This research is a community-driven project that was started by Jenn Halpin in 2018. This project assesses the potential for home gardens as a solution to household food insecurity. In collaboration with Dickinson College student researchers as well as fellow community members, this project gives residents the opportunity to gain skills to start and manage a home garden, and develop innovative yet practical solutions to household gardening issues common in the borough.
Do you want to start a home garden?
Have you ever considered growing your own food? Does it feel intimidating or like too much work? We are researchers from the Dickinson College Farm and would like to help you build your own home garden for free. We will walk you through the process from beginning to end and support you along the way. Everyone deserves to have access to delicious, fresh produce, and home gardening is an inexpensive and easy way to get your favorite vegetables on the table every night. Whether you are growing produce to fill nutritional gaps, learn a new skill, or give back to Mother Earth, we are here to cheer you along the way and make the process as simple as possible. With your participation, we can further our research on the relationship between home gardening and dietary and biodiversity, as well as the feasibility of home gardening as a solution for food insecurity.
Please take our 5-minute Home Gardening, Food Access, and Household Health Survey!
Premise for our research
The rate of food insecurity in the US is 11.1% It is slightly higher in Pennsylvania at 12%, but in Cumberland County where we are, its lower at 9.4%. This is useful to compare with our own results – to see the prevalence of food insecurity here in the Carlisle borough versus the greater Cumberland county area.
Overall, food insecurity rates have gone down since the 2008 recession. And in PA, the 2016-2018 average saw a 5% drop in food insecurity since the 2013-2015 average of 13%.
Home gardening history in North America
In World War 1 home gardens took the title of “war gardens” and emerged as an effort to support the war. These were federally sponsored, and with the 1914 Extension Agricultural Act, established with land-grant university programs to facilitate and conduct research on new agricultural techniques, home economics, and generally, local food production systems. By 1918, there were around 5.2 million war gardens generating over $500 million worth of produce.
In World War 2 we saw a revival of home gardens as “victory gardens”. Between 1942-43, victory gardens in the US grew from 15 million to over 20 million, and were responsible for almost half of the country’s vegetable production.
These home gardening initiatives were further intensified during the Great Depression.
However, as we’ve shifted into more urban landscapes, as the economy strengthened our consumer culture, and as agriculture became more industrialized, we became more and more disconnected from the systems used to grow food.
How can home gardening address household food insecurity?
Increase availability and accessibility of fresh and nutritious food
Change the overall food expenditure trend
What we are doing
Spring 2020-Fall 2020
We are conducting our research in 2 block groups in Carlisle. The first component of the project involves two rounds of surveys that we conducted in the summer and fall. The second component is a “mapping project” where I took visual observations of the houses we surveyed and created a map visualizing certain trends I found. The third component combines the literature with real gardening experiences to produce a home gardening manual that we will share with interested survey respondents. The fourth is a “garden project” that where I had the chance to start and manage my own vegetable garden.
1 – Survey
Home garden production offers communities a strategic solution for addressing issues of food insecurity. With sparse documentation on the effectiveness of home gardens as tools for improving community food systems in the U.S., especially among underrepresented populations, this project aims to continue to build upon data collected in 2018 to better understand the connection between food (in)security and home gardens within key areas in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. As part of her master’s thesis, Jenn Halpin, Director of the Dickinson College Farm developed and implemented a survey structured to better understand attitudes toward home gardening within neighborhoods comprised of households earning $36K or less per year. Initial data was collected from 42 out of 149 households surveyed in 2018, capturing information on perceived barriers, as well as opportunities for home garden production within Carlisle communities. However, in order to better understand and develop appropriate tactics that will aid interested households with cultivating their own home garden as a strategy for minimizing food insecurity, more baseline data is needed. Envisioned as a long-term “town and gown” initiative anchored in the College Farm Program, results from this project will serve as baseline data from which to track how gardens address food insecurity issues within the local community, in addition to supporting student research interests and civic engagement.
In January 2020, we started revising the survey content and language from 2018, including adding more survey questions that targeted things like household dietary diversity, and translating the survey from English to Spanish and Arabic. As a result of COVID-19, our research was significantly modified. During the month of March, we completed survey revisions but we switched to the remote phase in March, we were finishing up language revisions, but were faced with a new challenge of how to conduct our survey. After various rounds of literature and government census model research, we decided on a combination of mail and online survey. This multi-platform approach was chosen for its rendering of optimal response rates and accessibility to all survey participants. This was coupled with a multi-contact approach – the survey would be done in three stages. The first stage would include postcards alerting randomly selected households that they are being invited to participate in a home gardening survey. Stage two of this approach was to mail the actual surveys to selected households. This was followed by a reminder postcard in stage three. With the help of Dickinson College students and faculty, the survey was translated into Arabic and Spanish. To further participation in our survey, we included a question to snowball, and incentives for Farmer’s on the Square coupons.
The surveys were first sent our in June 2020. Of the 237 home addresses in the 2 selected block groups, we randomly selected 150 home addresses. Over the 8-week summer research period, 76.9% of respondents reported that they were engaged in some form of home gardening. 15.4% of respondents reported some level of household food insecurity. Most respondents report being involved in some level of home gardening and do not self-identify as being food insecure. Among those involved in gardening, the most common crops grown were tomatoes, peppers, beans, and herbs. Most gardeners express a medium to high level of interest to expanding their current garden, and the most common barriers to expanding gardens was space restrictions and rented property.
Of the 150 surveys, 26 were returned, stamped “vacant” or “incomplete address.” We had a high non-response rate of 66%.
In October, we sent out a second round of surveys to a list of 66 home addresses secured with the help of Project SHARE.
It’s worth noting that we had initially planned for door-to-door surveys. This survey platform would have given us the opportunity to engage in real conversations with our respondents. We acknowledge that the low survey response rate is likely a result of using a different survey platform, as well as extenuating circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
2 – Mapping Project
The goal of the mapping project was to provide supplemental information and spatial representation for the surveys. The main outcome of this project was a visual overview of barriers and opportunities existent in our selected block groups. To gather this information, I did a physical walk-through of the 237 home addresses in the selected block groups. During my walks, I took note of potential barriers or opportunities to home gardening. Examples of my observations included the presence or lack of yard space, porch space, sun, and shade. I also took note of residential “Bright spots” – homes that showed high levels of gardening – in the area. I found a total of 23 Bright spots.
I used GoogleMaps, PolicyMap, and Adobe Photoshop to create the final product – a multilayered map of the selected block groups. Exact Bright spot locations were not reflected on this visual to ensure that physical addresses remain anonymous. I used the Bright spots to illustrate areas where a high level of home gardening has proven possible. In the final visual, I’ve identified Bright spots with yellow dots on one layer. On another layer, I’ve identified thematic barriers with grey strips.
A second outcome of this project was a new round of surveys sent only to the brightspots. This was taken as an opportunity to establish connections with residents in the block groups who have clearly shown a degree of investment in home gardening. I created this second survey – with a series of more open-ended questions this time – on Microsoft Forms. I printed out postcards inviting these residents to speak with us, either through phone or through the online form, personalized them with paint and pen drawings, and hand-delivered them to each brightspot address.
3 – Home Gardening Manual
As a follow-up to the surveys, we are creating a Home Gardening Manual to help interested Carlisle residents start or expand home. I spent a lot of time researching using books, online literature, and gardening websites to create the manual. I also contacted local organisations like the Carlisle Tool Library and the Carlisle Compost Facility to confirm availability of free or affordable gardening resources within the borough. This part of the research project also gave me the opportunity to explore my passion for drawing and illustrating. All illustrations in the manual were drawn and edited by myself.
Currently, we have four chapters in the Home Gardening Manual. The chapters include information on tools, equipment, and methods for starting a garden at three different costs. Additional chapters cover information on pests and disease as well as sample garden scenarios. This last section also includes estimated calories available from the crops in our scenarios.
Our target date for completion is early 2021 – please stay tuned!
4 – Garden Project
In tandem with the Home Gardening Manual, I have also started managing my own “home garden” behind Kaufman Hall. This part of the research consisted of two objectives; one, to simulate a novice person starting their own vegetable garden, and two, to supplement information and incorporate informed steps and recommendations in the Home Gardening Manual.
I started this project in the first week of July. I was given four 4’ by 8’ raised beds where I applied the various methods of soil prep, biointensive gardening, watering, and pest and disease controls that I’d been reading and discussing with Jenn. Examples include the horizontal spacing I applied to transplanting, hot-pepper garlic sprays I used to deal with caterpillars and flea beetles, and deep watering stakes I put in to encourage deep root growth.
The late Summer/early Fall brought about lots of produce. It was almost overwhelming to keep up with the harvesting, data collecting, and consuming of these foods by myself. As a college student living on-campus with a meal plan, it was too much produce to supplement what I was already getting from our dining hall. However, the space I was working with would be just over enough to support a single person, and would definitely be enough to sustain a family.
Summer-Fall Harvest Data
|Crop||Amount harvested (lbs)|
|12||Noodle beans||8.75 *remainder dried|
|13||Purple top turnip||15.5|
1 – Manual – continued
The manual is finally done (link below!)
We’d like to thank Asuncion Arnedo and Mohammad Abu Shuleh who assisted with translations of the surveys with Jenn. We’d also like to thank Krista Hanley who assisted with all the designing and printing elements.
2 – Garden Project – continued
The Kaufman “home garden” is seeing its second year!
The objectives of the garden are same like last year. It will continue to simulate a novice person planning and designing their vegetable garden – this time for a second year. The garden will also continue to collect data on yields and to use for experimental practices (watering, container gardening, etc.). Additionally, the garden will be used to supplement and demonstrate gardening information and recommendations for our Carlisle home gardeners.
This time, we are using all 5 beds in the garden, plus we have the opportunity to start our own seedlings for transplant. We started by brainstorming a list of crops that we are both interested in growing and eating, then started sketching plans while considering individual planting dates, maturation times, companion planting, and crop rotation.
We started all our seedlings in the Kaufman Greenhouse. We started the collard, kale, and onion seedlings on March 19th, and my tomato, hot pepper, and eggplant seedlings on April 3rd. To make this as accessible as possible, I started my seedlings in used cans, applesauce cups, and egg cartons. Everything but those in the egg cartons germinated – presumably due to its material drawing up too much moisture from the soil.
3 – Windowsill Project
The windowsill project was created with the intent
to make home gardening accessible and easy! I utilize different items that would be easily accessible in my dorm room with hopes to eat from the harvested crop. The windowsill project also provides visual aid to some of the techniques used through the home gardening manual.
The windowsill series was posted weekly on Wednesday and hosted by Dee. The series was created with the intent to make home gardening accessible and easy! This series highlights Dee utilizing different items that could be easily accessible in a dorm room or at the home of the viewer.Items found in the household or dorm are the used to create produce.The windowsill project also provides visual aid to some of the techniques used through the home gardening manual. In total eight videos averaging at 3 minutes were made for the window series amongst the spring semester. They had a total of 3,381 views . This series displayed the process of sewing seat all the way up to using food scraps to create new food.
4 – Gardening collaborations
Through the surveys, we have established connections with several borough residents whom we are calling our home gardeners! We started preliminary conversations discussing their past gardening experiences, available garden space, their desired vegetables, concerns with time and tool availability, and opportunities to engage their families in the gardening practice.
From that, Audree and Dee paired up with one home gardener each and designed several garden and crop plans for their respective home gardener.
In Audree’s plan, she incorporated a “dye garden” and a “pizza garden” for her home gardener, supplemented with a lesson plan for each, in the hopes to get their children involved and excited in vegetable production and processing. Additionally, in response to her home gardener’s interest in herbalism, Audree designed an herb garden, accompanied by a fact sheet outlining benefits and recipes using the herbs in her herb garden.
Dee received Bethany’s plan there was little room in ground that received sun so we had to make use of the front, back and wall of the yard. Dee input her crops into her space based on the space – noting that she wanted all of her garden above ground within containers.Bethany and Dee used recycling bins, shoe storage containers , wooden palettes , and an aluminum pan with paper cups for germination.There was one day where Dee assembled the garden with Jenn and Bethany to start the rest of the crops that have not been germinated. We left Bethany with her palettes , trellising poles, and germinated seeds . She also had a personalized garden plan for seeding the crops that were not quite ready and has been waiting on the crops to harden off for transplanting outdoors.
Each gardener also completed a biodiversity survey of their yard. the goals of the HG project is to track changes in household dietary diversity and quantities consumed but also to track changes in yard-scale biodiversity.
- Two Burpee Fellows this summer, Dee Findlay will continue her position and be joined by Maeve Thistel (class of 2021 (Anthro, Italian and Food Studies).
- Goal for summer 2021 is to have 6 borough gardeners with whom to work this year
- Continue surveys and data collection efforts plus recruit more borough residents for 2022
- Develop and offer live garden demonstrations with participating gardeners for neighbors to learn
- Connect with and interview community bright spots for perspective and to help get others interested in HG work
Summer 2021-Fall 2021
Desired outcomes associated with this project included:
- Marked changes in behavior and attitudes toward home garden production in the Borough of Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
- Direct access to fresh produce through low-input gardening techniques for Carlisle residents.
- Increase in consumption of fresh vegetables per household during PA growing season.
- Increased in biodiversity indicators within the borough.
- Engagement-based connections between students and the local community through civic agriculture projects.
- A more vibrant and healthy community food system in Carlisle.
Indicators for measuring project impact included:
- Increase in the number of partnerships formed on the premise of establishing home garden initiatives.
- Steady increase of students trained as home garden catalysts.
- Collection of data through topic-specific surveys to track changes in food security, dietary diversity, and community-scale biodiversity over time.
Summary of Project Objectives and Outcomes in 2021
The Home Gardening Initiative in Carlisle identified three key objectives to help facilitate the process of meeting the project outcomes listed above. Each objective references the main indicators for measuring the short and longer-term impact of our work. Each of the three objectives are defined below with bulleted points highlighting project work since 2020.
The first objective for the Home Gardening project is to initiate and implement a system for collecting baseline data on home garden production within the borough of Carlisle and to track change over time. Progress on this front is summarized below:
- The Home Gardening Initiative started the year with three residents interested in learning how to start their own home garden.
- During the early months of 2021, Jenn Halpin recruited faculty members from the Arabic and Spanish Departments at Dickinson to assist her with in-person survey administration during food distribution days with Project SHARE. An additional home gardener was recruited through this effort.
- With help from summer student researchers, Maeve Thistel ’23 and Dee Findlay ’22, a portion of the summer was dedicated to revising existing surveys and drafting two new topic-specific surveys for enhanced data collection on household-level dietary diversity and backyard biodiversity as indicators of change resulting from initiating home gardens. The two new surveys were drafted with consultation from Dickinson College faculty members Karen Weinstein (Anthropology) and Maggie Douglas (Environmental Studies), who have expertise and on-going research in biological anthropology and agroecology, respectively. Both guided Maeve and Dee through several drafts of the surveys resulting in comprehensive and well-researched versions that will be administered to home gardeners at the start and end of each garden season. Maeve created online versions of the surveys for ease of distribution. Both paper and online surveys will be administered depending on home gardener access to the internet.
- Using the map of bright spots identified by Audree in 2020, Maeve and Dee continued to map the presence of home gardens in the borough throughout the summer of 2021. In order to better track community-level bright spots, we developed an index for differentiating between scale and intensity of gardening per household. Residents that display an intensive approach to home gardening have been identified for wintertime follow up. We aim to request interviews with these gardeners to gain better perspective on what motivates them to garden, how they acquired their gardening skills/knowledge, as well as hopefully recruit them to participate in our initiative.
The second objective of the Home Gardening Initiative is to build the capacity of students as educators and catalysts for positive change within the local community. Our efforts area detailed below:
- Starting in the spring of 2021, the student-specific assessment quiz was administered to Audree and Dee, the project research students. Dee and Audree took the quiz again at the end of the spring semester in order to track and record an increase in project-specific knowledge.
- At the start and end of the 2021 summer, student researchers Dee and Maeve took the assessment survey. The assessment survey was not administered at the start of the 2021 fall semester since Dee and Maeve continued their work as student researchers. However, as new students become involved with this project, they will be asked to take the assessment quiz.
- Outcomes from both the spring and summer 2021 student-assessment quizzes yielded positive trends in student understanding and skills relating to this project.
- Over the course of the 2021 fall semester, Audree and Dee worked with the four gardeners to develop a crop plan to meet household goals for the duration of the growing season, as well as designed gardens specific to the space and resource limitations of each gardener. These plans were shared with gardeners for input.
- In May of 2021, Audree and Dee assisted three of the four borough residents with initiating home gardens. This included coordinating with the Dickinson College Farm on supplies like soil and compost, in addition to sourcing containers like buckets, wooden pallets, and even a shoe rack for innovative container gardening. As the 2021 spring semester ended, Dee was joined by Maeve Thistel as the two summer student researchers. Dee and Maeve continued to support home gardeners over the course of the summer and assisted with the construction and planting of a fourth garden.
- In addition to planning and planting the research garden over the 2021summer season, this project assumed oversight of two additional campus gardens. The stated goal of integrating on-campus garden management into this project has proven to effectively provide research students with the necessary experiences in hands-on gardening. This “real life” experience enables student researchers to better engage with local home gardeners and to be more prepared to help tackle and resolve participants’ garden issues. Though only one of the campus gardens tracks yields per square foot of crops raised, the other two gardens have developed into sites for educational programs that are designed and led by student researchers.
- Our 2021 student researchers, Dee and Maeve also brought new perspectives that were added to the manual on topics such as backyard composting, food preservation, and do-it-yourself water catchment systems.
- The addition of topics to the manual prompted the project to reconsider the format of the manual which originally assumed a hard copy paper format. Recognizing that the manual is better treated as a living document, fall 2021 efforts have included working with campus resources to effectively convert the existing format into one that is more adjustable. A goal is to have an online version available starting in early 2022.
- An additional goal for the 2021 summer was to research and engage community partners in an effort to engage with borough residents. Student researchers identified 10 community organizations and neighborhood groups and reached out to them to explain our research and project goals. Maeve will dedicate the fall semester to reconnecting with these partners and developing strategies for engagement and survey distribution. An aspect of Maeve’s work will be to engage Carlisle borough leaders on identifying key components of a successful relationship between Dickinson and the Home Garden Project initiative.
- Our partnership with Project SHARE has been instrumental at navigating new pathways toward the recruitment of borough residents interested in working with us on this project. This partnership has allowed our project access to food bank recipients and is informing new methods of conducting surveys in 2022.
The third project objective is to create opportunities for borough residents to collaborate with Dickinson students/staff on home garden production, thereby increasing the level of self-sufficiency, minimizing food insecurity, maximizing dietary diversity, and improving biodiversity in the borough through household food production.
- Since the winter of 2021, the Home Gardening Initiative supported four borough residents in the process of planning, initiating, maintaining, and troubleshooting obstacles over the course of the 2021 growing season.
- Participating home gardeners were primarily novice gardeners. All gardeners were female and in their late twenties to late thirties.
- One was a Sudanese refugee living in subsidized housing with limited access to lawn space. Her garden was designed to utilize a 4’x 3’ in-ground area plus container gardening.
- One rented her property and had plans to move soon. This garden was designed for almost 100 percent container growing.
- The two remaining gardeners owned their homes. We helped one establish an in-ground garden and the other garden was designed for raised beds.
- Student researchers Maeve and Dee focused summer research efforts on supporting the four gardeners from start to finish, scheduling weekly visits to check in, troubleshoot issues, and support home garden efforts.
- As the growing season transitions to fall, Dee and Maeve have worked to schedule appointments with all four gardeners to conduct the two surveys that they developed this summer. A key goal of administering the survey to our four gardeners is to solicit their feedback and to make improvements accordingly.
- With support from community partners, neighborhood groups, and our 2021 home gardeners, the focus this fall is to recruit new gardeners for 2022.