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Inclusive Community Garden for Food Security

A Literature Review

Inclusive community garden can be a better solution for the food security issue


Food security is a flexible concept as reflected in the many attempts at definition in research and policy usage (Maxwell & Smith, 1992). It is a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life (FAO, 2002).

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There are three aspects that critically contribute to the issue of food security; food availability, food access, and food utilization (Peace crops). Food availability is having a sufficient local supply of food available on a consistent basis. Food access and food utilization represent having sufficient resources to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet and making appropriate use of food, based on knowledge of basic nutrition and care respectively (Peace crops).

Food security is an issue regardless in developed or developing countries. Globally, nearly a billion people across the world experience the effects of food insecurity (Peace crops). Locally, although, Canada is considered as a developed country, food security is a core public health problem. According to the research, 8.4% of British Columbians have moderate or severe food insecurity, which is slightly higher than the national average of 8.1% (BC Ministry of Health, 2014). It is about roughly one in 10 B.C. households, or about half a million people.

Vancouver has a significantly higher proportion of respondents who experience food insecurity which accounts for 8.5% (Vancouver Coastal Health & Fraser Health).

Urbanization leads to people who live in city become more vulnerable to food insecurity. Due to the rapid growth of urban population, Vancouver becomes one of the most expensive cities to live in Canada and the rise of living costs causes the reduction of expense on healthy food. In addition, rapid growth makes cities unable to generate enough income opportunities, which lead to the increased number of urban poverty and people who suffer from poverty, are unable to afford food costs (RUFA Foundation, 2014)

Furthermore, Vancouver is home to one of the largest immigrant populations in Canada (City of Vancouver, 2015). Immigrants brings different cultures and make Vancouver one of the most diverse city, but also they contribute severe food security issues due to low income. Immigrants are considered one of the most vulnerable groups and they encounter difficulties of employment (City of Vancouver, 2015). According to the 2011 National Household Survey, the proportion of recent immigrants in Vancouver with incomes below the low-income cut-off is greater (34 per cent) than residents who are Canadian-born (17 per cent).

Hence, regional and municipal governments have incorporated food security initiatives into a variety of community policies, plan and strategies to solve food insecurity. For example, a Vancouver food security strategy is to grow more food within city (Lowcock, 2014) and urban community gardens have demonstrated promise in improving access of healthy and fresh food for city dwellers (Lowcock, 2014).

Introduction of Community Garden

People start realizing the importance of local food system since even though the current globalized food system efficiently yields mass quantities of produce, it is an inflexible system where millions of people go hungry and experience food insecurity each year (Kellner, 2016).

The development of the current globalized food system was accompanied by the evolution of industrial agriculture in the twentieth century. The evolution was partially facilitated by the Green Revolution which characterized primarily by genetic modification of crops, but also by revolutions in irrigation, mechanization, and chemical use in agriculture (Kellner, 2016).

Despite gains in output, as early as the 1970s researchers saw negative social impacts from the Green Revolution. The transition to globalized and industrial food systems negatively impacted many people especially the poor and marginalized (Kellner, 2016).

The global food system does not recognize individuals’ right to food, and uneven distribution of fresh, quality food is a social injustice linked to food insecurity. Government subsidies enforce an overproduction of crops, like corn and soy, making them cheaper and more monetarily accessible for lower-income families. However, these foods are considered as high calories with low nutrients (Kellner, 2016). In addition, this system intentionally separates production and consumption which makes urban residents have lack of involvement in the food production process and it leads to the inadequate knowledge on selecting and cooking healthy food (Finley, 2013).

Hence, people start concerning about local food system and one important aspect is community garden.

Community garden can effectively solve food security issues since it enhances urban food availability, accessibility and utilization.

Community garden allows efficient use of urban land for food production. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), urban farms already supply food to about 700 million residents of cities, representing about a quarter of the world’s urban population.

It decreases the distance between producer and consumer, increase accessibility of fresh and healthy food, and can reduce the cost of food (Kellner, 2016).

Eating habits are not the matter of satisfaction of physiological and psychological needs, or the matter of individual preference. In contrast, they are a cultural affair and follow the socially organized fashion. Hence, when urban resident loses the connection with food, they start blind eating and just simply follow what they are advertised to eat through television (Valley, 2017). Hence, through urban agriculture, the bond between people and food can be reconstructed (Valley, 2017). People eat what they grow (Finley, 2013), therefore by active participate into the growing process, people start understanding how the food is produced which cold help them on selecting healthy food.

Subsequently, community gardens can result in a more resilient and food secure city through the direct integration of food production and food consumption (Kellner, 2016). According to the research from BC Non-Profit Housing Association, 79% of garden users noted a positive impact on their diet and 69% noted an impact on their access to healthy food (BCNPHA, 2012).

Problems of community garden

Although community garden is considered to be an optimal approach for enhancing local food systems and solving food security issues, there are barriers that negatively impact its function.


Vandalism negatively impacts community garden not only from direct food loss, but also it destroys other plants that are not ready for harvest and discourages people’s incentives to be involved in community garden program. Usually resource inputs of low-income families for food production account more compared with middle and up class families and they heavily rely on the harvesting for their fresh vegetable and fruits consumption. Hence, vandalism hurts them more than others and they just cannot afford the risk (Peace crops).

Under-representation of cultural barrier

Vancouver is a place filled with a great variety of people with diverse cultural background, which makes equally representation of different ethnicity by community gardens become extremely important. However, there is little work that has been done to foster multiple racial diversities in gardens. Research founds that community gardens tend to be ethnically homogenous, even in areas where the surrounding neighbourhood is demographically diverse due to geographic, linguistic, and cultural barriers. Thus, community gardens may not feel inclusive and welcoming. In some cases, community gardens even act as culturally defensive spaces where a particular group is dominant. In New York City, gardens tend to be clustered around single cultural group, likely at least in part due to spatial segregation. Indeed, even Baker’s documentation of diversity within Toronto’s community gardens showcased gardens dominated by a single ethnic or racial group (Seto, 2009).

Instead of community aggregation, homogenous dominant community garden may cause segregation and the rights of minor groups cannot be appropriately represented which exacerbates the food security issues that marginal groups encounter.

Under-representation of class barrier

While community garden provides the resources to attain quality food, low income families may not have the time and resources to maintain a garden (Peace crops). Hence, low income families can still encounter food insecurity even though they have lands to grow.

In summary, Vandalism and lack of general representation terribly prevent community gardens from successfully addressing food security issues since they lead to lack of incentives of participating and growing, and it exacerbates food insecurity encountered by marginalised people.

Inclusive community garden is a new idea that is being adopted as an alternative approach. It can effectively address problems that community garden encounters and thus provide a better solution for the food security issue.

What it means to be inclusive (Lowcock, 2014)

The most popular themes that emerge from both guidelines and local community gardens include: Engagement and community, communication and policy, design and location, sustainability, and empowerment.

Engagement and Community

The essential part of the community garden process is emphasizing the active connection between community organizations and neighbours in person. However, perceptions about the purpose and role of community gardening in neighbourhoods may differ based on cultural norms. Hence, effective communication such as multiple language and face to face engagement is the key to accurately identify the role of Community Gardens in Vancouver and successfully develop inclusion of the community.

Communication and Policy

Misunderstandings can arise when perspectives on community work do not align along cultural or physical lines. Clarity on policy and procedures is critical to successful inclusion of diverse community members. Effective communication is important. However, due to insufficient web based communication for all members. Gardeners recommend that the most effective way of connecting with a broader range of community members is through welcoming individual person; providing personal orientation with clear documentation; and explaining procedures in multiple ways. Coordinators which are understanding and which possess appropriate language skills are important components for successful community gardens

Empowerment and the Community


A fundamental planning concept, engendered by Jane Jacobs, states that successful community spaces must exist beyond their primary use. For community gardening this means that gardens must also serve as an integral part of the local community, and offer more than a space for growing food. A local champion in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver expressed this need very succinctly: “Gardens can not just exist in and of themselves”. Gardens must have multiple elements including a diverse number of activities; interesting landscapes; appropriate and adequate spaces to gather and socialize; opportunities to engage with others, and facilitation of neighbourhood resiliency through knowledge transfer and resource sharing.

Design and Location

Best practices typically look at design in terms of most efficient use of light, soil, and water. Plot design is focused almost exclusively on physical accessibility for seniors and those with accessibility constraints. Plots in Vancouver have become very prescriptive in design: occasionally raised, rectangular plots, arranged in rows. Although well designed for physical accessibility, this type of design is conducive to an allotment style of gardening, where the primary purpose is personal crop cultivation. Personal use is only one aspect of community gardening in Vancouver and communal plots, where gardeners plan and grow crops together, are becoming more common.


Sustainability is usually discussed in terms of a garden’s social, economic, and environmental components. Gardeners need to build strong connections and be committed to the maintenance of the garden in order for the garden to succeed over the long term. In Portland, the addition of an economic mechanism which allows for financial self sufficiency has been a major component to sustainability of the project. Baker (2004) also notes that sustainable funding and support from local municipality are necessary for the success of community gardens. Garden coordinators placed significant emphasis on sharing resources as a means of connecting garden members and maintaining the quality of the garden space. Many gardeners felt that large projects that allowed gardeners to work exhaustively toward a common goal such as building plots, fences, and Sheds made relationships stronger. As one gardener stated ‘We share together, we suffer together’. Best practices almost always emphasize organic growing and sustainable agricultural techniques. Education and capacity building for agricultural skills is consistently mentioned in community gardening guidelines.

Inclusive community garden

Based on the definition of being inclusive, community gardens are aiming to incorporate with various food projects to ensure an efficient use of resources. These food projects could empower sustainability, multi-functionality, and ultimately create a more welcoming and inclusive places with evenly distributed representation, which could foster active engagement and a broader sense of belonging (Lowcock, 2014). In addition, it is an idea that response to a broader scale of city strategies and plans. As Health City Strategy, a long-term plan announced by City of Vancouver, has visualized the measures that we need to take for approaching a healthy community, the determinants are expanded from basic needs to a broader scale that includes inclusion, connections with others, self-expression, access to nature, environments to thrive in, and effective collaborative leadership (City of Vancouver, 2019).

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In summary, inclusive community garden is a program that is aiming to assimilate gardens into the community and build a broad sense of belonging for community members. Hence, people who live in the community will treat the community gardens as their own property and be willing to put their efforts together to take care of the gardens. In addition, when people engage more, they understand the requests of people from different culture and class, which could assist to address particular food issues to people who in need.


Community gardens with active engagement could foster communication among the surrounding neighbors, encourage community and ownership of the garden and promote harmony amongst the group of gardeners and surrounding area. When a community, along with the gardeners, build neighbourhood cohesion by meeting more of their neighbours and building more trusting relationships, they recognize the importance of the garden and develop a sense of ownership. Thus, vandalism and theft can be successfully prevented since the neighbors will be more apt to keep an eye on the garden and more likely to report anything suspicious that is occurring. Harboring the ideals of community will keep individuals involved and invested in the community gardens, and in turn there will be more people looking out for the good of the garden (Metro Vancouver, 2019).



Depends on the situation of a community, inclusive community garden could be achieved through various food projects. The following examples demonstrate two best practices initiated by Farmerson57th and UBC community.

Best practice of Farmerson57th (Lowcock, 2014)

The inclusive garden project initiated by Farmerson57th in 2009 is located in Vancouver, BC. This project is aiming to design the community garden with three sections including Therapeutic Gardens, Market Garden and Growing Eden Garden and each garden is established to achieve different goals.

Therapeutic Gardens: Plots for Pearson Residents and Community plots for various groups including Disabled Independent Gardeners Association (DIGA). Agriculture classes in partnership with alternative high school. Volunteers with resident gardeners to help assist in planting, tending, harvesting.

Market Garden: a market that offer place for flower and vegetable which are grown according to organic principles. donation of fruit and vegetables for the monthly community kitchen and a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

Growing Eden Garden: Priority plots for families who receive a housing subsidy and/or are low income.

All the gardens are wheelchair accessible which supports the engagement of people with disabilities and elders who are often invisible and neglected by the food system.

Overall, with differentiated design of each garden, the community garden becomes multifunctional and enhances engagement. It prioritizes the needs of valuable groups and provide a place to support the production of organic local food.

Best practice of UBC community

Our project; “Connecting People with Places: Biodiversity Design + Build”; which is drawn on best practices obtained from the Mason Bee project initiated by the UBC community members who is aiming to incorporate bees in the UBC community garden could be a successful local example of promoting inclusive community garden. Mason bees are people-friendly, as they do not actively sting people unless they feel threatened. Hence, they can be placed in a local community garden and used as a tool to contextualize the definition of being inclusive; since Lowcock defines that an inclusive community garden must follow the idea of easy access, sustainability, attractive, multifunctional and being a hub to foster well communication through community engagement.

First, this project is installed in Hawthorn Garden which is the first and largest garden at UBC, contains 78 garden plots and over 90 gardeners (LFS 450, 2019). It is convenient for community members to access since it is located on Main Mall Greenway surrounded by forests, and just a 5-minute walk from the Old Barn Community Centre (LFS 450, 2019).

Second, this project is cooperated among UBC LFS students and community members, Yiting and Karen, therefore it is not only a idea initiated in the class, but also could be further maintained in the future, which is economically sustainable. In addition, for environmental sustainability, mason bees play a fundamental role for pollination which influences flowering, fruiting and seeding of certain plants around the community.

Mason bee projects can help gardens to be attractive and multifunctional with beautifully design of mason bee hives; educational prints outside the box with glassy view. Thus, it inspires people to come especially families and when people gather more, they communicate and engage more. Furthermore, with educational paints and actual participation, this garden offers opportunities for people to learn food production process and interaction between bees and plants.


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  3. Maxwell, S. & Smith, M. 1992. Household food security; a conceptual review. In S. Maxwell & T.R. Frankenberger, eds. Household Food Security: Concepts, Indicators, Measurements: A Technical Review. New York and Rome: UNICEF and IFAD.
  4. Peace Corps. (n.d.). Retrieved February 9, 2019, from https://www.peacecorps.gov/educators/resources/global-issues-food-security/
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  7. Kellner, Grace Catherine, “Growing Food Security: The Impact of Community Gardens on Food Security in Denver, Colorado” (2016). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1159. https://digitalcommons.du.edu/etd/1159
  8. Health, V.C. (n.d.). Data Summary Sheets: Food Insecurity. Vancouver, BC, Canada. https://www.myhealthmycommunity.org/Portals/0/Documents/Data%20Summary%20Sheets/VCH_FH%20data%20summary%20sheet%20-%20food%20insecurity_FINAL.pdf
  9. Vancouver, City of Vancouver. (2015, March). IMMIGRATION MATTERS IN VANCOUVER. Retrieved February 10, 2019, from https://www.vancouverimmigrationpartnership.ca/media/1196/cov924_immigrationmatters_web-single.pdf
  10. Urban agriculture: what and why? (2014, February 28). Retrieved March 01, 2018, from http://www.ruaf.org/urban-agriculture-what-and-why
  11. Finley, R. (2013, March 06). Retrieved March 01, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=126&v=EzZzZ_qpZ4w
  12. Valley, W. (2017). Lecture presented at LFS 250/LFS 350 in UBC, Vancouver.

Home – GordonHouse.org. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2018, from https://gordonhouse.org/

  1. A Study of Food Security Programs at Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation (Rep.). (2012, August). Retrieved February 11, 2019, from M. Thomson Consulting and BCNPHA Research Department website: M. Thomson Consulting and BCNPHA Research Department
  3. Good Gardens Good Communities (Rep.). (2019, January). Retrieved February 15, 2019, from Metrovancouver website: http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/housing/HousingPublications/GoodGardensGoodCommunities.pdf

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