Doctoral Dissertation Research: The effects of community allotment gardening on health and well-being in two Chicago communities

Project: Research project

Project Details


Among medical anthropologists, there has been a longstanding interest in understanding health in the context of structured social and economic inequality (Farmer 1999; Goodman and Leatherman 1998; Singer 1986; Thomas 1998). Important work in this area has revealed numerous examples in which lived experiences of deprivation, discrimination, or lack of status during the lifecourse “get under the skin” to have detrimental effects on health outcomes (Dressler 1993; Marmot and Wilkinson 2001; McDade 2002; Sweet et al. 2007; Wilkinson and Pickett 2006). Despite the tremendous interest in inequalities and health, however, there is a relative dearth of anthropological research in this area that specifically considers activities and experiences that may serve to buffer or even improve health outcomes. Urban agriculture—the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in urban areas—is a subject of burgeoning interest among the public and may represent an important opportunity for health buffering or improvement. The purpose of this study is to rigorously assess whether and how participation in community allotment gardening, a popular form of urban agriculture in the United States, affects the health of people living in urban areas. The proposed research will utilize baseline and end-of-season health measures to document changes in health over the course of the gardening season for both gardeners and controls. Ethnographic study of gardeners will yield data with high internal validity about how people actually utilize their gardens over the course of a gardening season, while the use of objective health measures will allow me to check the results against subjective measures. The use of a control sample recruited from garden waiting lists will allow me to control for potential seasonal effects. Finally, a weekly health behavior survey will provide ongoing information during the intervening months, allowing me to monitor changes in behavior over the course of the study. Intellectual Merit: This research will contribute to an integrated understanding of multiple domains of medical anthropology, including nutrition, energetics, stress, and urban ecology, and will examine how gardening experiences and activities may “get under the skin” to buffer or improve health outcomes in two communities characterized by differing degrees of hardship. It will build upon previous survey, self-report, and epidemiologic studies by using both subjective and objective standardized measures of health in tandem and with in-depth ethnographic data. Understanding how community gardening may affect health will provide a strong basis for future research that examines the impact of gardening not only on individual adults but on youth, households, communities, and networks. Broader Impacts: This study will provide useful information for the Peterson Garden Project, which is eager to learn whether and how community gardens shape the health of gardeners, and will contribute to the learning of two anthropology or global health undergraduates. The study also has practical applications for advocates of urban agriculture who seek policy changes based on the needs and experiences of Chicago residents, as well as public health advocates who are interested in the potential of urban gardens to ameliorate some of Chicago’s most pressing public health problems, especially obesity. The study’s findings will be disseminated widely; reports will include suggestions for ways in which the research might contribute to the success of community gardening projects th
Effective start/end date7/1/1412/31/15


  • National Science Foundation (BCS-1423891)


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.