Growing cultural inclusion: How to help Latine-focused community gardens

Garett Fadeley, Metro Philly & 2PuntosPlatform
Image of three latine gardeners working in a community garden

For many immigrants, the thought of joining a community garden may seem daunting. But César Viveros, co-founder of César Andreu Iglesias Garden in West Kensington, understands the importance of cultural connection. 

“While some gardens invite people to use their land,” he said, “it is challenging to find a place where people feel culturally accepted and can grow what they are culturally connected to.”

Throughout the city, various collective organizations are instrumental in funding and maintaining these gardens. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and Farm Philly are two urban agriculture initiatives instrumental in funding and maintaining these gardens across Philadelphia.

Yet, the Latine community still struggles to get involved due to a lack of information about joining these spaces. Questions arise about the tangible opportunities and resources these spaces actually provide to Philadelphia’s Latine communities.

Iris, a recent immigrant from Mexico, has tried to connect the foods and culture of her birth country with where she lives now. It’s been difficult, for various reasons.

“I wanted to grow some of the vegetables we use in our traditional cooking,” she explained, “but most community gardens didn’t have the resources or knowledge about these plants.”

This lack of culturally specific gardens can make it difficult for Latines to fully embrace and participate in the local community gardening movement, a concept attached to the idea of ecological citizenship.

The concept of ecological citizenship underscores that everyone is entitled to participate in and benefit from sustainable practices like community gardening. According to a 2012 study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development titled “Impact of a Community Gardening Project on Vegetable Intake, Food Security and Family Relationships: A Community-based Participatory Research Study,” community gardens can help reduce food insecurity and provide fresh produce to local residents. 

Community gardens can do this by increasing access to healthy, affordable fruits and vegetables, thus improving overall dietary habits and nutrition. And a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that community gardening is associated with higher fruit and vegetable intake, which directly addresses food insecurity by making nutritious food more accessible and affordable for local communities. 

The Open Kitchen Sculpture Garden, curated by Pedro Ospina, organizes potluck dinners for garden members, fostering a sense of community among neighbors. The garden’s vegetable plots are situated along the street curb, making them accessible to anyone in the community at any time.