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“Grounded in the Neighborhood, Grounded in Community”: Social Capital and Health in Community Gardens

Food Systems and Health

ISBN: 978-1-78635-092-3, eISBN: 978-1-78635-091-6

Publication date: 29 June 2017



This paper describes how community gardens generate social capital, and with what potential implications for the health of gardeners and their communities.


This analysis draws on data from focus groups with gardeners from four community gardening programs, two each in Boston and Lynn, MA. The participants represent a diverse sample of community gardeners (n=32).


We identify four mechanisms through which community gardening increases social capital, with implications for individual and community health: (1) building social networks; (2) providing opportunities for resource sharing and social support; (3) preserving cultural knowledge and practice in diaspora; and (4) reflecting and reinforcing collective efficacy. We also describe gardeners’ perspectives on gardening itself as a political activity.


While much of the literature on social capital and health in community gardens comes from in-depth studies of single, relatively homogenous gardens, this analysis draws on data from focus group interviews with a diverse group of participants who garden in varied neighborhood settings. In contrast to studies that have suggested that the social capital generated in community gardens does not extend beyond the group of individuals actively involved in gardening, our study identifies multiple community level benefits. Consequently, this paper lends support to recent calls to consider community gardening as strategy for amplifying community assets in support of public health.




We are grateful to TFP – and especially J. Harrison, John Wang, Sutton Kiplinger, and Cindy Davenport – for the invitation to do this research and for all of the support that made it possible. We thank Trinidad Hudson, David Gass, and Viviane Kamba for taking time out of their important work in Lynn to support this project, and Beth He for her assistance with the first round of coding. We thank Lisa Berkman for suggesting that we conduct these groups, and for her clarity about their importance. We appreciate the wonderfully helpful comments on previous drafts of this paper that we received from Brea Perry and two anonymous reviewers. We gratefully acknowledge the essential financial support provided by the Provost Research Fund at Brandeis University.


Shostak, S. and Guscott, N. (2017), "“Grounded in the Neighborhood, Grounded in Community”: Social Capital and Health in Community Gardens", Food Systems and Health (Advances in Medical Sociology, Vol. 18), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 199-222.



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