Exploring the Impact of Urban Gardens on Food Insecurity and Health of Low Income Californians: A Community Research Partnership

Investigator: Sheri Weiser, MD
Sponsor: University of Southern California

Location(s): United States


Food insecurity affects almost 4 million low income families in California, especially Spanish-speaking households, and contributes to poor health outcomes in both adults and children. Urban agriculture is a promising strategy used to sustainably address food insecurity and malnutrition among low-income urban and semi-urban communities in California by increasing access to fresh, nutritious food and providing financial savings or income. However, little is known about how urban agricultural approaches directly affect the food security, diet quality, nutritional knowledge, and health of individuals and families participating in urban garden activities. In response, University of California researchers and Valley Verde, a non-profit organization providing home gardens to low-income, primarily immigrant and Spanish-speaking residents of Santa Clara County, recently established a partnership to develop a body of evidence on the impacts of urban home gardens. The goal is for this knowledge base to inform food security policy, as well as programmatic approaches to urban agriculture in similar communities in California. This partnership is grounded in principles of community-based participatory research, an approach intended to enhance community involvement in research and foster community strengths and problem-solving abilities with the goal of taking action. Our proposed formative research has the following specific aims, conceived of jointly by the researchers and Valley Verde leadership: 1) To explore the reasons and context behind participation in urban agriculture by low-income community members. 2) To explore potential impacts of urban home gardening on nutrition, health and well-being and 3) To identify the barriers and facilitators to participating in urban home gardening. To achieve these aims, we will conduct key informant interviews with Valley Verde participants (n=25) and personnel (n=10). Interviews will be conducted by University of California and Valley Verde interviewers in English or Spanish, audio-recorded, and transcribed in the original language. In addition, we will conduct direct observation of the most important local retail outlets selling fruits and vegetables that were identified in the individual interviews, in order to understand how urban gardens fit within the local food context. With this data, we will be well positioned to conduct a larger, collaborative study on the impact of urban gardens on nutrition, health and other outcomes identified as most salient to the community, and to develop additional interventions to enhance these outcomes and overcome barriers to participation.