Connecting health, health-behaviour and place through the work of community gardening

Lead Research Organisation: University of Brighton
Department Name: Sch of Environment and Technology

Abstract

Many claims have been made regarding the social and economic benefits of the recent growth in a number of countries of community gardens and households growing their own food.

Reviews of existing research suggest the potential impacts on health and the motivations for individuals becoming involved in food growing are not fully understood. Integrated qualitative and quantitative research generated findings that can inform future research into health, food growing and gardening using qualitative and quantitative methods. Analysis of the European Quality of Life Survey (EQoL) for the EU15 countries in 2003 and 2007 reveals self reported health was less strongly associated with food growing than was expected but there was good evidence that people who grow their own food tend to be happier. The qualitative research with community partners also highlighted that the health benefits of being involved in community food growing were taken for granted and people's motivations for involvement in food growing projects focused on identity, community development, social interaction and sharing. The study also reveals the importance theoretically of understanding that community food growing involves the 'occupation of space' through 'growing intimate publics', or what we term 'privatepublics'.
 
Description Findings and analysis

Quantitative analysis

The search of the Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS) website used the keywords gardening OR food production and yielded 218 hits. Data sets identified tended to fall into two groups; those capturing gardening as a physical activity, and those focused on food production in an agricultural or economic sense. No data sets were found which reliably captured the role that growing one's own food outdoors might play in influencing health and wellbeing. An important conclusion for this part of the project was just how little quantitative data was readily available to describe the relationship between health, gardening and food growing in domestic or community gardens.

The analysis of the EQoL, 2007 and 2003, did, however, reveal some important findings that can be used to inform further studies to address the gap in quantitative research into food growing, gardening and health (see illustrations page below).

Stark variation existed across the EU15 countries, in terms of who grows their own food. In 2003, the UK had the lowest level of grow your own in the EU15 at about 4%, but by 2007 its level was much nearer the EU 15 average of 14%. The UK had the fastest proportional increase in growing your own the EU15 (see Figure 1 in illustrations)

Among the EU15, older households, families and couples, those with greater financial problems and lower income, and those with poor education were more likely to grow their own (see Figure 2). However, some of these relationships were different in the UK, with age not related to growing your own after adjustment for other household and economic factors and, of particular interest, a quite different relationship to financial status and education. Growing your own in the UK is more likely to be the preserve of people with few or no money worries than those with great money worries, and more likely to be undertaken by those with high educational qualifications than with none (though this relationship was not significant once other confounders such as financial status were controlled for).

Respondent's health was less strongly associated with growing your own than was expected. In the EU15, there was little difference in levels of growing your own between those with good and poor health and in the UK, those most likely to grow were also most likely to report health problems. In the EU15, people who grew their own were more likely to have more regular contact with their neighbours, though this relationship did not survive adjustment for other potential confounders in the UK. In both the EU15 and UK however, there was good evidence that people who grow their own also tend to be happier (see Figure 3). Further research is needed to understand the mechanisms that might explain these links between happiness and food growing.

Qualitative analysis

The qualitative methods produced a series of insights on the interactions between health, well being, food growing and community gardening that can guide future empirical research and theoretical discussion. What is challenging for policy, and related research, which emphasises the physical and mental health benefits of food growing and gardening is that health was not a core motivation for many of the participants when they chose to be involved in the community food growing partner projects. For some participants, especially those involved with the community farm, the health benefits were taken for granted but their motivations for involvement in the farm focused on community development, social interaction and sharing. For some of the young women working on the Likt allotment the experience had been transformational enabling them to develop a sense of community beyond the initial 'group' and a detailed understanding of the connections between different aspects of health but their decision to get involved in the project was linked to issues of identity and the social and economic pressures facing young people. Further research to examine the health benefits of food growing will need to consider not only the before and after health characteristics of individuals but also their wider economic, social and cultural circumstances.

From a theoretical standpoint the qualitative analysis highlights the importance of understanding the public and private dimensions of communal food growing spaces. Community food growing can engage individuals in the occupation of space 'growing intimate publics', or what we term 'privatepublics', in ways which might be understood to offer a resourceful counter to tendencies towards privatising that which was previously public (e.g. urban public spaces), whilst at the same time bringing into the public domain that which was previously private (e.g. food choices). In particular the Likt project revealed how the mutually-imbricated worlds of sexuality, and women-only spaces, usually understood as private, manifest in apparently public contexts. Food growing projects also generate 'privatepublic' intimacies through the pragmatic sharing of the often private and domesticated practice of cooking and eating meals. The occupation of food growing spaces, therefore, involves individuals in mimetic, nostalgic, pragmatic and naturalistic 'modes of occupation' that relate to their food growing and gardening experiences (Church et.al. 2013). Neither public nor private seem adequate to the task of comprehending the occupation of community food growing space. The notion of Edgelands is getting closer (Farley and Roberts 2011) but 'privatepublics' signal the fluidity and uncertainty of this occupation and resonate with Haraway's penchant for intense, compound neologisms with which to resist dualisms (Haraway 1992).
Exploitation Route The co-operative relationships established between community and university partners for this project have proved fruitful and will be maintained as all partners are involved in the AHRC Connected Communities Demonstrator project that will be funded from March 2012 to March 2013 (PI Church) entitled 'Community gardening, creativity and everyday culture: food growing and embedded researchers in community transformation and connections'.

The academic and community partners have also formed beneficial links with the following connected communities projects due to run 2012-2103 researching issues relating to food growing, gardening and community engagement.

Moore is a co-investigator on the following AHRC Connected Communities Demonstrator Grants:

• 'Community as micro sociality and the new localism' PI Prof. Walkerdine, University of Cardiff

• 'Memories of 'Mr Seel's Garden': Engaging with historic and future food systems in Liverpool ' PI Dr Bastian, University of Manchester

• 'Tackling ethical issues and dilemmas in community-based participatory research: a practical resource' PI Prof Banks, University of Durham, also involves Likt Project

The research will be of interest to:

- Community farms and community gardens and allotment associations

- Environmental organisations

- Horticulture therapy organisations (e.g. Thrive) wishing to
appreciate the deep emotional benefits of growing food

- Health organisations encouraging people to take part in outdoor activities and gardening;

- The media and public at large interested in the contemporary meanings of food growing.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Environment,Healthcare

URL http://www.growingcreativeresearch.org/
 
Description The impacts of this projects are closely connected with an AHRC project that was a follow on from this project. This follow on project (AH/J006866/) that took place in 2013 was entitled Community gardening, creativity and everyday culture: food growing and embedded researchers in community transformation and connections. Both projects and the whole connected communities programme has helped Tablehurst/Plaw Hatch Tablehurst/Plaw Hatch Farm which is England's largest community owned farm understand itself as a learning community, both in terms of technical skills around farming and gardening, but also in terms of understanding communities themselves. This has helped the farm community explore new opportunities, including partnering with local authorities in France, Belgium and Holland to develop a network of actors committed to developing a new approach to community-connected climate-appropriate landscape management.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Member of the International Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem services
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Contribtued to a process of involving 6 representatives of indigenous knowledge holders from Europe and Central Asia in an International ecosystem Assessment for Europe and Central asia
 
Description Connected Communities
Amount £139,000 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2015 
End 12/2017
 
Description connected communites
Amount £382,000 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2015 
End 02/2018
 
Description A Carrots and Non-Violent Sticks Approach to Public Engagement through an Allotment Project 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Led to debate over the role of research

The presentation was to a Workshop: Communicating your research: Younger Audiences, Outreach and Public Engagement, University of Manchester and led to debates with young people over the value of research in their lives
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description International conference paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact The paper stimulated discussion and plans for future conference events. The paper was Church, A., Gabb, J. and Moore, N. 'Growing Intimate Privatepublics: The Material and Affective Practices of Community Gardening Projects', Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference, London, 1 September 2011. 2011c.

Academic beneficiaries especially early career researchers planned further conference events on food growing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Presentation to research centre conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact The paper stimulated debate over the meaning of public and private space was entitled Church, A., Gabb, J. and Moore, N. 'Growing Intimate Privatepublics: The Material and Affective Practices of Community Gardening Projects', Reframing the City: ESRC Centre for Research into Economic and Social (CRESC) Annual Conference, Manchester, 6-9 September 2011.

The paper led to longer term links with local food growing and young women's health groups.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description conference paper on private and public space 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact The conference paper created discussion and contributed to network building. The paper was Church, A., Gabb, J. and Moore, N. 'Growing Intimate Privatepublics: The Material and Affective Practices of Community Gardening Projects', British Sociology Association Annual Conference, University of Leeds, 11-13 April 2011.

Academic beneficiaries wanted to maintain contacts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011