Community gardens, or public growing spaces often arranged for communal food production, have been shown to increase social capital (Draper & Freedman, 2010), or connectivity among individuals or groups and the norms of trust and reciprocity resulting from such connections (Firth, Maye & Pearson, 2011). However few empirical studies have explored this subject. Thus, a systematic review of scholarly articles was conducted to explore the ways community gardens have been used to promote social capital among various community groups and to identify implications for social work researchers and practitioners as they strive to foster change at the community level.
A systematic review of peer-reviewed scholarly literature was conducted using the search words “community,” “garden,” “food,” “social capital” and “network” to locate articles within EBSCO, Sage Premier, HighWire Press, Academic Search Complete, Ovid, OhioLink, Wiley-Blackwell and Taylor and Francis Online databases. Articles were deemed eligible for this review if their focus included the exploration of the impacts of community, rooftop, backyard, allotment, or school-based gardens on social capital. A total of sixteen scholarly articles met this criteria and were included in the systematic review.
Key findings demonstrate that community gardens have been shown to result from social capital as well as to facilitate it among diverse groups who would not otherwise form relationships (Draper & Freedman, 2010). Further, available research suggests that social gains such as trust and reciprocity formed through community gardening can benefit individuals beyond garden settings (Teig et al., 2009). For instance, while individual families often produce food that is familiar within diverse urban areas, information regarding vegetables grown and consumed by other cultures is exchanged through community garden participation, which can result in shared recipes, foods and meals as well as increased social networks across numerous distinct groups (Hancock, 2001).
Further, household participation in community garden and beautification initiatives have been closely linked with perceptions of social capital (Draper & Freedman, 2010). Additionally, greater attendance for these meetings has been linked with more positive perceptions of social capital even among those who do not participate in community garden related efforts. Finally, as Draper and Freedman (2010) suggest, community gardens can be used to further the mission of social work in its efforts to address the needs of all individuals, with an emphasis on those who are vulnerable and oppressed, as social capital produced through community garden participation has been shown to result in individual and community change. For example, relationships cultivated within these public spaces have led to much needed policy development (Draper & Freedman, 2010), thus promoting social justice within the community as a whole.
This systematic review provides an overview of available literature on the use of garden-based interventions to promote social capital and in turn, social and economic justice. Results demonstrate the need for social work researchers and practitioners to collaborate with community stakeholders and experts from outside disciplines to develop, evaluate and implement garden-based interventions to foster increased social capital within the communities they serve.