Skip to main content

Edible backyards: a qualitative study of household food growing and its contributions to food security

Abstract

Food security is a fundamental element of community health. Informal house-lot food growing, by providing convenient access to diverse varieties of affordable and nutritious produce, can provide an important support for community food security. In this exploratory assessment of the contribution home food gardening makes to community food security, in-depth interviews were conducted with gardeners in two contrasting neighborhoods in Toronto, Canada. A typology of food gardeners was developed, and this qualitative understanding of residential food production was then assessed from a community food security perspective. It was found that growing food contributes to food security at all income levels by encouraging a more nutritious diet. The sustainability of household food sourcing and gardeners’ overall health and well-being also increased with food production. Secure access to suitable land to grow food and gardening skills were the most significant barriers found to residential food production.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    While animal husbandry could plausibly occur as part of home food production, there are numerous restrictions on the production of food from animals in many North American cities, and as a result animal farming in the city is rare and often illicit.

  2. 2.

    Pseudonyms are used to refer to the gardeners interviewed.

References

  1. Akbari, H., M. Pomerantz, and H. Taha. 2001. Cool surfaces and shade trees to reduce energy use and improve air quality in urban areas. Solar Energy 70(3): 295–310.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Anderson, M.D., and J.T. Cook. 1999. Community food security: Practice in need of theory? Agriculture and Human Values 16: 141–150.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Baker, L.E. 2002. Seeds of our city: Case studies from eight diverse gardens in Toronto. Toronto: FoodShare.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Baker, L., J. Huh, and A.M. Brose. 2003. Rich harvest. Alternatives 29(1): 21.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Ban, N., and O.T. Coomes. 2004. Home gardens in Amazonian Peru: Diversity and exchange of planting material. Geographical Review 94(3): 348–367.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bhatti, M. 2006. “When I’m in the garden I can create my own paradise”: Homes and gardens in later life. The Sociological Review 54(2): 318–341.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Blair, D., C.C. Giesecke, and S. Sherman. 1991. A dietary, social, and economic evaluation of the Philadelphia urban gardening project. Journal of Nutrition Education 23(4): 161–167.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Bunce, M., and J. Maurer. 2005. Prospects for agriculture in the Toronto region: The farmer perspective. Toronto: Neptis Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Christie, M.E. 2004. Kitchenspace, fiestas, and cultural reproduction in Mexican house-lot gardens. Geographical Review 94(3): 368–390.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. City Farmer. 2002. City dwellers are growing food in surprising numbers! http://www.cityfarmer.org/40percent.html. Accessed 8 October 2008.

  11. City of Toronto. 2008. Toronto neighborhood profiles. http://www.toronto.ca/demographics/neighbourhoods.htm. Accessed 23 November 2008.

  12. Companioni, N., Y.O. Hernandez, E. Paez, and C. Murphy. 2002. The growth of urban agriculture. In Sustainable agriculture and resistance: Transforming food production in Cuba, ed. F. Funes, L. Garcia, M. Bourque, N. Perez, and P. Rosset, 220–236. Oakland: Food First Books.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Corbin, J., and A. Strauss. 1990. Grounded theory research: Procedures, canons, and evaluative criteria. Qualitative Sociology 13(1): 3–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Curtis, S. 2004. Health and inequality: Geographical perspectives. London: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Dawson, J., J. Sheeshka, D.C. Cole, D. Kraft, and A. Waugh. 2008. Fishers weigh in: Benefits and risks of eating Great Lakes fish from the consumer’s perspective. Agriculture and Human Values 25: 349–364.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. DeLind, L.B., and P.H. Howard. 2008. Safe at any scale? Food scares, food regulation, and scaled alternatives. Agriculture and Human Values 25: 301–317.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Dubois, L. 2006. Food, nutrition, and population health: From scarcity to social inequalities. In Healthier societies: From analysis to action, ed. J. Heymann, C. Hertzman, M.L. Barer, and R.G. Evans, 135–172. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  18. Eisenhardt, K.M. 2002. Building theories from case study research. In The qualitative researcher’s companion, ed. A.M. Huberman, and M.B. Miles, 5–35. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  19. FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization). 2008. World food day. http://www.fao.org/getinvolved/worldfoodday/en/. Accessed 13 October 2008.

  20. Forkes, J. 2007. Nitrogen balance for the urban food metabolism of Toronto, Canada. Resources, Conservation and Recycling 52: 74–94.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Gaynor, A. 2006. Harvest of the suburbs: An environmental history of growing food in Australian Cities. Crawley: University of Western Australia Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Hamm, M.W., and A.C. Bellows. 2003. Community food security and nutrition educators. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour 35(1): 37–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Head, L., P. Muir, and E. Hampel. 2004. Australian backyard gardens and the journey of migration. Geographical Review 94(3): 326–347.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Health Canada. 2007. Canadian community health survey cycle 2.2, nutrition (2004): Income-related household food security in Canada. Ottawa: Health Canada.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Hunt, J.D., and J. Wolschke-Bulmahn. 1993. The vernacular garden. Washington: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Kimber, C.L. 2004. Gardens and dwelling: People in vernacular gardens. The Geographical Review 94(3): 263–283.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Klindienst, P. 2006. The earth knows my name: Food, culture, and sustainability in the gardens of ethnic Americans. Boston: Beacon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Levkoe, C.Z. 2006. Learning democracy through food justice movements. Agriculture and Human Values 23: 89–98.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Mariola, M.J. 2008. The local industrial complex? Questioning the link between local foods and energy use. Agriculture and Human Values 25: 193–196.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Miles, M.B., and A.M. Huberman. 1994. Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook, 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Milligan, C., A. Gatrell, and A. Bingley. 2004. “Cultivating health”: Therapeutic landscapes and older people in northern England. Social Science and Medicine 58: 1781–1793.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Morison, J.I.L., N.R. Baker, P.M. Mullineaux, and W.J. Davies. 2008. Improving water use in crop production. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 363: 639–658.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Morland, K., S. Wing, and A. Roux. 2002. The contextual effect of the local food environment on residents’ diets. American Journal of Public Health 92(11): 1761–1767.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Morton, L.W., E.A. Bitto, M.J. Oakland, and M. Sand. 2008. Accessing food resources: Rural and urban patterns of giving and getting food. Agriculture and Human Values 25: 107–119.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Mougeot, L.J.A. 2005. Agropolis: The social, political, and environmental dimensions of urban agriculture. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Petts, J. 2005. The economics of urban and peri-urban agriculture. In Continuous productive urban landscapes: Designing urban agriculture for sustainable cities, ed. A. Viljoen, K. Bohn, and J. Howe, 65–77. Oxford: Architectural Press.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Pollan, M. 1991. Second nature: A gardener’s education. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Pothukuchi, K., and J.L. Kaufman. 1999. Placing the food system on the urban agenda: The role of municipal institutions in food systems planning. Agriculture and Human Values 16: 213–224.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. RRFSS (Rapid Risk Factor Surveillance System). 2007. RRFSS Query System. http://www.rrfss.on.ca/query/index.php. Accessed 29 November 2008.

  40. Schellenberg, G. 2004. Immigrants in Canada’s census metropolitan areas. Catalogue no. 89-613-MIE-No. 003. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Statistics Canada. 2007a. CANSIM Table 105-0501: Canadian community health survey indicator profile. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Statistics Canada. 2007b. Households and the environment 2006, Catalogue no. 11-526-XIE. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Statistics Canada. 2008. Census tract profiles, 2006 census. Catalogue no. 92-597-XWE. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Taylor, S.J., and R. Bogdan. 1998. Introduction to qualitative research methods: A guidebook and resource, 3rd ed. New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Thomasson, D.A. 1994. Montserrat kitchen gardens: Social functions and development potential. Caribbean Geography 5(1): 20–31.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Trinh, L.N., J.W. Watson, N.N. Huec, N.N. Ded, N.V. Minh, P. Chuf, B.R. Sthapit, and P.B. Eyzaguirre. 2003. Agrobiodiversity conservation and development in Vietnamese home gardens. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 97: 317–344.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Wakefield, S., F. Yeudall, C. Taron, J. Reynolds, and A. Skinner. 2007. Growing urban health: Community gardening in South-East Toronto. Health Promotion International 22(2): 92–101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Warner Jr., S.B. 1987. To dwell is to garden: A history of Boston’s community gardens. Boston: Northeastern University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Watts, M., and D. Goodman. 1997. Metabolism: Nature, culture, and industry in fin-de-siècle agro-food systems. In Globalizing food: Agrarian questions and global restructuring, ed. D. Goodman, and M. Watts, 1–32. London: Routeledge.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Westmacott, R. 1992. African-American gardens and yards in the rural South. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

    Google Scholar 

  51. White, R. 2002. Building the ecological city. Cambridge: Woodhead Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  52. WHO (World Health Organization). 2009. Food security. http://www.who.int/trade/glossary/story028/en/. Accessed 21 June 2009.

  53. Wilson, A. 1992. The culture of nature: North American landscape from Disney to the Exxon Valdez. Cambridge: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Winklerprins, A. 2002. House-lot gardens in Santarém, Pará, Brazil: Linking rural with urban. Urban Ecosystems 6: 43–65.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Xuereb, M. 2005. Food miles: Environmental implications of food imports to waterloo region. Waterloo: Region of Waterloo Public Health.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We thank the participants in this study for sharing their experiences and opening their gardens to us. Our thanks also go to the Centre for Urban Health Initiatives for its generous financial support, and to Saron Ghebressellassie, the project research assistant, for her hard work and good company.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Robin Kortright.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Kortright, R., Wakefield, S. Edible backyards: a qualitative study of household food growing and its contributions to food security. Agric Hum Values 28, 39–53 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-009-9254-1

Download citation

Keywords

  • Home gardening
  • Household food production
  • Urban agriculture
  • Community food security