Exploring the Promotion of Social and Economic Justice through Community Gardens: A Systematic Review of the Physical, Mental, and Social Benefits

Thursday, January 15, 2015
Bissonet, Third Floor (New Orleans Marriott)
* noted as presenting author
Michelle Hand, MSW, LSW, PhD student, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Michelle Kaiser, PhD, Assistant Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH

Community gardens, or publicly available outdoor growing spaces often arranged for community food production (Draper & Freedman, 2010) and other garden-based interventions have been used to address food insecurity.  Key goals involve increasing access to safe, healthy, culturally appropriate, food through a sustainable system which promotes self-efficacy and social justice (Lutz, Swisher & Brennan, 2007).  A systematic review of peer-reviewed and scholarly articles was conducted to examine the impacts of garden-based interventions on food security and health.


A systematic review on the impacts of community, rooftop, backyard, allotment, and school-based gardens on community food security and health was conducted to explore how gardens have been used to promote greater food security, health and wellness, and to identify research and practice recommendations.  In total, 41 eligible articles were collected using the search terms “health,” “gardens,” “wellbeing,” “food security,” and “nutrition” within EBSCO, Sage Research Methods and JSTOR databases.  Scholarly peer-reviewed articles met eligibility criteria if their focus was on the impact(s) of community, rooftop, allotment, backyard, or school-based gardens on personal, institutional or community health. 


Several of the reviewed studies found that community gardens can provide an effective means of increasing community health, food resources, sustainable access to healthy and affordable food, economic development, safety, beautification, social wellness, and empowerment (Blake & Cloutier-Fisher, 2009; Draper & Freedman, 2010; Corrigan, 2011; Holland, 2004).  Community gardens promoted increased physical health through facilitating greater fruit and vegetable consumption (Alaimo, Packnett, Miles & Kruger, 2008; Litt, Soobader, Turbin, Hale, Buchenau & Marshall, 2011; Ober, Alaimo, Elam & Perry, 2008) and increased physical activity (Alaimo et al., 2008; Wakefield, Yeudall, Taron, Reynolds & Skinner, 2007).  Findings suggest that community gardens can be used to improve emotional well-being (Hale, Knapp, Bardwell, Buchenau, &Marshall, 2011; Van Den Berg & Custers, 2011).

Several studies report that gardens can increase social capital and organizational capability, particularly in settings with limited financial resources (Draper & Freedman, 2010; Ferris, Norman & Sempik, 2001; Hale et al., 2011; Litt et al., 2011; Okvat & Zautra, 2011).  Gardens have encouraged recreational activities, increased cognitive and behavioral skills, interpersonal aptitudes, greater locus of control, and nutritional awareness among youth within socioeconomically disadvantaged areas (Ober, et al., 2008).  Community gardens can promote environmental justice and equity (Ferris et al., 2001; Litt et al., 2011).

Garden-based interventions sought to promote social justice through skill development, empowerment, improved mental health, community engagement, and advocacy for equal access to resources.  Findings from this systematic review suggest interdisciplinary collaboration is needed to design, evaluate and implement garden-based interventions to advance community food security and health.


This systematic review provides an overview of available literature on the benefits of garden-based interventions on food security, physical, emotional and social well-being as well as on community safety.  Results demonstrate the need for social work researchers and practitioners to collaborate with community stakeholders and experts from other disciplines to develop, evaluate and implement garden-based interventions to advance the food security, health, wellbeing, and social justice within the communities they serve.