Public Health Community Gardens
Heather Kitzman-Ulrich, Jane Momoh, Ashley Martin, Mark DeHaven
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 May 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 May 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0102


Community gardens have the potential to provide access to healthy and affordable foods, particularly in food desert areas, where access to fruits and vegetables is limited. Current research provides preliminary support for the positive impact of community gardens on individual and community health factors. School-based gardens have been tested in more rigorous scientific studies and have found a positive effect on knowledge of, preference for, and intake of fruits and vegetables, along with academic variables. Studies conducted in the community with adults are less scientifically rigorous, and the majority of studies to date are qualitative in nature or case reports. The scientific studies to date have low sample sizes, lack control conditions, and have limited measures of dietary variables. More studies are needed that include control conditions, adequate sample sizes, and evaluate relevant constructs such as diet, physical activity, weight, mental health, self-efficacy, motivation, social support, and community-related constructs (aesthetics, crime prevention, social capital) over time.

General Overviews

Understanding how access to healthy and affordable foods affects health is an important public health topic due to the associations among an unhealthy diet, obesity, and chronic disease. A balanced healthy diet that includes recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables protects against cardiovascular disease (Bhupathiraju and Tucker 2011) and is recommended for weight and chronic disease management (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute 2005). Larson, et al. 2009 indicates that access to healthy and affordable foods is associated with healthier food intakes and lower rates of obesity. According to the report US Department of Agriculture 2009, nearly 2.3 million households are more than a mile away from a grocery store and do not have reliable transportation; therefore, their access to healthy foods is limited. Communities that lack access to healthy food options, such as grocery stores, are termed “food deserts” and tend to have a higher proportion of ethnic minority and low-income individuals, according to Larson, et al. 2009. Families who reside in food deserts have reduced access to healthy and affordable foods, a greater reliance on unhealthy food alternatives available in convenience stores, and a higher likelihood of being overweight. Mensah, et al. 2005 (cited under Research) reports that individuals in these communities also tend to experience higher rates of chronic disease and complications related to chronic health conditions. In order to address immediate food access issues, community approaches to improve access to healthy foods such as community gardens have seen a recent resurgence, according to McCormack, et al. 2010. Draper and Freedman 2010 indicates that these types of programs have positive benefits on knowledge of fruits and vegetables, intention to buy more fruits and vegetables, consumption of fruits and vegetables, and other physical and mental health benefits. Additionally, community gardens provide an opportunity for social connection, neighborhood revitalization, improvement of social capital, and crime deterrence, which is of particular relevance for lower-income areas. Although community gardens have gained recent popularity, there is little scientific research evaluating their impact on diet, physical activity, obesity and overall health, and community variables such as social capital and connectedness. Due to the potential health benefits of community gardens, additional research is needed to determine the most effective strategies for implementing and sustaining community gardens, integrating community gardens with other food security programs, and to assess possible long-term health and community benefits of community gardens, particularly in food desert communities.

  • Bhupathiraju, Shilpa, and Katherine Tucker. 2011. Coronary heart disease prevention: Nutrients, foods, and dietary patterns. Clinica Chimica Acta 412.17–18: 149–514.

    This journal article provides a description of the link between fruit and vegetable intake and cardiovascular disease. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Draper, Carrie, and Darcy Freedman. 2010. Review and analysis of the benefits, purposes, and motivations associated with community gardening in the United States. Journal of Community Practice 18.4: 458–492.

    DOI: 10.1080/10705422.2010.519682

    This review provides a detailed overview and summary of quantitative, qualitative, and case reviews specific to community gardens.

  • Larson, Nicole, Mary Story, and Melissa Nelson. 2009. Neighborhood environments: Disparities in access to healthy foods in the U.S. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 36.1: 74.e10–81.e10.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2008.09.025

    This review article provides a review of the disparities that exist in relation to access to healthy foods, and how this influences food intake and obesity.

  • McCormack, Lacey, Melissa Laska, Nicole Larson, and Mary Story. 2010. Review of the nutritional implications of farmers’ markets and community gardens: A call for evaluation and research efforts. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 110.3: 399–408.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.11.023

    This review provides detailed information on scientific studies conducted in the United States related to community gardens and farmers’ markets. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. 2005. Aim for a healthy weight. NIH 05-5213. Bethesda, MD: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

    This guide for practitioners and health promotion professionals provides detailed information on how diet and physical activity are related to weight management.

  • US Department of Agriculture. 2009. Access to affordable and nutritious food: Measuring and understanding food deserts and their consequences: Report to Congress. Administrative publication no. AP-036. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.

    This review by the USDA provides a detailed summary of food deserts and access to healthy foods in specific populations.

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