Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 285–305 | Cite as

Urban home food gardens in the Global North: research traditions and future directions

  • John R. TaylorEmail author
  • Sarah Taylor Lovell


In the United States, interest in urban agriculture has grown dramatically. While community gardens have sprouted across the landscape, home food gardens—arguably an ever-present, more durable form of urban agriculture—have been overlooked, understudied, and unsupported by government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and academics. In part a response to the invisibility of home gardens, this paper is a manifesto for their study in the Global North. It seeks to develop a multi-scalar and multidisciplinary research framework that acknowledges the garden’s social and ecological or material dimensions. Given the lack of existing research, we draw on the more extensive literature on home gardens in the South and community gardens in the North to develop a set of hypotheses about the social-ecological effects of urban home food gardens in the North. These gardens, we hypothesize, contribute to food security, community development, cultural reproduction, and resilience at multiple scales; conserve agrobiodiversity; and support urban biodiversity. They may also have negative ecological effects, such as stormwater nutrient loading. Because of the entanglement of the social and the ecological or material in the garden, we review three theoretical perspectives—social ecological systems theory, actor-network theory, and assemblage theory—that have been or could be applied to the multi-scalar and multidisciplinary study of the garden. We also review sampling and analytic methods for conducting home garden research. The paper concludes with a discussion of opportunities to extend the research agenda beyond descriptive analysis, the primary focus of garden research to date.


Urban agriculture Home garden Global North Ecosystem services Food security Resilience 



Actor-network theory


Non-governmental organization


Random digit dialing


Social-ecological system


  1. Aguilar-Støen, M., S.R. Moe, and S.L. Camargo-Ricalde. 2009. Home gardens sustain crop diversity and improve farm resilience in Candelaria Loxicha, Oaxaca, Mexico. Human Ecology: An Interdisciplinary Journal 37(1): 23p. doi: 10.1007/s10745-008-9197-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Airriess, C.A., and D.L. Clawson. 1994. Vietnamese market gardens in New Orleans. Geographical Review 84(1): 16p.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alaimo, K., E. Packnett, R. Miles, and D. Kruger. 2008. Fruit and vegetable intake among urban community gardeners. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 40(2): 94–101. doi: 10.1016/j.jneb.2006.12.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Anderson, B., and C. McFarlane. 2011. Assemblage and geography. Area 43(2): 124–127. doi: 10.1111/J.1475-4762.2011.01004.X.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Andersson, E., S. Barthel, and K. Ahrné. 2007. Measuring social-ecological dynamics behind the generation of ecosystem services. Ecological Applications 17(5): 1267–1278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baker, L.E. 2004. Tending cultural landscapes and food citizenship in Toronto’s community gardens. Geographical Review 94(3): 305–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Barrios, E. 2007. Soil biota, ecosystem services and land productivity. Ecological Economics 64(2): 269–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Barthel, S., C. Folke, and J. Colding. 2010. Social-ecological memory in urban gardens-Retaining the capacity for management of ecosystem services. Global Environmental Change-Human and Policy Dimensions 20(2):255–265. doi: 10.1016/J.Gloenvcha.2010.01.001.
  9. Bassett, T.J. 1981. Reaping on the margins: A century of community gardening in America. Landscape 25(2): 8p.Google Scholar
  10. Bennett, J. 2010. Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Beymer-Farris, B.A., T. Bassett, and I. Bryceson. 2012. Promises and pitfalls of adaptive management in resilience thinking: The lens of political ecology. In Resilience and the cultural landscape, ed. T. Plieninger, and C. Bieling. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Bhatti, M., and A. Church. 2001. Cultivating natures: Homes and gardens in late modernity. Sociology-the Journal of the British Sociological Association 35(2): 365–383.Google Scholar
  13. Brick, J.M., D. Williams, and J.M. Montaquila. 2011. Address-based sampling for subpopulation surveys. Public Opinion Quarterly 75(3): 409–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Buchmann, C. 2009. Cuban home gardens and their role in social-ecological resilience. Human Ecology: An Interdisciplinary Journal 37(6): 17p. doi: 10.1007/s10745-009-9283-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cabalda, A.B., P. Rayco-Solon, J.A.A. Solon, and F.S. Solon. 2011. Home gardening is associated with Filipino preschool children’s dietary diversity. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 111(5): 5p. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2011.02.005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Calvet-Mir, L., M. Calvet-Mir, J.L. Molina, and V. Reyes-García. 2012a. Seeds exchange as an agrobiodiversity conservation mechanism: A case study in Vall Fosca, Catalan Pyrenees, Iberian Peninsula. Ecology and Society 17(1): 29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Calvet-Mir, L., E. Gomez-Baggethun, and V. Reyes-García. 2012b. Beyond food production: Ecosystem services provided by home gardens. A case study in Vall Fosca, Catalan Pyrenees, Northeastern Spain. Ecological Economics 74(153–160): 2011. doi: 10.1016/J.Ecolecon.12.011.Google Scholar
  18. Chevalier, S. 1998. From woolen carpet to grass carpet: Bridging house and garden in an English suburb. In Material cultures: Why some things matter, ed. D. Miller, 47–71. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  19. City of Chicago. 2013. Urban agriculture FAQ. Accessed 26 July 2013.Google Scholar
  20. Cook, E.M., S.J. Hall, and K.L. Larson. 2012. Residential landscapes as social-ecological systems: A synthesis of multi-scalar interactions between people and their home environment. Urban Ecosystems 15(1): 19–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Corlett, J.L., E.A. Dean, and L.E. Grivetti. 2003. Hmong Gardens: Botanical diversity in an urban setting. Economic Botany 57(3): 365–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Crouch, D., and C. Ward. 1988. The allotment: Its landscape and culture. Faber and Faber.Google Scholar
  23. De Landa, M. 2006. A new philosophy of society: Assemblage theory and social complexity. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  24. Dewaelheyns, V., A. Elsen, H. Vandendriessche, and H. Gulinck. 2013. Garden management and soil fertility in Flemish domestic gardens. Landscape and Urban Planning 116: 25–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Domene, E., and D. Sauri. 2007. Urbanization and class-produced natures: Vegetable gardens in the Barcelona Metropolitan Region. Geoforum 38(2): 287–298. doi: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2006.03.004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Drescher, A.W., R. J. Holmer, and D. L. Iaquinta. 2006. Urban homegardens and allotment gardens for sustainable livelihoods: Management strategies and institutional environments. In Tropical homegardens: A time-tested example of sustainable agroforestry, eds. B. M. Kumar, and P. K. R. Nair, 317–338. vol. 3. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  27. Ellen, R.F., and H. Harris. 2000. Introduction. In Indigenous environmental knowledge and its transformations: Critical anthropological perspectives, eds. Peter Parkes, and Alan Bicker, 1–33. vol. v 5. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic.Google Scholar
  28. Ellen, R., and S. Platten. 2011. The social life of seeds: The role of networks of relationships in the dispersal and cultural selection of plant germplasm. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17(3): 563–584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Felson, A.J., and S.T. Pickett. 2005. Designed experiments: New approaches to studying urban ecosystems. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 3(10): 549–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Firth, C., D. Maye, and D. Pearson. 2011. Developing “community” in community gardens. Local Environment 16(6): 555–568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Folke, C., S.R. Carpenter, B. Walker, M. Scheffer, T. Chapin, and J. Rockstrom. 2010. Resilience thinking: Integrating resilience, adaptability and transformability. Ecology and Society 15(4): 20p.
  32. Galluzzi, G., P. Eyzaguirre, and V. Negri. 2010. Home gardens: Neglected hotspots of agro-biodiversity and cultural diversity. Biodiversity and Conservation 19(13): 3635–3654. doi: 10.1007/s10531-010-9919-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gardiner, M.M., S.P. Prajzner, C.E. Burkman, S. Albro, and P.S. Grewal. 2013. Vacant land conversion to community gardens: Influences on generalist arthropod predators and biocontrol services in urban greenspaces. Urban Ecosystems. doi: 10.1007/s11252-013-0303-6.Google Scholar
  34. Gaskell, S.M. 1980. Gardens for the working class: Victorian practical pleasure. Victorian Studies 23(4): 479–501.Google Scholar
  35. Gaynor, A. 2006. Harvest of the suburbs: An environmental history of growing food in Australian cities. Crawley, WA: University of Western Australia Press.Google Scholar
  36. Gibson-Graham, J.K. 2006. A postcapitalist politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  37. Gilbert, P.R. 2012. Deskilling, agrodiversity, and the seed trade: A view from contemporary British allotments. Agriculture and Human Values. doi: 10.1007/s10460-012-9380-z.Google Scholar
  38. Glover, T. 2004. Social capital in the lived experiences of community gardeners. Leisure Sciences 26(2): 143–162. doi: 10.1080/01490400490432064.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Gottlieb, R., and A. Fisher. 1996. ‘‘First feed the face’’: Environmental justice and community food security. Antipode 28(2): 193–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Gray, L., P. Guzman, K.M. Glowa, and A.G. Drevno. 2013. Can home gardens scale up into movements for social change? The role of home gardens in providing food security and community change in San Jose, California. Local Environment (ahead-of-print):1–17. doi: 10.1080/13549839.2013.792048.
  41. Guitart, D., C. Pickering, and J. Byrne. 2012. Past results and future directions in urban community gardens research. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 11: 364–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Harris, E.M., C. Polsky, K.L. Larson, R. Garvoille, D.G. Martin, J. Brumand, and L. Ogden. 2012. Heterogeneity in residential yard care: Evidence from Boston, Miami, and Phoenix. Human Ecology. doi: 10.1007/s10745-012-9514-3.Google Scholar
  43. Head, L., P. Muir, and E. Hampel. 2004. Australian backyard gardens and the journey of migration. Geographical Review 94(3): 22p.Google Scholar
  44. Hinz, G. 2013. Farmer Emanuel expands his turf. Accessed 26 July 2013.
  45. Hitchings, R. 2003. People, plants and performance: On actor network theory and the material pleasures of the private garden. Social & Cultural Geography 4(1): 99–113. doi: 10.1080/1464936032000049333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Holland, L. 2004. Diversity and connections in community gardens: A contribution to local sustainability. Local Environment 9(3): 285–305. doi: 10.1080/1354983042000219388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Holling, C.S. 1973. Resilience and stability of ecological systems. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 4: 1–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Holloway, L. 2002. Smallholding, hobby-farming, and commercial farming: Ethical identities and the production of farming spaces. Environment and Planning A 34(11): 2055–2070.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Hondagneu-Sotelo, P. 2010. Cultivating questions for a sociology of gardens. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 39(5): 19p. doi: 10.1177/0891241610376069.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Howard, P.L. 2004. Gender and social dynamics in swidden and homegardens in Latin America. In Tropical homegardens, ed. B.M. Kumar, and P. Nair. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  51. Jamison, M.S. 1986. The joys of gardening: Collectivist and bureaucratic cultures in conflict. Sociological Quarterly 26(4): 18p.Google Scholar
  52. Kantor, L.S. 2001. Community food security programs improve food access. FoodReview 24(1): 7p.Google Scholar
  53. Kingsley, J.Y., and M. Townsend. 2006. ‘Dig in’ to social capital: Community gardens as mechanisms for growing urban social connectedness. Urban Policy & Research 24(4): 13p. doi: 10.1080/08111140601035200.Google Scholar
  54. Kortright, R., and S. Wakefield. 2011. Edible backyards: A qualitative study of household food growing and its contributions to food security. Agriculture and Human Values 28(1): 39–53. doi: 10.1007/S10460-009-9254-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Kumar, B.M., and P.K.R. Nair. 2004. The enigma of tropical homegardens. Agroforestry Systems 61–2(1): 135–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Lansu, M. 2012. NATO summit cash to fund vegetable gardens at 60 city schools. Accessed 25 July 2013.
  57. Latour, B. 2005. Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Clarendon lectures in management studies. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Lavelle, P., T. Decaëns, M. Aubert, S. Barot, M. Blouin, F. Bureau, P. Margerie, P. Mora, and J.-P. Rossi. 2006. Soil invertebrates and ecosystem services. European Journal of Soil Biology 42: S3–S15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Lawson, L.J. 2005. City bountiful: A century of community gardening in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  60. Loram, A., K. Thompson, P.H. Warren, and K.J. Gaston. 2008. Urban domestic gardens (XII): The richness and composition of the flora in five UK cities. Journal of Vegetation Science 19(3): 321–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Maron, J., and M. Marler. 2007. Native plant diversity resists invasion at both low and high resource levels. Ecology 88(10): 2651–2661. doi: 10.1890/06-1993.1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Matteson, K.C., J.S. Ascher, and G.A. Langellotto. 2008. Bee richness and abundance in New York City urban gardens. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 101(1): 140–150. doi: 10.1603/0013-8746(2008)101[140:BRAAIN]2.0.CO;2.
  63. Mazumdar, S. 2012. Immigrant home gardens: Places of religion, culture, ecology, and family. Landscape and Urban Planning 105(3): 258–265.Google Scholar
  64. McCubbin, L.D., and H.I. McCubbin. 2005. Culture and ethnic identity in family reslience. In Handbook for working with children and youth: Pathways to resilience across cultures and contexts, ed. Michael Ungar, xxxix, 511 p. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  65. Méndez, V., R. Lok, and E. Somarriba. 2001. Interdisciplinary analysis of homegardens in Nicaragua: Micro-zonation, plant use and socioeconomic importance. Agroforestry Systems 51(2): 85–96. doi: 10.1023/a:1010622430223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Moore, S. 2006. Forgotten roots of the green city: Subsistence gardening in Columbus, Ohio, 1900–1940. Urban Geography 27(2): 174–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Morton, L., E. Bitto, M. Oakland, and M. Sand. 2008. Accessing food resources: Rural and urban patterns of giving and getting food. Agriculture and Human Values 25(1): 107–119. doi: 10.1007/s10460-007-9095-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Nair, P.K.R. 2006. Whither homegardens? In Tropical homegardens: A time-tested example of sustainable agroforestry, ed. B.M. Kumar, and P.K.R. Nair. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  69. Nazarea, V.D. 1998. Cultural memory and biodiversity. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  70. Nazarea, V.D. 2005. Heirloom seeds and their keepers: Marginality and memory in the conservation of biological diversity. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  71. Parry, D., T. Glover, and K. Shinew. 2005. ‘Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow? Examining gender roles and relations in community gardens. Leisure Studies 24(2): 177–192. doi: 10.1080/0261436052000308820.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Pawelek, J.E.A. 2009. Modification of a community garden to attract native bee pollinators in urban San Luis Obispo, California. Cities and the Environment 2(1): 7p.Google Scholar
  73. Power, E.R. 2005. Human-nature relations in suburban gardens. Australian Geographer 36(1): 39–53. doi: 10.1080/00049180500050847.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Pudup, M. 2008. It takes a garden: Cultivating citizen-subjects in organized garden projects. Geoforum 39(3): 1228–1240. doi: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2007.06.012.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Punja, A. 2009. Cultivating just planning and legal institutions: A critical assessment of the South Central Farm struggle in Los Angeles. Journal of Urban Affairs 31(1): 23p. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9906.2008.00426.x.Google Scholar
  76. Reyes-García, V., S. Vila, L. Aceituno-Mata, L. Calvet-Mir, T. Garnatje, A. Jesch, J.J. Lastra, et al. 2010. Gendered homegardens: A study in three mountain areas of the Iberian Peninsula. Economic Botany 64(3): 235–247. doi: 10.1007/S12231-010-9124-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Reyes-García, V., L. Calvet-Mir, S. Vila, L. Aceituno-Mata, T. Garnatje, J.J. Lastra, M. Parada, M. Rigat, J. Vallès, and M. Pardo-De-Santayana. 2013. Does crop diversification pay off? An empirical study in home gardens of the Iberian Peninsula. Society & Natural Resources 26(1): 44–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Robbins, P. 2007. Lawn people: How grasses, weeds, and chemicals make us who we are. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  79. Saldivar-Tanaka, L., and M.E. Krasny. 2004. Culturing community development, neighborhood open space, and civic agriculture: The case of Latino community gardens in New York City. Agriculture and Human Values 21(4): 399–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Schmelzkopf, K. 2002. Incommensurability, land use, and the right to space: Community gardens in New York City. Urban Geography 23(4): 323–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Schupp, J.L., and J.S. Sharp. 2012. Exploring the social bases of home gardening. Agriculture and Human Values 29(1): 93–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Shinew, K.J., T.D. Glover, and D.C. Parry. 2004. Leisure spaces as potential sites for interracial interaction: Community gardens in urban areas. Journal of Leisure Research 36(3): 336–355.Google Scholar
  83. Smith, V.M., R.B. Greene, and J. Silbernagel. 2013. The social and spatial dynamics of community food production: A landscape approach to policy and program development. Landscape Ecology 28(7): 1415–1426.Google Scholar
  84. Smith, C.M., and H.E. Kurtz. 2003. Community gardens and politics of scale in New York City. Geographical Review 93(2): 20p.Google Scholar
  85. Sperling, L., J.A. Ashby, M.E. Smith, E. Weltzien, and S. McGuire. 2001. A framework for analyzing participatory plant breeding approaches and results. Euphytica 122(3): 439–450. doi: 10.1023/a:1017505323730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Staeheli, L.A., D. Mitchell, and K. Gibson. 2002. Conflicting rights to the city in New York’s community gardens. GeoJournal 58(2–3): 197–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Taylor, J.R., and S.T. Lovell. 2012. Mapping public and private spaces of urban agriculture in Chicago through the analysis of high-resolution aerial images in Google Earth. Landscape and Urban Planning 108(1): 57–70. doi: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2012.08.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Tidball, K.G., and M.E. Krasny. 2007. From risk to resilience: What role for community greening and civic ecology in cities? In Social learning: Towards a sustainable world, ed. A.E.J. Wals. Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  89. Tucker, D.M. 1993. Kitchen gardening in America: A history. Ames: Iowa State University Press.Google Scholar
  90. Turner, M. 2009. Ecology: Natural and political. In A companion to environmental geography, eds. N. Castree, D. Demeritt, D. Liverman, and B. Rhoads. New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  91. Twiss, J., J. Dickinson, S. Duma, T. Kleinman, H. Paulsen, and L. Rilveria. 2003. Community gardens: Lessons learned from California healthy cities and communities. American Journal of Public Health 93(9): 1435–1438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Vitiello, D., and M. Nairn. 2009. Community gardening in Philadelphia: 2008 harvest report. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Planning and Urban Studies.Google Scholar
  93. Vogl, C.R., B. Vogl-Lukasser, and R.K. Puri. 2004. Tools and methods for data collection in ethnobotanical studies of homegardens. Field methods 16(3): 285–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. White, M.M. 2011. Sisters of the soil: Urban gardening as resistance in Detroit. Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts 5(1): 13–28.Google Scholar
  95. WinklerPrins, A.M.G.A. 2002. House-lot gardens in Santarem-Para, Brazil: Linking rural with urban. Urban Ecosystems 6(1): 43–65. doi: 10.1023/a:1025914629492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Witzling, L., M. Wander, and E. Phillips. 2011. Testing and educating on urban soil lead: A case of Chicago community gardens. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development 1(2): 167–185.Google Scholar
  97. Wortman, S.E., and S.T. Lovell. 2013. Environmental challenges threatening the growth of urban agriculture in the United States. Journal of Environmental Quality 42(5): 1283–1294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Yadav, P., K. Duckworth, and P.S. Grewal. 2012. Habitat structure influences below ground biocontrol services: A comparison between urban gardens and vacant lots. Landscape and Urban Planning 104(2): 238–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Zypchyn, K. 2012. Getting back to the garden: Reflections on gendered behaviours in home gardening. Earth Common Journal 2(1): 19p.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Crop SciencesUniversity of Illinois Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA

Personalised recommendations