Wageningen scientist says urban agriculture is not always good for social cohesion

While urban agriculture is often used as a tool for increasing social cohesion in neighbourhoods, Esther Veen believes that it does not always lead to better relationships between residents - this is the subject of her doctoral thesis, which she will be defending at Wageningen University on 15 June 2015.

For her doctoral research, Wageningen student Veen observed various community gardens where people from the same neighbourhood came together. She noted that not everyone participates in these gardens and how there is a tendency for groups to form.

"It is often assumed that community gardens benefit the neighbourhood, but the gardens are also a ‘real world’ in which issues arise," Veen said. "Municipalities, initiators of urban agriculture projects and other stakeholders should adjust their often high expectations. A neighbourhood community garden does not break through existing social structures just like that, and it is hard to bring people from different socio-economic backgrounds into contact with each other." Veen’s research does show that neighbourhood community gardens allow people to get to know each other better and ask each other for help more easily."

In addition to studying neighbourhood community gardens, Veen also observed community gardens where residents are mainly interested in growing fruits and vegetables but do not necessarily come from the same area. It showed that people like chatting to each other in a community garden, but that these contacts are easily exchangeable for conversations with others. Moreover, these chats rarely lead to contacts or friendships outside the community garden.


Scientific literature often assumes that people who actively use community gardens have a certain resistance against the current food system, and that for them the community garden functions as an alternative food network. Veen’s studies showed that these assumptions were erroneous in the community gardens she researched. People mainly like to garden because they enjoy the act of gardening, not because they want to change the world or oppose the conventional food system. Veen: "Food from neighbourhood community gardens may fit into a lifestyle in which organic or local products play a major role for some people, but this is a personal consideration to them. They don’t see themselves as part of an alternative food network.

By means of interviews and surveys, Veen studied seven community gardens in Almere (two), Amsterdam, Assen, Leeuwarden, Rotterdam and Zutphen. She also observed four of the seven community gardens via ‘participative observation’ - taking part and helping in activities organised by the community gardens, such as an Easter brunch and a harvest market. "This method allowed me to experience personally what it’s like in the community garden," she says. "Interviewing people helped me learn much more about the social relationships that develop."

After obtaining her doctoral degree, Veen will continue to work at Wageningen UR as a scientist focused on the theme of urban agriculture.

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus

Read These Next

Dutch vegetable open days

Dutch vegetable open days

Brassicas, squashes, salads, roots and alliums were all on show as growers, advisers, agents and buyers visited the main seed breeders' sites, Gavin McEwan reports.

A growing choice - the industry assesses alternatives to peat

A growing choice - the industry assesses alternatives to peat

Industry efforts to reduce peat continue as coir suppliers invest in continuous supply and growers take part in trials to assess alternatives, Gavin McEwan reports.

National Fruit Show 2016 - Business post-Brexit to be a key talking point

National Fruit Show 2016 - Business post-Brexit to be a key talking point

The post-Brexit political and regulatory landscape will be the subject of much attention from growers at this year's event.