Twenty-five urban Cooperative Extension and community center educators, five master gardeners, 45 youth, and 20 community gardeners in six northeastern cities (Allentown, Baltimore, Buffalo, New York, Philadelphia, and Rochester) used participatory action research methods to document growing practices, garden history, garden organization, and soil characteristics in urban community gardens. In addition, groups in Baltimore and Buffalo started new community gardens. The descriptions of each city’s projects are currently being entered into the Garden Mosaics web site at http://www.dnr.cornell.edu /ext/youth/gardenmosaics.htm. We also are developing a Garden Mosaics Educators’ Manual, which will be published in the summer of 2001.
Twelve extension educators and ten educators from non-profit organizations from six cities will participate in a three-day workshop. Participants will develop an enhanced understanding of urban agricultural ecosystems and sustainable agricultural principles as applied in urban community gardens. They will also acquire the skills necessary to conduct participatory research with youth in community gardens, including interviewing, mapping, and measuring plant growth.
Under the guidance of the educators who participate in the three-day workshop, 70 youth ages 10 to17 from 4-H clubs and other youth groups will conduct seven local Garden Mosaics projects. In the course of these projects they will develop an understanding of urban agroecosystems and sustainable agricultural principles as applied in urban community gardens, develop the skills necessary to conduct participatory research, and conduct participatory research designed to document sustainable vegetable growing practices of ethnic minorities, recent immigrants, and others.
Through conference presentations, local garden tours, and the project web site and educator’s guide, 5500 educators, scientists, gardeners, and youth will develop an understanding of urban agricultural ecosystems and sustainable agricultural principles as applied in urban community gardens, the economic, social, and environmental importance of community gardens in cities, how to conduct participatory research in community gardens, sustainable agricultural practices in community gardens documented by participants in this project, and how to conduct local Garden Mosaics projects.
We held four workshops for 30 educators. Topics included sustainable agriculture as applied to urban settings, participatory action research, cultivation practices in urban community gardens, and working with urban youth and ethnically diverse audiences. At the second and third workshops, educators gained hands-on experience conducting participatory action research with youth and community gardeners, including diagramming garden organization and mapping garden plots to determine planting practices. Thirty educators, youth, and community gardeners attended the follow-up workshop at which youth from three sites gave presentations about their Garden Mosaics projects, and educators shared program successes and challenges.
Approximately 45 youth participated in Garden Mosaics projects in the six cities during summer 2000. In New York City, youth from community center programs worked in gardens in Harlem and the Bronx, where they started their own garden plots and conducted participatory action research to determine planting practices, garden organization, garden history, and soil characteristics. In Baltimore, youth started a garden at the Rognel Heights Cultural Center, but did not conduct substantive research. In Buffalo, youth started a garden at a community center and interviewed gardeners from Africa and Europe about their cultivation practices. In Rochester, youth worked at existing school gardens and were paired with an elder gardener at the elder’s home garden; the youth interviewed these gardeners and in some cases formed lasting relationships with them. In Allentown, the youth conducted participatory action research with seniors and worked on their own garden plot at Casa Guadalupe Community Center. In Philadelphia, the youth conducted participatory research at the Aspen Farms community garden.
We have conducted Garden Mosaics presentations at conferences of the American Community Gardening Association (Atlanta, Georgia), North American Association for Environmental Education (S. Padre Island, Texas), and Cornell Cooperative Extension (Ithaca, New York), reaching about 100 educators. We plan to reach additional educators through presentations at the Urban Extension and Ecological Society of America conferences in 2001, and through the Garden Mosaics web site and educators’ manual. This manual will be published in June of 2001.
We conducted an extensive evaluation, including at least three visits to each site; interviews with educators, gardeners, and youth; and focus groups with educators. We are currently reviewing written documents, diagrams, and photographs submitted by the educators and youth. Preliminary results indicate that:
Youth 12 and up are capable of conducting participatory action research in cooperation with ethnically diverse community gardeners. However, in order for the youth to obtain quality data, it is necessary to outline specific required activities and reporting guidelines and to have skilled adults facilitating the activities with youth in structured settings like school classrooms or clubs. Additionally, youth need to have experience conducting hands-on gardening as a complement to the research activities.
The youth found examples of sustainable practices such as use of mounds and furrows to conserve water and interplanting to conserve space and nutrients (for example, squash vines growing on corn to maximize use of vertical space and tomatillos and collards to maximize use of horizontal space). In addition, they found crops that we were previously unfamiliar with and that added diversity to the garden, including the herbs papaplo, alachi, and epazote, and the medicinal plant rue, grown by Mexican gardeners in the Bronx, and Japanese chalaloo, a purple, leafy green grown by Bangladeshi gardeners in Harlem. Furthermore, they encountered examples of seed saving, such as Puerto Rican gardeners in Allentown, Pennsylvania conserving cilantro seeds. Interestingly, the youth also saw examples of gardeners discarding traditional practices in favor of what they felt were American practices (e.g., applying “Miracle Grow” and discarding all green manure instead of mulching or composting).
Involving extension and other educators in developing implementation models that fit local needs is an important aspect of professional development. This results in a variety of program models suitable for different settings, and helps both faculty and educators to further their understanding of program delivery.
Impacts and Potential Contributions
We are currently analyzing the evaluation data to determine impacts on youth, educators, gardeners, and Cornell scientists engaged in the project. We expect the following contributions.
Documentation of ethnic planting practices available to the public through the Garden Mosaics web site.
Ongoing collaborations between academic (Cooperative Extension, Baltimore Ecosystem Study) and urban (community centers, community gardens) partners formed as a result of this project.
For youth: Learning about gardening and participatory action research and development of positive relationships with senior gardeners.
For educators: Ability to guide youth in participatory action research in urban settings.
Reported November 2000