Community gardens: growing control for women experiencing food insecurity in food deserts




O'Donnell, Julie A.

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Texas Woman's University


Food is a basic requirement of human life. More than 23 million people in the United States (U. S.) find it difficult to shop for food because they live in food deserts (United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service, 2012). In 2010, it is estimated that 14.5% of households in the U.S, experienced low food security (Coleman Jensen, Nord, Andrews, & Carlson, 2011). Those who live with food insecurity may be at risk for poor nutrition which affects physical and mental health outcomes throughout the lifespan (Cook & Frank, 2008). Some food insecure families may participate in community gardening as a means of supplementing meager food budgets (Lawson, 2005). Community gardening offers several benefits in addition to additional food for the gardeners including improved physical and mental health (Pretty, Peacock, Sellens, & Griffin, 2005), improved relationships with family members and community members (Patel, 1994), and beautification of blighted areas (Lawson). The two stage model of control explains how humans use primary and secondary control to make changes in their environment and to the self. These processes explain how humans act to change their environments as well as the cognitive processes used to make sense of their actions (Heckhausen & Schulz, 1995). This investigator conducted a qualitative study examining vii seven food insecure women living in food deserts who participated in community gardening. Participants reported that gardening improved their diets during the gardening season due to an abundance of fresh produce. Participants also reported that their diets were improved during the off season. Participants noted improvements in mental health due to decreased worry about available food, increased self-esteem, and the therapeutic effects of gardening. Participants cited improved physical health as the result of improved nutrition and increased exercise. Family and community relationships were improved as the result of gardening. Perceptions of control were enhanced by community gardening. Implications of these results for theory, research, practice, and policy are discussed.



Community Gardening, Control, Food Desert, Food Insecurity