Inclusive Conservation: Community Gardens
About the Project
This project is a collaboration between The Land Trust Alliance and Amy K Coplen, a graduate student at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Amy’s interest in urban land conservation and her love for oral history inspired her to collect the stories of community gardeners and leaders of inclusive conservation.
Community gardens are nestled in the backyards, schoolyards, vacant lots, senior citizen centers, and public housing developments of many cities. Just as biological diversity builds a healthier environment, a mixture of backgrounds, ages, and abilities is what makes the gardens thrive. Fruitful greenspaces supplement diets for those of low socioeconomic means. Gardens make fresh fruits and vegetables possible in an otherwise barren food desert, where grocery stores are hard to come by and their food is out of economic reach. Above all, they build community by transferring knowledge across age, race, class, and culture.
These are the stories of people set on cultivating healthy food and healthy communities – work that is difficult to translate into dollar signs, but is more valuable than property tax revenues. These are the stories of folks who contend that lasting human relationships and meaningful connections to healthy food and land cannot be bought. These are the stories of New Haven’s community gardeners.
In outdoor refuges children learn that cucumbers do indeed originate from the soil, elderly find security in the surplus of a neighbor’s plot, and immigrants retain their culture while finding belonging in a new locale. Gardens provide services that the public and private sectors have failed to adequately deliver – services that cannot be distributed from the top down through a hand out, but instead must be cultivated from the ground up with a hand in.
Together, the individual stories of New Haven’s gardeners and the spaces they cultivate build a mosaic of collective will - will to connect, will to grow, and will to overcome. Each story is unique, but all are spoken in the same language: that of food, culture, and belonging. Although community gardens face an onslaught of threats, gardeners and land trust leaders are up to the challenge – both hands in.
Community Gardeners: Videos and Bios
As the president of the Trustees of Reservations, Andy is committed to serving all 6 million residents of Massachusetts. “We’re protecting land for people,” says Andy, recognizing that successful land conservation must engage people from all backgrounds and cultures. Andy estimates that Massachusetts’ community gardens produce $1.5 million in fresh produce while engaging diverse urban populations in meaningful conservation. Watch the video.
Chris oversees the stewardship of six nature preserves and almost sixty community gardens as the Executive Director of the New Haven Land Trust. Connecticut governor Dan Malloy once called Chris “the bravest man in New Haven.” He’s not afraid to fight for the community gardens when budgets are being slashed. He speaks confidently into a microphone at press conferences and yells loudly into his own personal megaphone at greenspace celebrations. Chris feels most comfortable sweating side by side with community members among the squash and collard greens. “I can walk into any neighborhood in New Haven and reach out to or relate to anybody there, because the garden is there,” Chris says. Watch the video.
When Bill rode his bike down Carmel street for the first time he discovered a neglected community garden - an overgrown jungle of unidentifiable plants. Without any prior gardening knowledge, Bill took on the challenge of transforming the Carmel Street garden into the luscious greenspace it is today. The Dunkin’ Donuts and KFC that loom at the end of the block certainly get more traffic than the garden, but they don’t provide vibrant and peaceful outdoor space, nor do they supply free food to neighbors. In the course of one season, Bill went from greenhorn to garden coordinator. Now, just a year later, Bill has graduated to Regional Garden Coordinator and is responsible for supporting eight community gardens in New Haven. Watch the video.
Ida Ruth Wells
Inflated food prices can be hard on those with fixed incomes. But, what does Ida care? She grows her own tomatoes! Ida and her neighbors have filled raised beds provided by the New Haven Land Trust with tomatoes, peppers, collard greens, turnips, and more; they supplement their diet without draining their finances. “The income of a lot of these folk isn’t what it used to be,” Ida explains, “and anything you can take a hand in yourself helps. You’ll have a little more in your pocket.” Watch the video.