Following the plant: the political ecology of a Hmong community garden - Elena L'Annunziata

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Community gardens are one of the many kinds of urban agricultural green spaces that exist in the cities and suburbs across the United States. Current research credits them with producing a wide array of human and environmental benefits. Especially touted are increased access to fresh produce and a reduction in food insecurity. This same research however, has tended to oversimplify the community garden, focusing for advocacy’s sake solely on key social and environmental benefits. While it can be generally agreed upon that community gardens do produce social and ecological benefits, there is little research that focuses on the complex cultural, class, gender, ethnic, and generational intersections that affect the articulation and experience of these benefits. Situating the Henderson Community Garden in Eureka California, a predominantly Hmong garden, within the existing literature on community gardens, I will explore the unique ways in which this garden is constituted through these complex cultural, ethnic, gendered and class intersections. Without much differentiation or attention to these intersecting complexities, the universalizing “community garden” heading can invisibilize key symbolic differences, including the degree to which some gardens can institutionalize themselves; the plural articulations of benefits from aesthetic to cultural, and finally the varied extent to which some become conduits through which communities navigate toward more just and culturally appropriate urban food sheds. Using a feminist political ecology framework, with an explicitly intersectional feminist analysis, this research project seeks to explore the multiple, and often competing ways in which the community garden space is understood. In addition to being a rich ecological and cultural space, the Henderson Community Garden is also a uniquely gendered space. While political ecology helps draw attention to the interconnectivity between the discursive, material, and ecological, using a feminist political ecology framework helps highlight the intersectional gendered nature of the garden. The purpose and value of this research project is to force a rethinking of these gardens spaces as plural, complex, and tension-filled cultural spaces that fall under the otherwise universalizing “community garden” heading. This rethinking is an essential component to illuminating not only the plurality of practices engaged in, ways of knowing and tending the land therein, but also for illuminating how access to natural resources through the community garden are always socially, culturally and politically mediated.