 11(4),364-373.

[32] Voicu, I., & Been, V. (2008). The Effect Of Community Gardens On Neighboring Property Values. Real Estate Economics, 36(2), 241-283.

[33] Gateway Greening (2009). Whitmire Study: Gateway Greening Community Garden Areas, Reversing Urban Decline.

[34] Santo, R., Palmer, A. & Kim, B. (2016). Vacant Lots to Vibrant Plots: A Review of the Benefits and Limitations of Urban Agriculture. Johns Hopkins Center for Livable Future.

[35] New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, History of the Community Garden Movement. Accessed on February 2, 2021 at https://www.nycgovparks.org/about/history/community-gardens/movement

[36] New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, History of the Community Garden Movement. Accessed on February 2, 2021 at https://www.nycgovparks.org/about/history/community-gardens/movement

[37] Altman L, Barry L, Barry M, Englese C, Kühl K, Silva P, Wilks B. (2014). Five Borough Farm II: Growing the Benefits of Urban Agriculture in New York City. New York: Design Trust for Public Space.

[38] Grow NYC, Community Garden Survey, Accessed on February 2, 2021 at https://www.grownyc.org/files/GrowNYC_CommunityGardenReport.pdf

Related Articles

Subscribe To Weekly NYC Food Policy Watch Newsletter
Subscribe to our weekly email newsletter today to receive updates on the latest news, reports and event information
No Thanks
Thanks for signing up. You must confirm your email address before we can send you. Please check your email and follow the instructions.
We respect your privacy. Your information is safe and will never be shared.
Don't miss out. Subscribe today.
×
×