Community Development: It’s What’s For Dinner

Photo by Melissa Wall via flickr, CC BY-NC

Last week we heard from Alan Mallach and Mindy Thompson Fullilove on different aspects of stable neighborhoods.

Mallach, in his post, looks at some of the principles of what it really means to pursue neighborhood stabilization, while Fullilove ponders how neighborhoods can break out of stable patterns of segregation and violence.
I thought of their words as I listened to an NPR interview with Ron Finley, the “guerilla gardener” who is using gardens to transform his community in South Central Los Angeles.

Fed up with the lack of access to healthy food, Finley sought a solution with his shovel.
“To change a community, you have to change the composition of the soil,” Finley says in his TED talk. “We are the soil.”

NPR called its segment with Finley “How Can You Give a Community Better Health?” but its clear these gardens go beyond promoting health in the traditional sense. They provide an answer to more than just the dilemma of creating equitable food access when it comes to community development. Kari Lydersen, in the Summer 2008 issue of Shelterforce, is right when she says in her article “Making Food Deserts Bloom,” that community gardens aren’t a panacea for low-income communities, but they are important.

Community gardens are crucial gathering places. They provide a sustainable, local source of nutritious food. They promote pride in the community, greening vacant spaces, and can be a tool to teach youth about agriculture, a subject widely ignored in most education agendas.

“Access to healthy food is a critical component of any vibrant community,” say Steve Dubb and David Zuckerman. They argue that, if done right, “new investment in this area can become a building block for a larger transformation, ensuring stabilization instead of gentrification, and guaranteeing that wealth is anchored in the community for local residents.”

Food is for nourishment, yes, but I’ve always believed it has the power to mean more. Meals bring people together, give people a reason to interact with one another, and community gardens serve a similar purpose.

But I wonder, how will community development organizations compete with the likes of Coca-Cola, Nabisco, or Monsanto, in being as pervasive in our lives?

The organic and local food movements can come off as being elitist, important only in the lives of people who have the time and money to make it important. However, if community development organizations gave a high priority to eliminating food deserts, the well-being of low-income communities would grow right along with the vegetables.

Jodi Weinberger served as assistant editor of Shelterforce from 2013 to 2014.


  1. You’re right, I think community gardens are a good option, however, people have to be prepared to deal with the unknown and uncertainties that come with growing your own vegetables. The community building aspect of it is really nice, and the more gardens there are, the better we all are.


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