The majority of the world’s population now lives in cities and towns—a demographic shift that’s expected to continue into the “urban millennium.” One of the greatest problems the world faces with increasing urbanization is the prevalence of food deserts, a phenomenon that has led to a growing interest in community gardening..

Food deserts

Food deserts are areas in industrialized nations in which citizens have minimal access to affordable, healthy food caused by a lack of access to adequate retail grocery options and urban sprawl.

Since price is the major factor in determining food purchasing decisions, grocers have tended to set up shop in higher income areas for better profit potential, lower crime rates, and easier access to transportation, a shift that started in the 60s and 70s when supermarket chains fled inner cities during the civil disturbances of the time.

Residents in poor neighbourhoods are stuck having to purchase from small community grocery stores and convenience stores, which are filled with processed food options that tend to be high in fat, sugar, salt and artificial ingredients.

Urban sprawl is another factor contributing to food desertification. As cities mow down ever larger chunks of greenery, farms—and other local food purchasing options: farm stands and CSAs (community supported agriculture)—are getting pushed farther away from cities, disconnecting inner city residents even more from healthy food unless they turn to urban community gardens.

Community gardens

With the growth in food deserts people have been looking to community gardens as a way to grow their own food. Community gardens are either publicly or privately held plots of land divided up for use by community members wanting to grow their own vegetables, fruits and flowers.

The benefits of community gardens are many. Community members don’t have to rely on transportation to travel to far away supermarkets or buy poor-quality, overpriced food from sub-standard grocery retailers.

Community gardens don’t follow any set format. They’re sometimes pieces of urban wasteland reclaimed by community gardening activists, natural area preservation projects of local non-profits or even government-sponsored street corner beautification projects.

These gardens are generally managed by either a non-profit, city parks and recreation department, community association, school or other land owner. They’re run with either a hierarchical or grassroots organizational structure. True to their name, they encourage community involvement in an inclusive, diverse and democratic fashion.

Depending on the particular arrangement, community gardeners can choose to work on a garden plot alone, with others, or work on their own plot but share some of the gardening work in common areas. Community gardening benefits people tangibly through improved access to healthy food, grown at a low cost as compared to buying at the grocery story. It benefits people intangibly since community gardeners get to share a hobby they love with others who share the same interest.

Intensifying climate change is expected to cause a decrease in agricultural output in the future. As cities continue to sprawl, they’ll push farms farther out from inner city residents, heightening the importance of community gardens. In this urban millennium of climate change and urban sprawl there lies opportunity. Community gardens can play a profound role in feeding citizens the way farms have in the past millennium, greatly improving access to healthy food for even the most inner city urbanites.

image: stu_spivack (Creative Commons BY-SA)