Urban Ecosystems

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 763–794 | Cite as

Agroecological and social characteristics of New York city community gardens: contributions to urban food security, ecosystem services, and environmental education

  • Megan M. Gregory
  • Timothy W. Leslie
  • Laurie E. Drinkwater
Article

Abstract

There is growing public interest and participation in food-producing urban community gardens in North America, yet little research has examined agricultural production and ecological processes in these spaces. We describe the agroecological and social characteristics of 61 food-producing gardens in New York City, drawing on gardener interviews, land-use maps, plant species inventories, arthropod scouting, and soil sampling and analysis. Gardens contained agricultural crops, food production infrastructure, ornamental plants, and recreational areas in varying proportions, indicating that gardens serve multiple and distinct purposes depending on community needs and interests. On average, gardeners devoted the greatest proportion of garden area (44 %) to food production, and supplied a large share of their households’ produce needs from their community gardens. Solanaceae, Brassicaceae, and Cucurbitaceae crops dominated food crop areas, hindering effective crop rotation to prevent disease and pest problems. Most gardeners grew crops in raised beds constructed with clean fill and compost. These soils generally had sandy textures, low water-holding capacity, high organic matter levels (with a large proportion from recent inputs) and excessive nutrient levels. Soil water content at field capacity increased exponentially with total soil carbon, suggesting that organic matter enhances water-holding capacity. Insect pest densities greatly exceeded action thresholds in nearly all gardens for aphids and whiteflies on Brassica crops, aphids on Cucurbit crops, and two-spotted spider mites on tomatoes. Predator and parasitoid densities were generally low (less than one per plant on average), perhaps partially due to low floral and woody perennial cover in most gardens (12 % and 9 % on average, respectively). Dominant groups of natural enemies were minute pirate bugs, spiders, and parasitoid wasps. A wide variety of people of differing experience levels, incomes, and ethnicities participate in community gardening in NYC, and most gardens host multiple languages. Promising directions for urban gardening research, education, and practice include: 1) Cover cropping to improve soil quality and nutrient management, and diversify crop rotations; 2) Improving access to soil testing and guidance on appropriate use of soil amendments, 3) Enhancing habitat for arthropod natural enemies that provide biological control of insect pests with floral and woody perennial plantings; and 4) Incorporating ecological knowledge and inquiry-based approaches into gardening workshops, educational materials, and technical support, and offering these resources in multiple languages.

Keywords

Community gardens Ecological knowledge Ecosystem services Food security Gardening education Insect pest management Land-use New York City Soil fertility Soil quality Urban agriculture Urban arthropods 

Supplementary material

11252_2015_505_MOESM1_ESM.docx (359 kb)
ESM 1(DOCX 358 kb)

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HorticultureCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyLong Island UniversityBrooklynUSA
  3. 3.Forsyth County Cooperative ExtensionWinston-SalemUSA

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