Editor’s Note: This is the sixth piece in a series called “Putting Anthropology to Work” contributed by students of Margaret Buckner at Missouri State University.
I conducted my ethnographic research project with Springfield Community Gardens, a local nonprofit that provides for community gardens in the Springfield, Missouri area. The organization began with one garden in 2010 and has grown to around twenty. The methods I used include an interview with the former president and co-founder, an open-ended survey distributed to the garden leaders, a mapping of two gardens, and participant observation through volunteering, attending meetings, and other miscellaneous events.
Through my research, I found out that there is a disconnect between the organization and the gardens they serve. The organization is understaffed and under-resourced, which means that there are effectively only two people organizing everything for the 20 gardens. There is really only one person at their community building for an unpublished amount of time. Funding for more staff members would be advantageous, if only just to provide the organization a more visible face. Obtaining grant funding for staff is no easy task, but hopefully, through evidence from my research, it will be obtainable in the near future. Garden leaders also expressed an interest in more training in such subjects as composting, soil science, and conflict resolution. These are all things that I have recommended to Springfield Community Gardens as something to look into.
Additionally, the garden leaders want help recruiting volunteers, but I discovered that the gardens in every neighborhood are different and outreach programs would benefit from being individualized. Some gardens have included a plot-rental system to get people invested; however, as a paraphrase of an overheard conversation, “why bother when there is a grocery store right there?” I determined that Springfield Community Gardens should find a way to recruit volunteers through individualized outreach and by incentivizing community gardening. I think the best way to do this is to come up with a way to get the gardens more involved in the community rather than the other way around. I suggested to the organization that the garden leaders open the gardens for public use, such as birthday parties, potlucks, and meeting spaces, just to get people more familiar with the garden itself. Hopefully, this will encourage people to come back and volunteer. Additionally, I suggested that partnering with the colleges and universities in Springfield would provide opportunities for students to volunteer their time or gain internship experience.
I am set to continue my work this summer with Springfield Community Gardens, finishing up the mapping of the gardens and conducting life-histories of the garden leaders. In the future, I hope to look into the reasons why people volunteer their time to help with volunteer outreach and to assess whether the gardens are making a positive impact on the communities in which they are found. Hopefully, through this and future research, we will be able to make Springfield Community Gardens into a model of an organization that alleviates food insecurity and creates meaningful community connections.
Caitlyn Eberle is an undergraduate student at Missouri State University.
Cite as: Eberle, Caitlyn. 2017. “Springfield Community Gardens.” Anthropology News website, September 20, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.588