When looking to start urban agriculture programs, organizations should be wary of planning only on their own. Community members are a great source of information for deciding how and where a garden or other agriculture approach would be successful. Plus, involving the community upfront increases buy in and helps to ensure they stay engaged in the long run.
As Ethan Neal, food systems manager at Pillsbury United Communities, mentioned in his Snapshots presentation at the 2019 Alliance National Conference, what works in one community may not work in others. Pillsbury is working with neighborhoods throughout Minneapolis to develop customized urban agricultural strategies that reflect their unique culture, needs and preferences. For example:
- In South Minneapolis. The Waite House, serving a large Native American population, prioritizes sage, sweetgrass, tobacco, other native plant medicinals, vegetables, and fruits
- In Near North Side Neighborhood. The Oak Park Farm, serving a large African-American population, prioritizes collards, melons, strawberries, turnips, cucumbers, tomatoes, mixed greens, beans, broccoli, radish, kohlrabi, cabbage, carrots, and beets
- In Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood. The Brian Coyle Farm, serving a large Somalian population, leverages an east African technique; in this “keyhole bed” approach, composting occurs in the middle of the garden plot
There are a variety of community engagement approaches that can be used to gather needed information. One proven tool is appreciative inquiry, which includes interviewing others and asking questions that focus on individuals’ strengths and aspirations, rather than on weaknesses, in order to uncover the best in people and communities. In her 2018 Snapshot, Jane Bavineau of BakerRipley in Houston shared her experiences with this approach and how, much to her surprise, she became a believer. Watch the video: A Skeptic’s Guide to Appreciative Inquiry.