Civic Agriculture: Building a Healthy and Safe CommunityNovember 5, 2010
On Columbus’ near east side, a beautiful urban farm has sprouted up amidst the concrete.
As the growers who tended the land in the 2010 season can attest, the plot at Mound and Carpenter does much more than grow high quality food. It also nurtures community through face-to-face interactions, grows not just crops, but also jobs, and fosters connection with nature that leads to greater health. Dana Moessner and Dan Downing shared their thoughts on a tour of the civic agriculture project on Oct. 29, 2010.
“Just watch,” Dan Downing a teacher turned inspirational horticulturist, pointed to a house across the road from the acre plot of land on which the garden is situated, “seven or eight times a day a car will pull up honk and a guy will run out of the house and make an exchange.” He went on to explain the many challenges, aside from drug dealing, that they face when growing food in an urban environment.
Despite many obstacles, the revitalization of the community around the garden can already be demonstrated through noticeable changes. Since they have been on the plot of land, two of the closest houses, which where previously abandoned, where purchased and now have people living in them. They have made a substantial investment in the land they are growing on by clearing out a huge brush area and removing large amounts of debris.
“Residential vegetation has been linked to a greater sense of safety, fewer incivilities, and less aggressive and violent behavior. The link between urban forestry and urban greening with healthier social systems is surprisingly straightforward.”
The greening of cities has been proven to have immeasurable benefits to society. A recent study by the University of Washington* found that:
- Public housing residents with nearby trees and natural landscapes reported 25% fewer acts of domestic aggression and violence.
- Public housing buildings with greater amounts of vegetation had 52% fewer total crimes, 48% fewer property crimes, and 56% fewer violent crimes than buildings with low amounts of vegetation.
- Studies of residential neighborhoods found that property crimes were less frequent when there were trees in the right-of-way, and more abundant vegetation around a house.
- In a study of community policing innovations, there was a 20% overall decrease in calls to police from the parts of town that received location-specific treatments. Cleaning up vacant lots was one of the most effective treatment strategies.
In the conclusion of the report they write: “Residential vegetation has been linked to a greater sense of safety, fewer incivilities, and less aggressive and violent behavior. The link between urban forestry and urban greening with healthier social systems is surprisingly straightforward.” There are a myriad of benefits that any single garden can bring to an urban community, crime prevention is just one symptom of sweeping benefits that can have long and holistic effects on community.
This urban farm is one of several sights that is part of a three-year grant with United Way to grow food, create jobs, and build community. One-third of the food that is produced is set aside for employees of the program, one-third is donated to food pantries, and one-third is grown specifically to sell and reinvest the profits back into the program. United Way has helped to facilitate connections between other organizations and offer organizational development support and guidance. However the program still faces challenges, as they don’t have a lease for the land they use, they only have an agreement with the city. So the land on which they grow their food could be taken from them with little notice.
With a dream of transforming empty plots of land into vibrant gardens through out Columbus, fueled by the Mayor Coleman saying he wants to see 500 community gardens in Columbus by 2012, and in conjunction with the global momentum behind civic agriculture, all it takes to turn a dream into a reality is an invested community. The pay off of civic agriculture could have deep reverberating effects that would pull tight the all of the strings of society simultaneously, yielding healthier children and safer more closely knit communities.
The farm at Mound and Carpenter is one of several sites managed by Four Seasons City Farm.
*Wolf, K.L. 2010. Crime and Fear - A Literature Review. In: Green Cities: Good Health (www.greenhealth.washington.edu). College of the Environment, University of Washington.