Breaking Barriers – How Urban Gardens Impact Crime

SEEDS community garden in downtown Durham, NC.
SEEDS, community garden and educational organization in downtown Durham, NC, which has been around for more than twenty years.

Sustainability, organic foods, and community oriented gardens are a growing trend – not just in New York, but all over America and around the world.  While initially urban farming and sustainability movements at the community level are born from a desire to clean up the impact that food and agriculture have on the environment, there are a number of other beneficial effects of these movements that are starting to have a much wider reaching impact.

As the number of initiatives and foundations in New York grows alongside this movement, there are some important and potentially game changing positive effects on the communities that take on urban farming and community gardens.

Translating the Benefits

Urban and community farms offer a unique chance for members of the community to get to know each other, interact, and work towards a common goal for the good of the wider area.  As mentioned, however, the benefits go much further than simply providing sustainable, locally grown food for residents.

We can look to New York City to see examples of these benefits playing out over a number of years.  While urban farming has become something of a buzz word in recent years, New York in particular has a long history of urban farming that dates back to the 1970s.

Katie Riddle works in the gardens at Raleigh City Farm.
Katie Riddle works in the gardens at Raleigh City Farm.

Some of the benefits that have resulted from these community focused projects are cleaner environments, better health (through better diets), and reduced crime.  These are important, and often fundamental, effects, especially when the fact that the majority of urban farming and community gardens started in run down and poverty stricken areas.

Empowerment is key here – community gardens allow communities that may be facing severe hardships take control of their local environment and diet – perhaps the two most important areas in helping to improve quality of life.  In fact, there have been a number of accounts of how community gardens and urban farming have helped not only keep members of the community away from crime, but also helped recovering addicts get back on their feet.  A community garden can in fact be ideal for helping those suffering from drug abuse take their mind off the addiction, and channel their energy into something positive.

In North Carolina, several farms exist to provide stepping stones back into society for recovering addicts and newly released prisoners. Benevolence Farm is a new nonprofit that will provide stable housing and gainful employment working on a farm to women returning from prison.  Participants will develop skills in sustainable farming, small business practices and food preparation and presentation, while working in a healthy environment.  Whether it’s through an official program like the one at Benevolence Farm, or just by getting involved in the community gardens in one’s own neighborhood, urban farms can be a bridge out of hard times and back into connections with nature and the community.

An additional benefit to urban farming is that members of the community can help look out for each other while participating in the care of such projects.  Tell tale signs of crime or drug addiction for example, are much easier to spot when the community is strong, and can also lead to intervention and support before things get out of hand.

Kids learning about gardening in <a href="" target="_blank">SEEDS'</a> urban farm.
Kids learning about gardening in SEEDS’ urban farm.

Stronger, Healthier Future Communities

There is growing evidence to suggest that community-run urban farming could well be the future.  What is perhaps most noteworthy about the beneficial effects of community run projects such as these, is that they have the potential to combat social problems that, in general, national and local government have problems (or no interest, in some cases, in) solving.

Crime fighting for example, is a huge financial commitment, and often despite more and more money being thrown at the problem, there is little to no progress made.  This is especially true in deprived communities, where people are often forced into a black market economy in order to survive.  Breaking this cycle is extremely difficult, perhaps impossible using current methods.

Community gardens and farms then, offer a new way to tackle the severest of social problems.  Research has found that there are a number of extremely positive outcomes from such schemes.  Although there is some dispute about how effective community projects are at preventing crime, when it comes to hard data, there are a number of related benefits that most certainly help to improve overall prospects, health and quality of life of people in the communities these gardens serve.

It’s certainly likely to follow, then, that even if initial reduction in crime is small, as other aspects of the community improve, crime and drug abuse are likely to follow suit.  Perhaps the greatest strength of urban farming and community gardening are their accessibility.

Anyone can go and by a cheap sack of seeds or plants.  All it takes are time, effort, and the resolve of the community itself to make it work.  These simple steps allow communities that have otherwise been forgotten or ignored to regain pride in their local area, while empowering themselves and others to make positive changes that ultimately benefit us all.

Harvesting the bounty of an urban farm. Via Raleigh City Farm.
Harvesting the bounty of an urban farm. Via Raleigh City Farm.