Public policy and community gardens in Edinburgh

Community gardens have been linked to a wide range of positive health and well-being benefits, providing necessary physical activity, and an accessible place to learn about and grow fresh fruit and vegetables. They have also been shown to promote social health and community cohesion, increasing opportunities for communication and the sharing of values, and helping to foster resilient communities and build social capital. As a result, support for community garden projects within Scotland is growing at both national and local policy levels. Yet, until now, little or no attention has been paid to the interaction between the various types of public policy which relate to community gardens (e.g. which necessarily sit between the social, environmental, and economic) and the day-to-day organisation and practice of community gardens.


In our latest publication in Local Environment Jennifer Witheridge (Swinburne Institute for Social Research, Melbourne) and I explore how public policy influences community garden practice, and how organisations running community gardens in the third sector are represented in public policy frameworks. We show that although number of public policies designed to further enable community growing is on the rise and there is an increasing amount of funding available, the current specificity of grants-based funding structures can affect community garden organisationsí ability to organise and develop bespoke community services. We also show that although short-term grants can encourage community garden organisations to be innovative (e.g. the design of new programs, development of new networks), the current start-up grant funding structure can result in mission creep, puts strain on garden organisers and can hinder the mid- to long-term viability of some core services community gardens offer.


Current land use and zoning methods are likewise flagged as an issue requiring attention. For example, open space audits in Edinburgh hint at a dearth of open space at a local scale, yet through interviews with community garden staff and organisers it became clear that a community driven, informal land identification and acquisition process of unmapped parcels of land is unfolding. We suggest that a more flexible approach to land use and designation might enable community action to develop food growing projects in areas which might otherwise appear to be lacking in space.

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