Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Health Promotion, Education and Behavior

First Advisor

Ruth Saunders


Neighborhoods influence population level health; the places where people live, work, and grow are an essential setting for health promotion interventions. In efforts to create healthier neighborhood environments, there is a movement to better understand neighborhood social characteristics. The neighborhood social environment potentially includes social relationships (including trust and cohesion), networks, norms, and the resources that may be generated from relationships. In addition, more work is needed to learn about how people may become engaged in neighborhood initiatives. Community gardens are a 1) potential strategy to promote health at community and individual levels 2) mechanism to involve community members in working together to create healthier neighborhood environments, and 3) lens through which to understand these social processes within the neighborhood environment. This qualitative study utilized an ethnographic approach to understand the social processes of community members being engaged in an urban community garden. Data, including field notes and in-depth interviews, were collected over an eighteen-month period. An inductive analysis was used to detect emergent themes. Results identified facilitators, opportunities, and roles related to community engagement in this community garden. Facilitators of engagement included neighborhood leadership, a community-academic partnership, and the physical garden space. These facilitators resulted in a variety of opportunities for community engagement in the garden, which created multiple ways for people to participate including the roles of gardener, partner, fundraiser, supporter, and leader. In addition, the community garden facilitated social interactions and was a tool for neighborhood leaders to advocate for social and economic development in their neighborhood. The community garden served as a safe community gathering space where neighbors assembled and worked together, as well. This study broadens the existing knowledge on the potential social benefits of community garden spaces and illustrates the complex interactions between our physical and social environments. Moreover, this research informs our understanding of the community engagement process in gardens and provides an example of how community-academic partnerships can be formed to extend the reach of interventions and illustrates multiple ways for people to be involved in community gardens beyond gardening.


© 2013, Lauren Workman

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