Seeds & Stories

Seed and Gardening Stories

Community Garden Storytelling Project of Flint (Report)
This report examines the benefits of community gardens and the supports and barriers in existence to developing more gardens. It is published by the University of Michigan School of Public Health, the Neighborhood Violence Prevention Collaborative, and the Flint Urban Gardening and Land Use Corporation. The report examines several Flint community gardens, their effects on their respective communities, and the involvement of the neighborhoods through participant observation, personal interviews, photographs, and surveys.

The study found that the community gardens in Flint had several shared characteristics. The six components of each of the community gardens with their respective benefits to the community are:

1. the garden site involves beautification of a vacant lot
2. they are owned, cleared spaces
3. they are a place for neighbors to be social and meet
4. they offer free food for neighborhood residents
5. they necessitate neighbors to work together
6. they can be neighborhood youth programs

Each of these components leads to specific benefits. The study concluded that community gardens improve neighborhood appearance, increase a sense of ownership and hence increase monitoring of the garden site, reduce dumping and garbage on site, increase property values, improve adult neighbors’ social relationships, increase participation in neighborhood organization, increase neighborhood pride, and increase youth development. In addition to these benefits, the study also found that, through the increased monitoring of the garden sites and neighborhoods, there was some reduction in neighborhood crime. Of the Flint areas with community gardens that were surveyed, most found that the formation of a block club or neighborhood organization increased monitoring and reporting of illicit activities, and the formation of the community garden increased this monitoring and perhaps indirectly helped to decrease the crime. In addition, the increase in social interaction of neighbors through the organizations and gardens increased the chance that action would be taken if something wrong was happening, rather than ignoring the event. In conclusion, the report found that community organizations and gardens improve conditions in neighborhoods and foster the ingredients to neighborhood crime prevention.

For more information, see the Flint Urban Gardening and Land Use Corporation, the Neighborhood Violence Prevention Collaborative’s information on this project, or the University of Michigan School of Public Health’s Website.

The Flint Urban Gardening and Land Use Corporation Storytelling Subcommittee. Community Gardens. Neighborhood Violence Prevention Collaborative Evaluation Report, Copy available from Katherine Alaimo, School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.

From Seeds to Stories: The Community Garden Storytelling Project of Flint, a book published by the Flint Urban Gardening and Land Use Corporation and the Prevention Research Center of Michigan and written by Katherine Alaimo and David Hassler, tells the story of various community gardens in Flint. The book is an expanded version of the similar report above. The introduction explains that this storytelling project was started due to the fact the "gardeners love to tell stories." The committee then went into the community gardens of Flint (fourteen in all), and interviewed the gardeners and took beautiful photographs, all included in the book. Each story is told in the vernacular language of conversational speech. For information on how to obtain the book, contact: FUGLUC, 3216 MLK Ave., Flint, MI 48505; fugluc@salemhousing.org.

Nikolai Vavilov's Seeds and the Siege of Leningrad

"The Vavilov Institute's seed collecting activity began in 1894, when its scientists brought back the oldest, most resistant varieties from all over the world. One major trauma in the history of St Petersburg/Leningrad was the German siege from September 1941 to January 1944, when the city remained without food for 900 days. It is invariably the first thing to cross the lips of its citizens, whatever they do and whoever they are. Thousands of people died of hunger and the only place in the city where there was something to eat was the Vavilov Institute. But the researchers religiously guarded the cultivated plant collection and the seeds: no one ate them. When rats tried, they ended up as food for the researchers. The determination not to harm the institute’s treasures was such that nine people died of hunger there. At home and elsewhere, the families of researchers also died. In those months researchers found the strength to withstand the siege without profaning the collection. In 1940, Vavilov, who was then the director of the institute, was arrested by the KGB and died in a concentration camp in 1943" (SlowFood.com).

"Tending the earth's edible future reached its most poignant moment--certainly its most courageous--during the Nazis' World War II siege of Leningrad. The site of the world's largest seed bank--at which Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov and his army of ethno-botanists had stockpiled an astonishing 200,000 species--Leningrad endured 900 days of attack during which over half a million people starved to death. Surrounded by harvested seed crops, the collectors martyred themselves rather than consume the botanical future. And when liberators finally entered the besieged facility, they found the emaciated bodies of the botanists lying next to full, untouched sacks of potatoes, corn and wheat--a priceless genetic legacy for which they paid with their lives." Christina Waters, Sep. 5-11, 1996, "Seeding the Future" in Metro Santa Cruz.

For more information on the story of Vavilov and his assistant's courageous efforts to save biological diversity, see the following sources:

Blackwell, Elise. 2003. Hunger. Little Brown and Co.

Fowler, Cary and Pat Mooney. 1990. Shattering: Food, Politics, and the Loss of Genetic Diversity. University of Arizona. 220-222.

Gore, Al. 1993. Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. Plume. 281-282.

Visit the Vavilov All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Plant Industry's Website.

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