Community Gardens Major Report

Hi all,

The major report for the study ‘‘Culture, community and sustainable food practices: a study of community gardens in Blacktown LGA’ is now available online!

The report can be viewed by clicking on the following link: 

Happy reading!

Liv, Amy and Kristine.



A place to call home

After completing the fieldwork at all the garden sites, Kris shares some findings from the final community garden studied:


Social connectedness

  • One of the main reasons garden members volunteer at the garden is for social connectedness. Many are avid gardeners at home but enjoy community gardening for the opportunity to socialise and build friendships. This is particularly important because most of them are older-aged and retired from work.
  • Aside from facilitating emotional well-being, social connectedness also has more pragmatic dimensions at the garden. For example, one of the younger volunteers tends to the garden once a month to enhance the community engagement of her CV and another volunteer has joined the garden to connect with local council for future job opportunities.
  • Combining both dimensions of social connectedness, another male volunteer experiences community gardening as a way to make friends but through socialising has also improved his English skills.
  • Lastly, social connectedness facilitated at the garden is also experienced by a group of intellectually disabled adults who signed up to attend the gardens every fortnight. The group’s organiser described gardening as a way to help her clients “get out and be in the community with other people”. The group help out at the gardens through tasks like sweeping around the garden beds and assisting with the composting.

Skills, knowledge and learning

  • The community garden was a place of exchange of gardening skills and knowledge between participants. They gained skills about weeding and composting and knowledge about how to care for different plants and crops.
  • At times, this involves formal learning achieved by attending gardening workshops. All of the garden supervisors have taken formal workshops and guide others with this knowledge to maintain the garden.
  • Formal terms and knowledge related to practices of ‘environmental sustainability’ were not often used and exchanged during conversations and discussions at the garden. Instead, garden members often indirectly spoke about practices that are associated with popularised discourses about sustainability such as those related to ‘organic’ practices and lifestyles. This suggests that in conversation and in practice, knowledge and skills related to ‘sustainability’ is learned, talked about and applied in unannounced ways at the gardens.

Intercultural exchange

  • The garden members are a culturally diverse group and intercultural exchange occurs in varying ways through gardening. A main example is the knowledge gained about vegetables and plants grown in different regions around the world and the different uses across cultures. Plants and crops from the garden are also used at home for different cultural cuisines and practices of cooking and eating.
  • In the midst of positive intercultural exchange, however, are also some instances of misunderstanding and conflict. Such moments of conflict point to the complexity of intercultural relations in the garden. The notion of ‘conviviality’ – in the sense of ‘to live together’ – encapsulates these positive and negative encounters, wherein, living together does not always mean ‘happy togetherness’ but learning to live with (and in) both harmony and discord.

Constructing and negotiating ‘community’

  • The notion of ‘community’ is constructed, understood, experienced and negotiated in complex ways at the garden.
  • Through practices of sharing seeds, gardening equipment and food, gardeners construct a communal space. In particular, many bring in seeds from home to add to the garden and also old or spare equipment which the garden might need such as old pots and shovels, fly screens for covering garden beds, and the like. These are shared not just with the garden but across the gardeners for their own homes.
  • The temptation of boundaries that separate can also emerge in the process of constructing ‘community’. There was regular talk about improving the garden fence to keep out ‘trespassers’ as the garden has fallen victim several times to people jumping the fence to take produce or equipment when the garden is unattended at night.
  • The garden is a place that consolidates a feeling of ‘home’ in Blacktown for some of the garden members. Many of them recalled their reasons for moving to Blacktown and they are predominated by stories of fulfilling dreams of home ownership. This is particularly so for long settled migrants and continue to be the case for those recently arrived through new visa schemes.

Place, space and race

Interviews and observations have been completed at all the research sites for this project. After spending two months at the final garden site, Amy shares some themes that have emerged from the interviews with garden members:


  • Purposes of the garden:
    • The community garden had several purposes, including promoting social connectedness, food growing and sharing, health and wellbeing and building skills and knowledge.
    • Gardeners strongly expressed that the garden was an important space for participants to socially connect and build relationships with one another.
    • There were also several other reasons for coming to the garden each week, including learning how to grow food and getting outdoors.
    • For many gardeners, it was important that the garden was a team effort and that everyone worked together to keep the garden running smoothly.
    • As gardeners got involved with the garden, it was noted that the social experience of gardening turned into skills and knowledge, often with help of Council. Gardeners often shared these skills and knowledge amongst themselves or with people in their other social circles.
  • Connection to history and place:
    • Many gardeners expressed a love for gardening that dated back to influences in their childhood or previous professions. For others, it provided an opportunity to learn gardening skills they had not acquired while growing up.
    • For one gardener. The community garden was a strong reminder of their family history and the need to continue leaving a mark.
    • Many gardeners stated that they had a garden at home and rarely took produce from the community garden as they already had an adequate supply at home.
  • Encountering and negotiating cultural diversity:
    • The gardeners had a range of cultural backgrounds, including Anglo/Celtic and Aboriginal Australian, Fijian Indian, Maltese, Filipino and Chinese.
    • The attitudes to this cultural diversity was largely positive, revealing everyday practices of conviviality. Examples of everyday conviviality occurred when gardeners grew food from their homeland or shared cultural recipes and food.
    • Interviews also showed that the garden was a space where cultural diversity was negotiated, with some gardeners more open to trying new foods than others.
    • Despite the goodwill and openness of the gardeners that were interviewed, some gardeners expressed difficulty connecting with some gardeners due to cultural and language barriers.
  • Environmental sustainability and future of the garden:
    • The garden has a well-established sustainability ethos, with the garden adhering to chemical free, organic processes including composting, worm farming and water retention systems.
    • When asked about what sustainability meant to them, interviewees saw sustainability as something closely connected to agriculture and living off the land.
    • Many interviewees expressed a willingness to keep being involved in order for the garden to continue in the long term. They also believed that attracting a few more gardeners or another group on a different day would further enhance activities at the garden.



A garden that grows community

We recently completed fieldwork at another of our community garden sites, located in a suburb in Blacktown that has historically been home to many lower-income households, including a significant portion of community housing. Through our interviews and observations, we found the community garden to be working well with other organisations and businesses in the area to grow connections between community members with diverse backgrounds. The findings from this garden site can be divided into the following themes:

  • Purposes of the garden
  • The community driven approach
  • Encountering and negotiating cultural diversity
  • Growing and caring
  • Environmental sustainability
  • The future of the garden


Theme 1: Purposes of the garden

  • A place where people can build relationships and strengthen community, rather than simply growing food.
  • A place where skills and knowledge can be shared amongst members.
  • Learning through doing, educating the wider community, educating local kids.
  • Seedlings are available for sale, and excess produce is sometimes given to neighbouring organisations.
  • Food security and sustainable food production promoted through the educational role of the garden.

Theme 2: The community driven approach

  • An organisational approach that is bottom-up and community driven, fostering a greater sense of ownership amongst gardeners.
  • A strong focus on networking with the local community.
  • Members are active on social media platforms and the garden gets prominent coverage in the local newspaper and Council website.
  • Connection with the community made through local events such as annual market stalls and membership dinners.
  • The garden’s culture is expressed through several art and craft projects and has also become a driver for other community renewal and pride projects, such as applying for a litter grant to clean up the neighbouring park.
  • These findings suggest that garden spaces driven from the community can facilitate greater democracy and more active participation in community issues.

Theme 3: Encountering and negotiating cultural diversity

  • Range of cultural backgrounds represented, including (but not limited to) Anglo/Celtic Australian, Indian, Filipino, Italian, and Lebanese.
  • Attitudes to the cultural diversity revealed everyday practices of conviviality (‘affectively at ease relations of coexistence and accommodation’, Wise & Velayuthum 2013), and the transnational sharing of ideas when gardeners travel back and forth between Australia and their home countries.
  • Gardeners grew food and plants from their home, introduced new techniques to the garden, and shared recipes and food.
  • Information beyond gardening was shared, such as different mothering practices and different attitudes to ageing.
  • For some, cultural background was seen as something that was less important than other aspects of life, while for others, it was something that had been hidden or lost over time.
  • Gardeners clearly expressed a strong care for the land and its natural resources, an interest in sustainability and health, and a can-do attitude.
  • Occasional tensions over cultural differences, for example in attitudes to sharing produce and to doing the work. These included differences in approaches to the gendered division of labour, as well as attempts to communicate across language barriers and the importance of creating a welcoming space for all gardeners.

Theme 4: Growing and caring

  • Gardeners expressed a strong ethic of care, for each other, for themselves, and for the natural environment.
  • A place where people came together to engage in a healthy activity (being outdoors), to socialise (building community), and to care for the earth.
  • Religious beliefs combined with strong ties to certain plants influenced their approach to gardening.
  • A focus on teaching the younger generation about caring for the environment.
  • The garden was also an opportunity for people to claim the space for the community, rather than lose it to development
  • Gardeners developed a closer connection to the surrounding area.
  • Emphasis on the holistic nature of the garden, which contributed to health, knowledge, and sustainability.
  • Growing plants, including food, is a way of demonstrating care for others, care for land, and care for self, with a focus on sustainability and passing that knowledge on to the next generations.

Theme 5: Environmental sustainability

  • This garden has a well-established sustainability ethos and this is reflected in the systems and processes set up at the garden.
  • Chemical free, organic processes including composting, worm farming, and poultry and aquaculture systems.
  • Sustainability described as something that was ongoing, working with nature’s cycles and putting in processes that benefit the land rather than having an adverse impact.
  • Many gardeners also connected the concept of sustainability with the concept of communities, believing that the project needed to be respectful and inclusive to everyone in the community in order for it to continue for many years to come.
  • When people spoke about sustainability, they often spoke about sharing knowledge across diverse groups, and passing on knowledge to the next generation (for example through the children’s program).

Theme 6: The future of the garden

  • Garden members talked about expanding the children’s program, making more local connections, and maintaining the strong membership base.
  • Also expressed desire to maintain open spaces, green spaces, and food-producing places in the urbanising environment of Blacktown LGA.
  • Plans to build a kitchen in the garden, which is seen as a way to bring in more people from the local community whose focus may be less on growing food, and more on using what the garden produces.
  • The kitchen is also expected to be an opportunity for people to share dishes from different parts of the world, and to share knowledge about healthy eating.
  • The focus on community capacity building that came through the grass-roots organisation of the garden would set it up to continue well into the future.

Sydney’s food supply

img_1550Sydney is a growing city. According to the NSW Government’s A Plan for Growing Sydney, Sydney’s population of 4.2 million will grow by 1.6 million people by 2035 and reach 6.2 million by 2051.  More than half of the growth has been earmarked to occur in the city’s west that have traditionally been areas for agriculture and peri-urban farmland, notably the North-West and South-West Growth Centres. Recent plans released by the Greater Sydney Commission that complement A Plan for Growing Sydney (Towards a Greater Sydney 2056 and associated district plans) also make little to no reference of preserving agricultural land for local food production.

Due to their close proximity to markets and populations, peri-urban areas play an important role in providing food for urban populations, particularly perishables. The food system of the Sydney Basin reduces food waste, reduces food miles and buffers against fuel price shocks and provides local employment for farmers and food processors.

The Sydney Food Futures Project, led by UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures, believes that the loss of farming land in the Sydney Basin will have a significant impact on the city’s capacity to feed itself. If current planning trends continue, the Sydney Food Futures Project estimates that:

  • More than 50 per cent of existing market gardens and poultry farms are located in designated growth area under the Plan for Growing Sydney;
  • The share of Sydney’s vegetables produced locally is expected to drop from 10 per cent to 1 per cent;
  • The proportion of fruit grown locally would drop from 2 percent to 0 per cent;
  • Local eggs would drop from 39 per cent to 2 per cent;
  • Dairy would drop from 38 per cent to 18 per cent.


For graphs on these projected losses, visit Sydney Morning Herald’s Sydney 2026 page at: 

Overall, the significant loss of peri-urban green space to urban development and infrastructure clearly has enormous impacts on food security and related issues such as climate change and heat island effect. With a planning system that is focused on the ‘growth as development’ paradigm, Sydney’s declining food system will undoubtedly become more vulnerable to global and local pressures (such as resource scarcity and transport price rises) as time goes on.



Most of the information presented in this post comes from the Sydney Food Futures Project ( led by UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures. I also strongly encourage you to review the NSW Government’s A Plan for Growing Sydney ( and the Greater Sydney Commission’s Towards A Greater Sydney 2056 ( It should be noted that there are many advocates for preserving Sydney’s Basin, including the Sydney Peri Urban Network (SPUM) which represents twelve Councils has been established in 2013 in response to the lack of comprehensive vision for the peri-urban region (

Food security in Blacktown City

As the study on community gardens in Blacktown City continues, Amy pauses to reflect on past research that explores food security in Blacktown City. 


Food security is defined as when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food for an active and healthy life (FAO 2008). Conversely, food insecurity is the inability for individuals to acquire nutritionally adequate food in socially acceptable ways (USDA 2013). Food (in)security is becoming an increasing concern for growing urban cities, and warrants further investigation for local government areas such as Blacktown City.

So, is food insecurity an issue for Blacktown City? A community food assessment in 2014 provides an indication into the food security situation of the area. Several methods were implemented for this assessment and the following findings were obtained:

  • A demographic analysis of Blacktown City showed that the area had an increasing vulnerability to food insecurity due to urban development and population growth, youthful and ageing populations, socioeconomic disadvantage, cultural barriers, limited public transport options, increasing diet-related illnesses and food wastage rates.
  • Visual mapping revealed that Blacktown City has twice as many takeaway outlets as supermarkets, increasing vulnerability to food insecurity and poor health. The City’s disadvantaged areas often have lower supermarket access, higher takeaway density around schools, higher convenience and alcohol store access, and higher number of emergency food relief programs compared to the City’s high income areas.
  • A total of 84.9% of Blacktown City schools participated in the telephone school food initiative survey. Around two-thirds (67.6%) of city schools have a school-based garden. A large number of schools participated in NSW Healthy School Canteen Strategy (61.3%) and Crunch and Sip breaks (51.9%) but should be encouraged to increase their participation in activities such as cooking (41.5%) and agricultural courses (12.3%). Most school breakfast clubs (45.3%) and extra-curricular food initiatives (40.5%) were in low income areas around Mount Druitt.
  • The Victorian Healthy Food Basket Survey was undertaken at 20 Blacktown City food stores to determine the cost and affordability of a typical healthy food basket for different family types living on government benefits. Families spending over 30% of their total income on food are likely to be food insecure and therefore more unlikely to not be able to afford to buy healthy food. The survey findings showed that a typical family of four living on government benefits would be exceeding the recommended affordability threshold ($448.06; 32.6%) for the healthy food basket and therefore would have an increased risk of food insecurity.
  • The Charles Sturt University Fruit and Vegetable Survey also found that an average of 26 fruit and 42 vegetable varieties were available in Blacktown City, with lower availability in low income areas compared to the higher income areas.
  • A survey and consultation session with local community workers showed that most thought that food insecurity was an issue for vulnerable Blacktown communities (82.9%), with major reasons cited being cost of living (19.0%) and cost of food (18.7%).

So it appears that food security is an issue for the Blacktown City community, particularly those who are living in low income situations. Addressing food security requires a multidisciplinary approach and while community gardens are unable to meet all food needs, these hubs of knowledge and learning are one of the many on the ground solutions to helping communities advance this basic human right as time goes on.


Blacktown City Council 2014, Blacktown City Food Security Plan 2014, Blacktown.

FAO 2008, An introduction to the basic concepts of food security, FAO, Rome.

USDA 2013, Food security in the US – measurement,

Sustaining communities

As we continue our study into community gardens, it becomes increasingly clear that these public spaces are not only important for local food production but also building and celebrating their vibrant and diverse communities. A number of studies considering this topic (Glover, Parry & Shinew 2005; Firth, May & Pearson 2011) pose the question of how community gardens are mobilised to enhance social capital and connectiveness.

I recently had the privilege of being involved in an activity which facilitates relationships among community garden users. This was through a membership dinner which is held annually at the community garden to encourage individuals or groups to join or re-join as garden members. As I arrived at the dinner, organisers were slightly worried that the wet weather would deter people from coming to their event. But as the rain settled and the sausages sizzled on the barbeque, it became clear that this was not the case and friends old and new began making their way into the garden. It was important to them to be there regardless of what the weather did, highlighting to me that community is a necessary part of our lives even when it is not convenient or comfortable. As the night wore on, the garden teemed with individuals of all ages, cultures and backgrounds, enjoying a potluck of cuisines (some directly from the garden) while enjoying each other’s company. Much like the garden itself, this tapestry of diversity also reminded me that there are many different stakeholders that are needed to keep a community garden running and thriving for the long term.

No doubt, the work in sustaining ‘community’ is complex (and also often difficult) but in these small moments I’ve seen the significant role places like community gardens can play in this process. A great time was had by all despite the weather and at the end of the night, all attendees were treated to a rainbow in the sky. Establishing relationships with community members from all walks of life can be tough at first, but once the clouds disappear, it produces something that is admired and enjoyed long after it has started.




Glover, TD, Parry, DC & Shinew, KJ 2005, ‘Building Relationships, Accessing Resources: Mobilising Social Capital in Community Garden Contexts’, Journal of Leisure Research, vol. 37, no. 4, pp. 450-474.

Firth, C. May, D. & Pearson, D. 2011, ‘Developing ‘community’ in community gardens’, The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability, Issue 6, Volume 16, pp. 555-568.


Youth and the future of community gardens

Community gardens are often spaces that attract a wide range of ages and cultures. This not only makes them vibrant and diverse, but also more likely to be sustainable as time goes on. In my opinion, a sustainable community garden is one which attracts, educates and mentors the younger generations, passing on skills and knowledge about food and gardening that will be used now and in the future.

The community garden that we have recently been researching has the younger generation firmly in mind. Each week, the community garden holds an after school program for children in the local area. I had the privilege of attending this program for a couple of weeks and even after this short experience, it appears there are many benefits coming out of these activities for all the children involved. Most obviously, the program is a time for the children to connect with food gardening and nature, whether it be potting seedlings, collecting worms and snails, feeding the chickens (and collecting their eggs), playing in the sandpit or tree swing, and picking produce (particularly the delicious mulberries!). The social benefits also cannot be ignored, with many parents and guardians commenting that the program has allowed their children to build their confidence in developing relationships, motor and coordination skills, learning about healthy food choices and taking healthy risks.

As I wrapped up my time with the kids this week, they were busily making a wooden bee house and animal decorations for a dead tree that they have been painting in the back corner of the garden. Through the gluing, hammering and cutting, the kids were able to learn new skills in a supportive and non-competitive environment. In addition, it highlighted to me that the culture of community gardens can also be expressed tangibly through activities such as public art.  It was clear that the kids were excited to make their mark on the garden which will be admired by all garden users for many years to come.

So there are many factors that make community gardens sustainable, and I believe that children are an important one. As it was once famously said, children are our future. Teach them well and then let them lead the way!


Gardening for mental health


Through our research so far, we have found many people in the gardens making the connection between gardening and improved mental health. Amy touched on this in her post, “Encounter and Exchange”, where gardening acted as a type of therapy for people living in Australia after many years of living in refugee camps. Here, Liv reflects on that connection in light of her own recent experiences.


For people who live in urban environments – or environments like Blacktown LGA that are currently undergoing development, increasing density, and loss of open spaces – community gardens can fill a need for contact with nature. Scientists around the world are working to document the physical and mental benefits of gardening. Similarly, researcher Carly Wood argues that gardeners experience “greater life satisfaction, enhanced self-esteem and fewer feelings of depression and fatigue than non-gardeners.” Author Sarah Rayner describes the benefits of gardens as social spaces, places where we can connect to the earth and nurture other living things, and in the process, also nurture ourselves. Gardening groups are disseminating this research to their networks, and encouraging more people to take up gardening.

I have recently been dealing with some personal issues, and have been struggling from time to time to focus on my work. During this period, my role as researcher has taken a back seat, while my role as garden member – and the social and mental health benefits I gain from that – has become primary. The garden, for me, is a place where I can simply be, in the present moment, and enjoy the banter with other gardeners and the brightly coloured flowers that are springing up with the changing season. I always leave our weekly garden visits smiling and calm, with the strength to face the days until the next visit.

Other gardeners we met through this research have also noticed the connection between gardening and mental health too.

For one gardener, the time spent in the garden was a time of “peace, calmness, [and] an escape from everything.” Another gardener described the benefits for others, saying:

We have guys that come in here that are depressed and you know, they’re looking just for something, sometimes they just come in and sit inside, sometimes they’ll come out here and just do a bit of weeding and nice and quiet, but come in and join in with a coffee when they feel they want a bit of company.

Community gardens are places where people can gather together, share their labour no matter what their ability, and spend time communing with each other and with nature. The opportunity to spend time outside, caring for the plants as a way of caring for myself, has been invaluable to me over the past few weeks. These are places that I hope continue to grow and to nurture their communities for a long time to come.


The garden fence and the temptation of boundaries

We are finding that so much of the practices in community gardens entail sharing and exchange. As Amy described in her last post drawing on Ash Amin’s work on ‘micro-publics’, spaces like community gardens are significant to fostering a sense of ‘togetherness’ in urban and suburban spaces largely inhabited by ‘strangers’.

But at the same time, our research is also revealing how the practice of conviviality entails hard work. In this post, Kristine reflects on a regularly occurring topic that finds its way in many of her conversations with other gardeners and one that constantly reminds us of the labour involved in achieving togetherness, connection, exchange and ‘community’.


Amidst the vibrant greenery that fills the community garden where I have been spending my Tuesday mornings, the steel fence which encompasses its plot of land, can easily fade into invisibility. At this particular community garden, the fence is only waist high. It is unassuming and not at all intimidating. After all, you want to be welcoming. As the big sign reads at the garden gates – “Our garden is a space for people to come together…” But, nonetheless, the garden fence creeps into regular conversations between myself and the gardeners; inflecting the desire for exchange and collectivity with the unavoidable appeal of boundaries.

Many community gardens, while open to all of the community, are bordered by fences – sometimes small, sometimes very high. While ‘public spaces’ in the sense that they are for the ‘public’, often they are council property or run by an organisation, and their existence and maintenance relies on protecting the garden’s resources. The garden where I have been volunteering is located in the busy Blacktown CBD and off a main highway. I have been told it has fallen victim numerous times to people jumping the fence to steal produce or equipment when the garden is unattended at night. This is in spite of the taller and much more cautionary fence that protects the public park in which the garden is located. The gardeners’ stories expressed frustration, understandably, because the spirit of community gardening is in many ways about contribution and reciprocity. Stolen crops and plants also mean that the aesthetic of the garden, which become important to many gardeners who spend hours pruning, weeding and curating, is spoiled. On the other hand, in other moments, the garden fence realizes its purpose although with an unintended audience. Passers-by taking their morning stroll in the park while we are gardening curiously peer in. But as the fence literally separates us from them, it creates ambivalence as to the communal nature of the space. Those ‘outside’ are uncertain if they are welcome or invited. Yet this is not to say that the garden doesn’t have visitors. There are plenty who walk through the gate and freely wander around; sometimes they also enquire about volunteering. The fence becomes invisible again in these fleeting and transitory moments.

Beyond the community garden, conversations about the gardeners’ own fences at home are also prominent. A few of the stories I hear involve neighbourhood spats about overgrowing plants. One of the gardeners can no longer plant seed in her backyard because she suspects her neighbour has poisoned her soil with sodium as revenge for overrun plants that found their way on the wrong side of the fence. She can now only plant in raised beds which can be limiting at times.

As Amin reminds us, it is easy to forget how considerable a cultural and social achievement coming together can be, especially “given the myriad prospects of indifference, self-interest, opportunism and hostility … in the contemporary city of amassed diversity, continual and rapid flux, and increasing unfamiliarity”. In our fieldwork, we continue to observe the many ways the promise of conviviality and connection in community gardens is fulfilled. But we also observe the hard work and sometimes ambivalence this entails. Some garden members would like the fence to be higher to keep out unwanted trespassers. They express exasperation and sometimes anger as they feel their hard work goes to waste and goes unappreciated. The temptation to create boundaries is therefore constantly being negotiated and is part and parcel of ‘community’.

Mostly, the gardeners conclude that a taller fence would be unwelcoming. I think this ultimately outweighs for them the risk of having crops or equipment stolen. As one of the gardeners told me in both frustration and in hope, “You can always plant again. Things always grow back eventually.”