We take seriously both how we do our work—prioritizing participation and approaches that acknowledge the creativity and skills in the community—and also what we do, aiming to use resources responsibly and achieve our aims. We also celebrate youth as vital, creative and capable contributors to food systems change. In this spirit, Mesa Verde Gardens (MVG) joined with the Community Agroecology Network (CAN) to develop and implement a 3-year community-based participatory action research project (cb-PAR) to assess the impact of community gardens on food insecurity and community well-being. cb-PAR combines research and action for social change. Community-based organizations and researchers collaborate to identify problems and action agendas through a reflection process. The goal: empower affiliated with MVG's community gardens through capacity-building and by generating new knowledge that can evolve into new tools and community-based strategies for strengthening food security and community well-being.
Data collection involves an annual survey conducted across MVG’s 7 garden sites in the Pajaro Valley and a more in-depth case study of 3 gardens launched in 2015: River Park,Valle Verde, and Pajaro. Annual surveys among MVG gardeners will quantify the change in level of food insecurity faced by gardeners, their level of dedication to their garden plots, crops grown, and the effects of gardening on alleviating food insecurity and stress on household economics. It will be shared annually with all gardeners and those involved in addressing health and nutrition to provide ongoing feedback and information to use in refining programs to best achieve their aims. In-depth stories from gardeners in the 3 gardens will complement the survey results, capturing qualitative data regarding the gardens' other benefits, such as providing a safe haven within troubled neighborhoods for community-building and family recreation.
The overarching goal of the proposed project is to empower youth advocates as community leaders in food systems change, and through their collaboration, develop a youth-led cb-PAR project to:
• assess the impact of community gardens on household food security and economics
• assess the capacity of community gardens to provide a safe haven for community-building and family recreation
• engage community members in making changes to their food access and food choices by widely sharing the findings of this participatory action research approach
• empower local youth (ages 14-24) to be leaders in building a more just, healthy and sustainable food system for Watsonville and Pajaro families
Capacity-building and empowerment of youth advocates will be measured through their participation in training seminars and meetings for developing workshops and a collective research proposal.
Youth’s successful acquisition of leadership and research capacities will be measured through a written self-evaluation and project evaluation completed by youth advocates and similar written evaluations completed by selected CAN staff and MVG staff and peer leaders. The results of the evaluation will be the basis for a discussion with the youth advocates about their experience in the project, which will be recorded.
Finally, motivated by two goals (indicated here), disseminating the findings of the cb-PAR will be an integral part of the PAR process across the years of the 3-year study.
1 In collaboration with youth researchers and MVG gardeners, to develop resources—maps, booklets, etc. – that respond to their information needs, are widely accessible, and further their own community-based initiatives; and
2 Among policy makers, researchers, and local institutions, to amplify the voices of those not traditionally heard.
Year 1 will focus on developing gardener profiles
Year 2 will focus on developing a community forum to present these profiles to the public, and
Year 3 will focus on developing a final report and radio show to share the impact of community gardens on the lives and neighborhoods of communities facing food insecurity, including stories describing the ways in which individuals and families can take specific steps to improve their community’s well-being