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What if community gardens could feed cities?

Urban agriculture in the form of community gardens interests INRA researchers at AgroParisTech for their quantitative as well as their qualitative contribution to feeding the local population, and also for their innovative practices with respect to cultivation choices and consumption modes.

And if associative gardens fed the city?. © INRA - Anne-Cécile Daniel
Updated on 01/10/2014
Published on 01/10/2014

Up to 1000 ha of community gardens: a surface equivalent to that used by market gardeners in the Ile-de-France region

Despite the amount of land they cover (while awaiting the results of an ongoing inventory by the Institute for Urban Planning and Development for the Ile-de-France region, it is thought that an almost equivalent area of land is covered by community gardens and by market gardeners in the region), no data are available regarding the quantities of fruits and vegetables harvested from these gardens.  To make up for the deficiencies regarding both harvest volumes, consumption modes and the destination of products, the research team developed a methodology to monitor the harvests of eight community gardens in Paris and its inner suburbs between April and October 2012, and then during the same period in 2013.

Interviews with gardeners and the distribution of harvest diaries

Semi-directive interviews were carried out with gardeners from various socioprofessional backgrounds who adopted different cropping practices and consumption modes. All had access to individual plots (from 4 m² to 350 m2), producing fruits, vegetables and aromatic herbs in gardens managed under different arrangements, affiliated or not to the FNJFC (National Federation of Family and Collective Gardens). To understand the importance of the feeding function of these plots, and monitor changes to practices over the months, 19 out of the 31 gardeners contacted were monitored and trained in completing a harvest notebook that would provide information on the quantities harvested and resulting consumption modes (gifts, type of cooking, preserves, jams, sampling in the garden, etc.).

A broad diversity of crops grown and yields

More than 150 different varieties were recorded throughout all the gardens and, depending on plot size, between 14 and 38 species in each. Often consumed fresh and recognised for their gustatory quality, green beans, tomatoes and salads were the crops most commonly cultivated in these gardens.  Swiss chard and courgettes were among the second group of widely cultivated species, followed by strawberries, aubergines, potatoes and radishes. As a general rule, leafy vegetables and fruits were the most appreciated by the gardeners, ahead of root vegetables and stem and bulb vegetables, whose cultivation was deemed more difficult.

Between May and November, the quantities harvested ranged from 1.65 kg to 393.75 kg per plot, with variations in yield from 7 g/m2 to 2.32 kg/m2 of total area of the plot (including not cultivated zones of these plots), which were not correlated to plot size but could be explained by the gardener's objective: to produce food products, allow free rein to spontaneous biodiversity, exploit the entire area of the plot or keep it for recreational purposes, etc. Much of the harvest was given away, either because of momentary overproduction (salads or green beans being typical examples) or because of the pleasure of giving.

A consumption mode dependent on the gardener's profile

That part of the harvest consumed at home concerned retired people or those with children; in full season, personal consumption could account for a large share of their vegetable intake.  Not linked to the volumes harvested, consumption modes were dependent on the identities and tastes of the gardeners: the freezing of Swiss chard or beans, for example, even if there was no overproduction, so that they could be consumed out of season.  Fruits, rather than vegetables, were destined for preserves (jams).
These initial results, which enable a clearer understanding of the practices and profiles of these gardeners, now need to be refined.  Much appreciated by the gardeners, the harvest diary proved to be simple and pleasant to use, and the researchers are now envisaging its broader application to a larger number of gardens.  

Scientific contact(s):

  • Anne-Cécile DANIEL Joint Research Unit - Science for Action and Sustainable Development: Activities, Products, Territories (UMR 1048, SADAPT)
  • Jeanne POURIAS Joint Research Unit - Science for Action and Sustainable Development: Activities, Products, Territories (UMR 1048, SADAPT)
  • Christine AUBRY (+33 (0)1 44 08 16 86) Joint Research Unit - Science for Action and Sustainable Development: Activities, Products, Territories (UMR 1048, SADAPT)
Associated Division(s):
Social Sciences, Agriculture and Food, Rural Development and Environment., Science for Action and Development
Associated Centre(s):

For further information

  • Pourias J Aubry C. 2013. Locally grown food within cities: food function of Parisian associative gardens Comm au 15the ESR congress, Florencia Italy, 29 July-2 August 2013