Neighbors Growing Together: Building Community Through Neighborhood-Supported Gardening

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Pillar, Sharon
Master of Arts in Earth Literacy
In the summer of 2002, letters were given to 169 households in a suburban Pittsburgh neighborhood inviting them to participate in a gardening project named “Neighbors Growing Together” (NGT). The goal of the program was to create a community atmosphere centered on producing food in an environmentally responsible manner. This suburban neighborhood’s poor design is not contusive to pedestrian movement that typically forces interaction among residents of a place; rather it is designed for the automobile and actually inhibits neighbor interaction. The goal of this project was to create a vehicle for neighbors to interact and then to connect that interaction to the land where they live. Eight residents agreed to participate, although one neighbor dropped out before gardening started because she thought she was going to move. Each gardener agreed to grow one or two vegetables and then share the harvest with the other participants during a weekly gathering. In addition, each gardener also agreed to grow produce without the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or insecticides. Of the seven gardeners, four had established gardens and three had to create new garden plots. Some of the vegetables (tomatoes, Swiss chard, green peppers, banana peppers, and lettuce) yielded large amounts while others (radishes, green beans, zucchini, onions, peas, yellow squash) did not fare as well. The participants all said that they joined the program in order to meet people, and they enjoyed this part of the program. They also joined hoping to get fresh produce and some had hoped that they would learn more about gardening. Many gardeners felt that gardening was peaceful and got them outdoors where they could observe the natural world by listening to sounds, watching the changes in the garden, or enjoying the wonder of outside in some way or another. Although the intent of the design of the program was to be loosely organized so as the group could define the parameters, most participants desired more structure in the program. Many also indicated a desire to have started earlier in the year. A couple of the gardeners mentioned that meeting weekly was too frequent due to their schedules, but for others this was not a problem. One person was disappointed that at the end of the summer not as many people consistently showed up to share the harvest. Overall, participants felt the NGT concept was a good method of meeting other neighbors, and most expressed that they would have enjoyed if more neighbors would have participated.