Sparrow and Finch Gardening How to change the way community gardens exclude migrants and refugees

How to change the way community gardens exclude migrants and refugees

You may seek solace in gardening, as millions of Australians are once again under lockdown. Gardening can be a meaningful activity for migrants and refugees living in Australia when it is shared with others in a community space.

Community gardens don’t always promote inclusion. My colleagues and I have highlighted in our recently -published research the ways that migrants and refugees are left out of community gardens and what can be done to change this.

Everyone benefits when community gardens are inclusive. Community gardens with diverse cultural backgrounds can develop cross-cultural connections and even the ability to adapt to crisis or change.

Community gardens have many benefits.

In many parts of Australia, the waiting lists for community gardens can be up to eight years long. Advocacy groups continually call for more sites to meet the demand.

Their popularity is growing for good reasons. Their positive impact on mental and physical well-being is often at the top of their list. They promote more activity, more access to nutritious foods, stronger community connections, and more.

Read more: Green for well-being – Science Tells Us How to design urban spaces that heal us

The food grown in community gardens can also help improve food security. During lockdown, these sites have been vital to meet the everyday needs of many suffering from financial hardship.

For refugees and migrants, communal gardens can be therapeutic and safe spaces.

Migrants and refugees who are immersed in supportive community, which share a commitment towards productive gardening can improve their own self-efficacy. Growing foods that are culturally familiar helps migrants and refugees maintain their connection to homelands.

Communal gardens must be safe. Shutterstock

It’s important to remove barriers that exclude these gardeners and improve the opportunities available. In our research, we reviewed studies on community gardens around the world and found that common barriers to participation by refugees and migrants revolved around three main areas:

The physical and material characteristics of gardens

The high cost of membership, the difficulty in traveling to gardens, and the insecure tenure of land are all examples.

A site design that limits the autonomy of gardeners and their ability to grow familiar food is also a major problem. It can also happen when plots are communally cultivated, as opposed to being individually cultivated. This puts pressure on new gardeners who feel they have to grow the same foods that existing gardeners already know.

A lack of land and small plot sizes can also be a barrier to growing culturally important crops such as maize.

  1. Garden management styles

Information sharing and decision-making often do not include inclusive practices, for example, the translation of information.

Community gardens, for example, often rely upon formal management meetings that may not consider different languages, culture and power relationships.

It can be problematic for migrants and refugees to rely on community gardens as a source of food, particularly for those who are newcomers. It can also lead to gardens being used instead of more holistic programs.

Read more: Running out of things to do in isolation? Get back in the garden with these ideas from 4 experts

cultural norm often shapes the way we look after gardens and how they should be. Risk-averse councils often prefer uniform, neatly mulched, raised beds that are free of weeds or overhanging vegetation.

Many migrant and refugee gardeners are used to cultivating directly into the soil and prefer to grow a wide variety of plants together that may not look neat, but can increase biodiversity. They are used to digging directly into the ground and growing a variety of plants in close proximity. This may not be neat, but it can increase diversity. Some may leave more space in between crops to increase yield.

The skills of refugees and migrants, as well as their familiar, productive, and culturally acceptable gardening methods, can be excluded and devalued.

More resources should be allocated to volunteer groups that manage community gardens. Shutterstock

We can make community gardens more inclusive. For this to happen, governments and local councils need to invest more in the resources (including financial and land support) that are needed by the mostly volunteer groups who develop and manage these sites.

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