The panel was moderated by Domenic Vitiello, whose work on measuring yields in community gardens in Philadelphia, PA, and Camden and Trenton, NJ, inspired Farming Concrete, an open, community-based research project started by gardeners to measure how much food is grown in NYC’s gardens.
Phil and Mara discussed measuring the good things happening in community gardens across the country with fellow panelists Laura Lawson, author of City Bountiful: A Century of Community Gardening in America, and Ben Helphand, executive director of NeighborSpace in Chicago.
The discussion covered a range of topics, including the many reasons we need to be collecting data and stories in our gardens. In Chicago, NeighborSpace is able to make the case for increased resources for community gardens with numbers to describe what’s happening. Lawson gathered stories of community gardening from across the country, contextualizing it in the history of victory gardens and allotment gardens.
Gittleman discussed the need for data in NYC to counter the City’s narrative that appears whenever they bulldoze gardens: that community gardens are not valuable spaces. With the Five Borough Farm Data Collection Toolkit, the Design Trust for Public Space and Farming Concrete are helping community gardeners tell their own stories about the work they do growing food, teaching each other and their neighbors, composting, and lifting the spirits of gardeners and passersby alike.
The panel and the conference as a whole was a great platform for sharing the new Toolkit. Audience members were eager to try the Toolkit in their own cities, citing a need to prove the merits of their work to funders, policymakers, and local politicians. More than a few people shared insights into their own efforts at ongoing data collection and the panel discussed ways to engage volunteers in more rigorous forms of outcomes monitoring.
The four-day conference was hosted at the prestigious Field Museum and featured keynote presentations from Dr. Marianne Krasny at Cornell University and Dr. Roger Hart of the City University of New York. During her opening keynote, Dr. Krasny, a supporter of Five Borough Farm, challenged attendees to think of community gardening as a practice with impacts that spread far beyond the garden gate.
Five Borough Farm and Farming Concrete are working to give gardeners and farmers the tools to measure, monitor, and share stories about those impacts from year to year.
It's not just about data gathering. It's about goal-setting.