Greening Food Deserts

"Greening the Food Deserts of Tucson, Arizona" is a project that uses the city of Tucson as a case study to integrate dimensions of social justice and environmental sustainability into applied research on food access. Specifically, this study was created to comprehensively examine how urban agriculture practiced in community and backyard gardens can help address food accessibility among vulnerable populations. Therefore, the project focuses on low-income, food desert neighborhoods with an emphasis on women, the elderly, recent migrants, and handicapped adults.

Community partners on this project include the Community Gardens of Tucson (CGT), Compass Affordable Housing, the International Rescue Committee, and the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona as well as the e-network ‘Tucson Backyard Gardening’. In coordination with these community partners, the project assists in setting up a network of organizations working with low-income populations in food deserts. By means of direct research with gardeners and a spatial analysis of Tucson neighborhoods, the project identified the benefits and barriers of urban agriculture in meeting the social, economic, and technical needs of gardeners. In addition, it aids in the planing of native species around garden plots to facilitate the cooling of urban heat islands and to provide a habitat for essential pollinators. To promote water conservation in Tucson, participating community gardeners were supplied with resources for the efficient maintenance of plot drip irrigation systems. The project also contributed to the development of a new community garden for low-income individuals living with disabilities, as well as to a fund that subsidizes community garden plot fees for low-income gardeners.

Research team: Stephanie Buechler, Daoqin Tong, Ashley Erbe, Chloe Hein, Xuanxiao Wang, Jaclyn Mendelson and Emily Marderness

Funded by: Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice