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A Century of Community Gardens

Children working in a war garden, 1918.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

A Century of Community Gardens

Northampton Community Garden in Massachusetts.

Photo courtesy of the Northampton Community Garden

A Century of Community Gardens

National War Commission poster, 1919.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress


By Sylvie Wise, Education Intern

A community garden is a plot of land typically used to grow food and tended to collectively for the benefit of a group of people. They can be small or large, public or private, political or recreational—they are as versatile as the stories they tell.

Though it may seem like a recent trend, community garden initiatives have been documented in the United States for over a century. They are unparalleled in their ability to foster neighborhood camaraderie and forge a joint identity among individuals. These gardens are reflective of the shared values and histories of the communities from which they grow.

Urban gardens have long been a driving force in the revitalization of struggling communities. Almost always born of a communal need that is not being met, they tend to emerge and flourish in times of instability. In the 1910s, “war gardens” were a direct response to a nationwide need: food rationing in the midst of World War I. More recently, community gardens have sprung up all over Detroit in the last decade as a solution to citywide abandonment and economic hardships. Communities of any size can find renewal and stability in gardening.

Sylvie Wise is a anthropology student at Smith College with a focus on landscape studies. She interned at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in fall 2015.

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