On two hot days in mid-July 2013, two dozen youth went out into the streets of the Dudley neighborhood in Roxbury to survey “backyard” gardens and interview gardeners. The youth, from Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) and The Food Project, were working with the support of the Practical Visionaries Workshop (PVW) to document how much food was being grown by local residents. What we found was beyond our expectations.
In a 1.5 square mile area, we identified 65 homes with raised bed, in-ground, and potted gardens. We conservatively estimate the total area under production to be about 1/5 of an acre, growing over 50 types of vegetables and fruit, and yielding over two tons of produce (4400 pounds). While some of the gardens were built in recent years with the support of the Food Project’s Build-A-Garden program, the average reported age of gardens was almost 11 years, with one being 42 years old. Almost ¾ of the gardeners surveyed said they saved money because of the garden.
This survey was part of PVW’s Cultivate Your Food Economy project, which started in Spring 2013 to catalyze community action for food systems change. The garden survey project was kicked off by a workshop on community research and mapping, attended by 30 youth and facilitated by two Tufts UEP graduate students. Youth went through an exercise to map an urban adventure using Google Fusion. Then on July 17 and 19, youth teams conducted walking surveys of the DSNI core triangle area, completing visual surveys of 65 gardens and conducting 39 interviews with gardeners. The groups started with addresses of approximately 40 gardens built by the Food Project’s Build-a-Garden program but also recorded surveys for all other gardens they came across.
- Types of gardens on the 65 properties surveyed: 38 raised beds, 54 in-ground, and 26 potted.
- Total estimated area of gardens is 8253 to 9383 square feet (or .19 to .22 acres). Based on an assumption of .5 pounds of produce per square foot of garden, these gardens produced an estimated 4127 to 4692 pounds of vegetables and fruit.
- Types of produce: visual surveys identified 33 types of vegetables and fruits being grown, while the gardeners reported growing 50 types. The most commonly identified were tomatoes, beans (of several varieties), collard greens, corn, squash and pumpkins, lettuce and greens, herbs, and peppers.
- Gardeners reported that their gardens ranged in age from less than a year to 42 years, with an average of 10.9 years (and median of 5 years) for those who responded. Eleven gardens are 20 years or older, while 17 are 5 years old or less.
- Gender: 21 (60%) female, 13 (37%) male, 1 transgender
- Average household size = 4.5; Average number of children under 18 in household = 1.1; Gardeners reported an average of 5.4 people eat regularly from the garden (includes those who are not in the household).
- 24 of 31 (73%) said they save money on food as result of having garden. 7 said they did not save money, and 2 were unsure.
- 18 said they wanted to learn more about gardening resources, farmers markets, or other food programs and events in the future, while 4 said no. 15 gave their contact information.
- Gardeners reasons for gardening varied. 25 indicated at least one or more of the reasons listed:
|Because I like growing plants||17|
|Because I like growing plants||12|
|Because gardening is relaxing||10|
|Reduce food costs||10|
|Spend more time outdoors||8|
|Build relationships with neighbors||4|
 Thanks to the Tufts Community Research Center for a seed grant that helped support this project.
 See Rabin, Jack, Gladis Zinati, and Peter Nitzsche. September 2012. “Yield Expectations for Mixed Stand, Small-Scale Agriculture” Sustaining Farming on the Urban Fringe. Vol 7, Issue 1. Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.