Gardens for Growing Healthy Communities

Published Research Papers and Abstracts

  • Connecting food environments and health through the relational nature of aesthetics: Gaining insight through the community gardening experience
    Abstract: Current environmental and health challenges require us to identify ways to better align aesthetics, ecology, and health. At the local level, community gardens are increasingly praised for their therapeutic qualities. They also provide a lens through which we can explore relational processes that connect people, ecology and health. Using key-informant interview data, this research explores gardeners’ tactile, emotional, and value-driven responses to the gardening experience and how these responses influence health at various ecological levels (n ¼ 67 participants, 28 urban gardens). Our findings demonstrate that gardeners’ aesthetic experiences generate meaning that encourages further engagement with activities that may lead to positive health outcomes. Gardeners directly experience nearby nature by ‘getting their hands dirty’ and growing food. They enjoy the way vegetables taste and form emotional connections with the garden. The physical and social qualities of garden participation awaken the senses and stimulate a range of responses that influence interpersonal processes (learning, affirming, expressive experiences) and social relationships that are supportive of positive health-related behaviors and overall health. This research suggests that the relational nature of aesthetics, defined as the most fundamental connection between people and place, can help guide community designers and health planners when designing environment and policy approaches to improve health behaviors.

    Hale, J., Knapp, C., Bardwell, L., Buchenau, M., Marshall, J.A., Sancar, F., Litt, J.S. Connecting food environments and health through the relational nature of aesthetics: Gaining insight through the community gardening experience. Social Science and Medicine. 72 (2011) 1853-1863
  • The influence of social involvement, neighborhood aesthetics and community garden participation on fruit and vegetable consumption
    Objectives: We considered the relationship between an urban adult population’s fruit and vegetable consumption and several selected social and psychological processes, beneficial aesthetic experiences, and garden participation.
    Methods. We conducted a population-based survey representing 436 residents across 58 block groups in Denver, Colorado, from 2006 to 2007. We used multilevel statistical models to evaluate the survey data.
    Results. Neighborhood aesthetics, social involvement, and community garden participation were significantly associated with fruit and vegetable intake. Community gardeners consumed fruits and vegetables 5.7 times per day, compared with home gardeners (4.6 times per day) and nongardeners (3.9 times per day). Moreover, 56% of community gardeners met national recommendations to consume fruits and vegetables at least 5 times per day, compared with 37% of home gardeners and 25% of nongardeners.
    Conclusions: Our study results shed light on neighborhood processes that affect food-related behaviors and provides insights about the potential of community gardens to affect these behaviors. The qualities intrinsic to community gardens make them a unique intervention that can narrow the divide between people and the places where food is grown and increase local opportunities to eat better.

    Litt, J.S., Soobader, M., Turbin, M.S., Hale, J., Buchenau, M., Marshall, J.A. The influences of social involvement, neighborhood aesthetics and community garden participation on fruit and vegetable consumption. The American Journal of Public Health. 101 (2011) 1466-1473.
  • Neighborhood Attachment And Its Correlates: Exploring Neighborhood Conditions, Collective Efficacy And Gardening
    Abstract: Neighborhood attachment relates to one’s emotional connection to physical and social environments. Such bonds are critical for shaping how people interact with their local environments, connect with others and may be vital for fostering sustainable health behavior change related to nutrition and physical activity. Using data from a population-based survey of neighborhood environments and health in Denver, Colorado (n ¼ 410 respondents; n ¼ 45 block-groups) and hierarchical linear modeling techniques, we examined the relationship between objective and perceived neighborhood conditions (e. g., crime, physical incivilities, sense of safety), social processes (e. g., collective efficacy) and recreational gardening and neighborhood attachment. Results indicate length of residency, collective efficacy, and home and community garden participation are associated with neighborhood attachment. Further research is warranted to consider neighborhood attachment as an intervening mechanism through which gardens and other outdoor everyday places may influence health behavior change.

Comstock, N., Turbin, M., Marshall, J., Dickinson, M., Buchenau, M., Bardwell, L., Soobader, M., and Litt, J.S. Neighborhood Attachment And Its Correlates: Exploring Neighborhood Conditions, Collective Efficacy And Gardening. Journal of Environmental Psychology.  30 (2010) 435-442.

  • Collective Efficacy in Denver, Colorado: Strengthening Neighborhoods and Health through Community Gardens
    Abstract: Community gardens are viewed as a potentially useful environmental change strategy to promote active and healthy lifestyles but the scientific evidence base for gardens is limited. As a step towards understanding whether gardens are a viable health promotion strategy for local communities, we set out to examine the social processes that might explain the connection between gardens, garden participation and health. We analyzed data from semi-structured interviews with community gardeners in Denver. The analysis examined social processes described by community gardeners and how those social processes were cultivated by or supportive of activities in community gardens. After presenting results describing these social processes and the activities supporting them, we discuss the potential for the place-based social processes found in community gardens to support collective efficacy, a powerful mechanism for enhancing the role of gardens in promoting health.

    Teig, E.,Amulya, J., Buchenau, M., Bardwell, L., Marshall, J., Litt, J.S, Collective Efficacy in Denver, Colorado: Strengthening Neighborhoods and Health through Community Gardens.  Health and Place. Vol 15 (2009), pp. 1115-1122.