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V. Urban Gardens: A Community Solution to the Urban Food Crisis?

A. History of Urban Gardening in the United States

Despite a history of urban agriculture as a viable method of feeding communities, the United States has generally regarded urban gardening as a recreational activity, a way to build community, or a way to green the cities. Working class American urbanites, however, have long used urban gardening as “a source of food security in lean times.” Garden programs serving schools, prisons, and “at-risk” youth have existed for many years, and public health experts acknowledge the role of gardening to promote nutrition, socialization, and healthy development. In the 1890s and 1930s, urban gardening was used to address unemployment, and during World Wars I and II, “victory” gardens were used to protect against food shortages.

In the late 1960s urban agriculture began spreading in the wake of urban riots over segregation and police brutality. After the riots, thousands of empty lots lay unoccupied where buildings had previously stood. Many of the destroyed buildings had been food stores, and when there was no financial support to bring the stores back, communities began planting gardens in these abandoned lots. Most African-Americans in the cities had migrated from the South, so they used their knowledge of agriculture to grow urban vegetables. Now, fifty years later, thirty cities have urban-farming projects, and there are 10,000 community gardens in the United States. New York City alone has an impressive 600 city gardens, involving over 20,000 residents.