The Motivations and Needs of Rural, Low-Income Household Food Gardeners
In local food systems research and practice, little attention has been given to the motivations and behaviors of low-income household gardeners as food provisioners. In this paper, we examine the motivations, barriers, and practices of food gardening among low- income rural U.S. residents with the goal of informing policies and programs that might support these food provisioning activities. This work draws from ethnographic inquiry, including surveys, interviews, and garden visits with households in rural, Western Pennsylvania. Over half of those surveyed (n=124) grow some of their own food, with higher rates of gardening among higher-income households. Low-income gardeners are most motivated by three things; (1) a desire to save money, (2) pleasure from the practice of gardening and time spent outside, and (3) a connection to spiritual practice. For the low-income gardeners we interviewed, gardening creates and reinforces social connections and cultural traditions. For many, gardening is also a political act: a way to guard against an uncertain future and resist a centralized food system. The findings from this study suggest that local food systems programs and policies might better support low-income food-provisioning households by acknowledging and respecting the knowledge and skills held by these individuals, recognizing and supporting the social and cultural role of gardening, and providing structural support around the space and time concerns identified by survey respondents as major barriers to gardening.
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