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Inclusive Community Gardens: Food, Exercise, Friends, and Maybe Money

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

This new three-year grant received by Sara Sack, Ph.D., project director, is funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The grant start date: October 1, 2009.

Photo of Sara Sack


Sara Sack, PhD

Project staff: Patty Black Moore and Sheila Simmons.

Providing persons with disabilities and their family members with opportunities to become involved in the community gardening movement may result in new knowledge, new friends, more exercise, access to fresh food, and possibly a new hobby or small business related to agriculture. Community gardening is not new, but with the current economic “recession in full swing, many Americans are returning to their roots—literally—cultivating vegetables to squeeze every penny out of their food budget” (Associated Press: Dollars from Dirt, Long Beach, CA, March 16, 2009).

Project Summary

Community gardening is not a new concept but is designed to include persons with disabilities, inclusive community gardening can provide recreational activities and related experiences that aid in employment, mobility, socialization, independence, and community integration. Through this effort, persons with disabilities across the state will have access to community garden programs that provide innovative gardening education and supports to help all people garden regardless of the disability or health limitation.

In addition to access to many examples of inclusive gardening strategies, a range of adaptive gardening tools will be available through the statewide Assistive Technology Program for gardeners to “Try Before They Buy.” Program staff will work with local garden coordinators, master gardeners, 4-H Programs, USDA County Extension Agents, and others to collect strategies and offer educational programs through the winter months so that maximum use is made of the growing season and expert horticultural advice is obtained. Staff will work with local community garden programs to ensure that policies and practices support participation by persons with disabilities. At present there is little evidence available of persons with disabilities participating in community gardening efforts occurring across the country.

Project staff will work with 150 persons of all disabilities and all ages in five communities per year across the state. Over the three-year period of time it is anticipated that 450 persons with disabilities and approximately 1,350 family members and friends will be impacted from these recreational and employment activities. The project is specifically designed to include youth with disabilities and persons with disabilities from traditionally underrepresented groups.

Photograph of Sara Sack

The benefits of participation in community gardening go beyond access to nutritional food, exercise, and new knowledge. The informational exchange and social interactions lead to improved mental health, feelings of being connected to the local community, leadership skills, and possibly new employment contacts and opportunities. However, project staff also recognize that the recreational benefits of gardening should not be denied if the person with disabilities is not physically able to participate in the community gardening effort. Inclusive gardening materials, access to adapted gardening equipment, and access to informational exchanges through the gardening blog will be available to these individuals as well as to participants in the community gardening program.

Communities with established community garden efforts as well as with communities/entities that are establishing new community garden programs will be recruited to participate in this innovative project. Local community garden coordinators will be recruited in the selected communities and will help to set up garden education opportunities, share innovative strategies, help answer garden questions and share knowledge by encouraging participation in the gardening blog, and help the project coordinator disseminate press releases and public awareness information. To further increase the likelihood of maximum participation by persons with disabilities, a gardening seed/plant stipend will be available to individuals completing the educational sessions.

Ed Bell, a person with disabilities who has established a profitable strawberry business will consult with the program and with vocational rehabilitation counselors. Through this effort model community gardens with inclusive policies and practices will be in place across the state. Grant writing and sustainability initiatives will begin at the start of the program to further ensure continued access to inclusive community gardens after the federal funding has ended. Adapted tools will continue to be available for loan as long as the equipment is useful.

drawing of watering can, small pot and a trowel

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