We created adult education internships that provide gardening support and practical teaching to explore how gardens can be used as a forum for people to address social and environmental justice. Participants experienced unemployment, food insecurity, and homelessness.
This research and work in the community demonstrated that it is important to advocate for structural, social, and urban changes to support work with community gardens — and to have realistic expectations of what people can achieve through and within gardens.
Who do benefits reach?
Community gardening in Tio’tia:ke/Montreal can take many forms, including gardening at city-owned gardens and community-based organizations.
The city has long waitlists for garden plots. This is exacerbated because community gardens have historically been easier for property owners to access.
According to Montreal’s mayor, “community gardens are much more than a hobby for many people.” The gardens allow people to feed their families and obtain fresh produce for a very low price.
These statements are a misunderstanding of more complex issues about who controls and has access to community gardens and the deeper social injustices relating to land rights within a capitalist settler colonial society that privileges whiteness, ownership, and hierarchical ways of relating.
Sunflowers at the McGill University Faculty of Education garden. (Mitchell McLarnon), Author supplied (no reuse).
Food insecurity and its relationship
My findings challenge claims that community gardening, as an activity, can reduce the food insecurity of underserved communities.
As part of the project “Gardening for Food Security”, I grew food for organizations who work with people suffering from food insecurity. However, gardening has not helped alleviate food insecurity concerns in any quantitative way.
The food harvests were massive from the end of June until early November 2018 and 2019.
The organization did not reduce their order of food to Montreal’s largest Food Bank, despite the fact that the gardens thrived. It may be that participants were eating from their garden harvest but their dependence on it didn’t reduce their need for food. Gardening for Food Security did modestly support both a weekly meal program and a foodbank.
In Griffintown, Montreal, kale is seen growing in the gardens of Benedict Labre House. This organization serves people who are homeless. (Mitchell McLarnon), Author supplied (no reuse).
Mixed effects on communities and individuals
We increased land values by gardening and investing in gardens in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods for social, educational, and environmental reasons. This process is called green-gentrification.
The project was not without its benefits, however.
Offer relevant paid employment to young adults who are experiencing unemployment, food insecurity or homelessness.
Providing mentorship to underserved students and young adults, and providing them with opportunities to express themselves through art, music and film (gardening, photography, ),
Facilitating partnerships between schools with social justice and environmental justice mandates for mutual benefit.
While developing ethical relationships, collaborating and accomplishing shared objectives, gaining long-term financial, human resource and learning support for educators, community workers, and community members.