Community Gardens: Promoting Civic Participation in Democracies

Categories: Effects Of Junk Food

Nowadays, urban agriculture of small-scale, using abandoned lands in big cities such as London, New York, Berlin, and Toronto, has briskly advanced from the late 90s. That was also around the same time that people began to think about the problem by the industrial food which has created not only environmental issues on the earth but also health problems for the people. In 2008, a documentary named ‘Food, Inc.’ warned of the danger of the world’s food production system. It says that “It’s not a farm.

It’s a factory”. To be precise, almost food these days has been produced in a mass production method by industrial facilities with several chemicals, which is called the industrial food. Thanks to the people’s increasing concerns over the industrial food, the interest in healthy eating have grown, which has contributed to creating social communities. For example, people in Detroit, who concerned about health problems by junk food, are growing diverse vegetables by themselves in their backyards or public farms.

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Not only that they organised various groups to make it easier to grow and sell agricultural products as well as to educate people about the importance of healthy food. Consequently, people have participated in growing their own food to oppose industrial food and to improve the current food production system. I believe the activity of them, growing own food, is civic participation in a democracy which is one of the methods to influence on the government policy.

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Therefore, the aim of this essay is to illustrate the process with several cases how the community garden has had the role of civic participation in a democracy to effect on the government policy. In order to address the question, first of all, I will explain the definition of civic participation and its function on the government policy. Then, I will identify the meaning of community garden focusing on the aspect of participation. Furthermore, I will find out the effect of the community garden on the government policy with cases of Victory Garden in the United State and communities for food in Toronto.

To begin with, there are some people who make discrimination between civic participation and political participation. However, I believe all of the civic participation has contained a political one, as well as many scholars, interpret political participation as a form of civic participation. For example, I will explain this relationship with the connection between a vote and a community which is a typical type of civic participation. The most traditional way of political participation is a vote. However, in order to vote on decisions, some agenda to discuss will be needed. As well as, this agenda has normally created by people who share the same issue together, which is the main purpose of a community. To be specific, communities play a role of thinking about problems in the society as well as finding out the way to improve current systems, which can create a social atmosphere and an agenda for a vote. Hence, it is clear that the community as civic participation have an influence on political processes. With this relationship between civic participation and political processes, I can recognise the first function of civic participation through the social community is spreading the agenda in society. The second one is to increase the possibility which needs of individual and community can be more representative on the policy-making process. By doing so, the civic participation enables the government to be operated more efficiently. In addition, civil rights guaranteed in the constitution can be strengthened.

I believe that a community garden can be regarded as one of the kinds of civic participation since it has been normally created by voluntary participation of the individual. As well as, they have an agenda to improve the current situation in society. For example, The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative in Detroit, which is a community by local people, argued that a healthy food production system has to be built for local people. This is because the majority of people in Detroit is suffering from a food environment such as junk food, which caused a lot of health problem. In addition, the activity of the community can impact on the government policy. With these factors, the community garden can be meant to be a symbol of civic participation and I will exhibit the definition of community garden. A community garden is a concept belonging to the urban agriculture category, which collectively maintained by a community in order to recreate and regenerate the environment. Not only that, it plays a role for links between local people as a social programme. American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) says that community garden combines various functions such as quality of life, revitalisation of the community, village cultivation, and elimination of heat island effects. Other organisations also give community gardens a comprehensive meaning of shared gardens for healing and community improvement. Therefore, in addition to producing crops, various activities such as participation by residents, encouragement and community activities are considered important. Lawson(2005), who is dean of agriculture and urban programs in the state university of New Jersey, also stressed the importance of community gardens as a participatory process. Thus, the vital factors of community gardens are having an agenda pursuing sustainable and healthy food production. Furthermore, it should play a role in solidifying social networks. With these necessary conditions of the community garden, I will introduce several case studies in the United State and Toronto in order to expend the role of that to participate in the government policy.

First of all, the Victory Gardens during the World War can be introduced as the case that people participated in growing food on their own, and moreover, it had an influence on the government policy at that time. Of course, although people who could not afford to buy food produced vegetables in their own gardens before the world war, Victory Garden took place as the movement throughout the United States during wartime. The movement was created during the world war to tackle the food shortages and soaring prices since many farmers became involved in the war and food production extremely decreased. At that time, there were 5,285,000 gardens in the United States. Although the number of the victory garden had declined for a while after World War I, it developed into one of the government’s policies during World War II. The U.S. government created a 20-minute public service firm, which gave a piece of information how to change one-quarter of an acre into an early and late garden as well as the way for canning and preserving food during the winter. All this was like insurance against food shortages. Furthermore, the government carried out a big promotion of the Victory Garden Movement linking it with patriotism which gardening is to win the war. As a result, 40 percent of all U.S. vegetables were produced in those gardens. The beginning of the Victory Garden was a social phenomenon created by citizens themselves to solve food shortages and high prices. However, the government had developed this phenomenon into a social movement, linking it with patriotism. To be specific, the individual gardeners were bound together into a community. This can be seen by a post pasted next to the garden as a certificate which was saying ‘Our family will grow…A Victory Garden…in 1942’.

After the world war, food production in the world had dramatically increased with the development of agricultural technology, which enabled people to be no longer worried about food shortages. However, the communities which resist the industrial food system was starting to emerge from the 1990s, which encourage the community garden to have been gaining popularity again. In order to illustrate this phenomenon, I will explain the reason why people began to have against the industrial food system. After the war, developed countries rapidly advanced food production technology based on the war’s facility and knowledge. They made it possible to mass-produce food products, which is called industrial food. At that time, the world was afraid of hungry by the population explosion. Sir William Crookes, a British chemist and physicist, argued in 1898 that all countries will not have enough food. In addition, experts predicted the increase in nitrogen in the earth, which can greatly affect the quality and growth cycle of plants. Fortunately, the German chemist Fritz Haber found the way how to turn nitrogen into ammonia and he won the Nobel Prize in 1918. Then, the Haber-Bosch, which is a firm founded by Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, the process made it possible to produce large amounts of ammonia, which became a profitable business for agriculture. By using ammonia production facilities, the munitions factories produced chemical fertilisers, while the chemical-warfare science like a nerve-gas was produced for pesticides. Chemical pesticides and fertilisers became the standard for commercial agriculture. Not only that, the technology that brings new knowledge such as crop rotation and composting to existing agriculture has increased agricultural productivity. Although this new technology has had an adverse effect on natural regeneration, the population explosion has added to the use of these technologies and chemicals. However, mass production by the industrial food system has caused several negative side effects such as food poverty, health problems, and environmental issues. By the mass-production of agriculture, independent farmers, who were growing food as small-scale, could not afford to live anymore due to low prices of their crops and expensive materials such as chemical fertiliser and pesticide. Thus, a lot of independent farmers moved into the city to earn money. However, many of them had to experience another poverty in the city, which result in the situation that one in seven people are living in slums. If they do not have enough money for food, they have to starve. Otherwise, they should eat some junk food. It is true that regions with a high proportion of low-income workers have a higher consumption proportion of junk food. Hence, the mass-produced food by the industrial food system has caused the health problem. Not only that, industrial food has a negative effect on the environment of the earth today such as using chemical materials which have contaminated soil and water. Moreover, the developed agricultural technology enable the farming season to extend to almost all through the year, which disrupted the natural regeneration of soil.

With these side effects of industrial food, there were many communities to improve this system around the world. Among them, I will introduce some communities in Toronto which is the most activity country with participating in growing a garden. About 40 percent of the total population in Toronto is growing their own food in the back yard or allotments. Thus, a lot of food communities have the authority and participate in government policy in Canada. There are two biggest communities to advance food environment which are FoodShare and The Stop Community Food Centre. Firstly, FoodShare, the biggest food-security organisation in Canada, was found in 1985. Their aim is not only to develop stable food-security but also to provide services for children which are both food and education. FoodShare has advanced with the role of the education programme and a herb for food justice in Toronto. In addition, they built many urban gardens and are operating 720 nutrition programmes with 17 Good Food Markets. The activity of FoodShare extended to the policy-making process. For example, when developers build housing, they have to plan for everyone to have access to fresh food within a mile. Then, they have to get confirmation on FoodShare. This is because Toronto, like any big city, is a food desert. Only 51% of people can use grocery stores within a mile. The second community is The Stop Community Food Centre which was found in the mid-1970 and has argued that food should be recognised as one of the basic human rights. They encourage people to farm and create a lot of community as much as possible. Like Foodshare, they also have educated people with a lot of programmes about farming and food. In 2009, they founded the Green Barn, which is the community garden, in order to provide their service to low-income people. In this garden, about 1,800 kilograms of fresh crops are being produced every year. Not only that, they are trying to solve other social problems such as a conflict between with other groups using the growing produce. In The Global Roots Gardens, a variety of immigrants are growing vegetables and cooking together. Thus, diverse activities of The Stop Community Food Centre have a lot of influence on Toronto’s society, which encouraged the provincial government to support their activities by making policy and allocating the government budget.

In conclusion, with the study about relationship between community garden and civic participation, I managed to extend the role of gardening to political behaviour which is able to improve diverse social problems over one’s personal life. To sum up, the community is a form of civic participation, which can be the way to make a policy. Nowadays, people, who want to grow produces in the city, have created communities to make their environment better. To be precise, the reason why people have participated in community gardens becomes more specific from a historical perspective about food production system. This is because today food system, called industrial food, has negative effect on the society such as causing environmental issues, food poverty, and health problem. Therefore, community garden, composed of public participation is playing a role of solving these problems with their influence on the government policy.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Community Gardens: Promoting Civic Participation in Democracies. (2022, Apr 19). Retrieved from

Community Gardens: Promoting Civic Participation in Democracies essay
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