Saturday, July 29, 2017

Brief reflections from the American Community Gardening Association 2017 Conference

The American Community Gardening Association 2017 Conference: CONNecting our Roots has been deliciously invigorating. The conference theme seems especially poignant this year, as I continually "dig" deeper into community gardening as both an extension of my professional journey in sustainability education and the means for "growth" as a community-based and critically-oriented researcher. (I am not the only attendee who finds every opportunity to use garden metaphors; they are everywhere!) I still believe strongly in the power of higher education and local efforts to generate synergistic solutions for health and justice in our food systems, and thereby shift our larger social, economic, and ecological spheres toward greater sustainability. I am finding more and more that a balance between theory and practice - academic and "dirt under the nails" approaches - is the path to real progress. Being able to engage with other dedicated, intelligent, and courageous people in this very challenging work makes the process utterly enjoyable, and that is important!

I was privileged to co-present two workshops. "Gardens at Work: How to Reap the Benefits of Workplace Gardens" was a collaboration with Michelle de Lima, Engagement Site Manager of Boston Community Gardens with the Trustees; Brendon Pires, Manager of Community Investments and Sustainability with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts; and Libby Weiland, Statewide Network Coordinator of Vermont Community Garden Network. Libby and I studied in the Master's program in Environmental Studies at Antioch University New England. She laid much of the groundwork for both Community Garden Connections (CGC) and the C&S Workplace Organic Gardens Project, which made the co-presentation all the more meaningful. I also co-presented "Wellness in Place: Holistic Approaches to Building Resilience through Community Gardening" with Olivia Chitayat and Maria Dellapina, CGC Co-Coordinators. Olivia and Maria are doing fantastic work in garden-based education and outreach and I'm honored to be working with them.

Visual representation of a conceptual framework
I developed for a practice presentation of my
dissertation proposal in Spring 2017.
Aside from the workshops, the keynote address by Mark Winne was especially inspiring, because it reaffirmed for me the importance of community gardeners'gardeners' voices in food systems research and policy. This is something I've strived to incorporate in my own work, including program evaluation, service learning projects, and photovoice. As I approach the next phase of my doctoral work, my dissertation proposal, I will be thinking about the best ways to do this, and inviting participants into the process with me. I am particularly interested in the empowering effects of community gardening and how they can be realized beyond the individual scale. As Mark and others have pointed out, the garden is "just" a starting point - the seed. The benefits manifest not only in tangible forms like vegetables, food security, and ecosystem services, but also in intangible but very real outcomes having to do with psycho-social health, supportive networks, social capital, and many other aspects of wholeness and well-being. We have to keep working together, and working the edges.

Mark has graciously shared his message here. Absolutely worth the read! One favorite part that should keep me going for a while:

"It’s easy to wax poetic – I do it all the time. Gardeners aren’t shy about expressing their love for plants, veggies, flowers or the implacable joy of gardening. In our writings, reports, and public testimony, however, we’d be well-served by reining in some of our exuberance in favor of a more-sober rendition of community gardening’s cornucopia of good outcomes. To that end, let’s lean on the data, and let’s encourage more research that looks at the numerous values associated with community gardening."

Thank you, Mark, and GO, community gardeners!

If you went to the conference or would like to learn more, let's connect!