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UCCE documents economic benefit of community gardens

The Issue

There are more than a million community gardeners in the United States and the numbers continue to increase. As government policymakers determine how to allocate precious tax resources, there is one big question we must be able to answer: “ Do community gardens actually improve access to fresh produce in low-income communities?” A reliable method for documenting vegetable output and associated cost savings from community gardens can give decision makers valuable data as they determine whether to support the increase in number and/or size of community gardens.

What Has ANR Done?

In partnership with the Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department of the City of San Jose, California, UC Cooperative Extension developed an easily reproduced method for weighing the vegetable output of community gardens. Ten community gardeners in San Jose used portable electronic scales to weigh vegetable output from their garden plots over a four-month, Spring-Summer growing season. Results indicate that community garden practices are similar to those of biointensive, high-production farming, a sustainable, small-scale farming system that focuses on soil quality without using nonrenewable resources. The plots produced 0.75 lb. of vegetables per square foot, more than conventional agricultural practices, which produce 0.6 lb./sq. ft. The gardens also produced an average of 2.55 lb. of vegetables per plant. Based on retail prices for produce, each plot produced $435 worth of food for the season.

The research results showed that cost savings are greatest if vertical, high-value crops such as tomatoes and peppers are grown in community gardens, although actual individual plot yields vary, depending on growing conditions, the gardener’s skill level, the availability of water and other factors.

The Payoff

UCCE develops easy, reliable method for community gardeners to weigh crop yields

Documenting the harvests of urban community gardens helps to define their role in the local food economy, particularly if crop yields are monetized, since most of the production and consumption takes place in an informal economy where dollar values are not otherwise tracked. The method of weighing pounds per crop per area in this study provides data on which crops provide the greatest cost savings to the community.

The easy, reliable method for weighing crop yields developed by UCCE in this study empowers the gardeners themselves to track the output and cost savings of community gardens.


Supporting Unit: Santa Clara County

Susan Algert, salgert@ucanr.edu