Home Gardening and Food Security in Carlisle, Summer ’21 – Fall ’21

Desired outcomes associated with this project included:

  1. Marked changes in behavior and attitudes toward home garden production in the Borough of Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
  2. Direct access to fresh produce through low-input gardening techniques for Carlisle residents.
  3. Increase in consumption of fresh vegetables per household during PA growing season.
  4. Increased in biodiversity indicators within the borough.
  5. Engagement-based connections between students and the local community through civic agriculture projects.
  6. A more vibrant and healthy community food system in Carlisle.

Indicators for measuring project impact included:

  1. Increase in the number of partnerships formed on the premise of establishing home garden initiatives.
  2. Steady increase of students trained as home garden catalysts.
  3. 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.