Monday, May 7th, 2012...11:03 am

We are what we eat: urban, school, and community gardens

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Addressing the need for greater access to healthful food in many local neighborhoods, students and faculty from the USF Department of Anthropology have teamed up with Moses Houseto initiate a “youth heritage” garden and education program.  Moses House, located in the Sulphur Springs neighborhood of Tampa, is a youth organization that aims to enrich the lives of area children through arts and education.  Moses House youth and elders are interested in connecting with neighborhood gardening traditions in order to encourage sense and pride of place among youth.  The  garden project, which involves youth-led action research and participatory learning, reflects the organization’s goals of engaging children in social justice, cultural activism and community-based research.  In addition to learning gardening skills and enjoying the garden’s produce, children at Moses House researched the industrial food production system and sustainable alternatives; through local field trips, they looked at the role of fresh foods in creating a healthy lifestyle, and explored the ecological and social benefits of locally grown food.

Moses House Garden site prior to garden installation

The community garden project was the brainchild of Moses House youths and elders, and I worked with other team members to assist with the planning, implementation, and grant writing process.  Start-up funding was provided by a $10,000 Tau grant from Alleghany Franciscan Ministries, as well as through a partnership with USF’s Office of Community Engagement. The Tau grant supported the initial development of the heritage garden and accompanying educational and wellness activities.  Garden project team members include USF graduate students Lance Arney (Director, Moses House), Mabel Sabogal (Associate Director, Moses House), Margeaux Chavez, Steven Williams, and many others who have provided research and technical assistance. The service-learning partnership with my undergraduate Anthropology of Childhood class provided an opportunity for collaborative student research and assistance with the project. For more information about the Moses House garden project, please visit

Moses House Garden December 2011

Moses House youth at Sweetwater Farms field trip

Previous research on urban and community gardening in the Tampa Bay Area by me and my graduate students is summarized in the Urban Gardens Tampa Final Report and documentary short video. Students in two graduate seminars (Research Methods 2010 and Environmental Anthropology 2009) researched the politics and shared meanings involved in starting and maintaining community gardens in urban and suburban neighborhoods in Tampa Bay. We attended public meetings and events, including Tampa City Council sessions to review a proposed ordinance regulating urban community gardens for the first time in Tampa. My students and I interviewed active community and at-home gardeners and those who are interested in starting gardens to understand why they are involved in a growing “local food movement” in the region and gardening might impact their sense of wellbeing, health, and efforts to “build community.” Students in other courses have researched who attends local farmer’s markets and why, the challenges of operating community-supported agriculture cooperatives, and narratives of authenticity surrounding food production and sourcing.


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