Your Empowerment Toolkit: Gardening?

Once a month, through my service with NHC Chicago and Proviso Partners for Health  I host an Urban Garden Connection meeting. These community-based meetings serve as a breeding ground for community members to bond over topics on and related to gardening. The group members range from novice to expert, excluding none. While I host the meeting itself, ownership is shared among all participants. Ownership among all participants in terms of discussion topics is a key component in building trust within the community, and opens the floor to more in-depth, honest conversations.

Each participant is an expert in their own right, contributing valuable knowledge about local resources, do’s and don’ts within certain gardening practices, landscaping, storing food, and even what to do with a large harvest. Urban Garden Connection also offers opportunities for youth, who often have not yet had the opportunity to foster an intimate relationship with the outdoors in a safe, productive manner. The importance of offering a safe space to discuss a passion or hobby is generally undervalued. Encouraging people to discuss their gardens creates a positive feedback loop of working in their gardens more frequently. The immense health benefits of both being in nature and of eating homegrown foods, especially in a food desert, quickly become clear. Participants feel better physically after eating a homegrown, energy-dense meal and are proud to share what they’ve created almost as an artform. The positive feedback loop of inspiration and connection allow participants to feed and grow literally and figuratively.

Beyond health benefits, urban gardens provide a more sustainable and transparent food source than traditional grocery stores. Growing in one’s literal own backyard significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions, water use, labor exploitation, food waste, and pesticide use.

While empowerment can mean a lot of things, food is one of the most basic physiological needs. Yes, empowerment through gardening is physiological, but it’s also spiritual, emotional, economic, religious, and cultural – simply, it’s deeply personal, and even if a grocery store were to exist in the area, that’s something they couldn’t compete with. Come spring, participants will once again get together to beautify their respective spaces, both beautifying and creating ownership within the village.

This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2019-20 member Jacey Hutchinson.

Jacey is an Outreach Coordinator at Proviso Partners for Health.