Urban Community Garden Agrobiodiversity and Cultural Identity in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A
Geographical Review Early View
Hamil Pearsall, Sheila Gachuz, Marcel Rodríguez Sosa, Birgit Schmook, Hans van der Wal, Amalia Gracia
American Geographical Society: What is the main purpose of your study?
Hamil Pearsall: We look at the biodiversity of urban community gardens in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – what types of fruits, vegetables, and flowers people grow – and how this relates to the reasons why people garden. We are particularly interested in the cultural aspects of biodiversity and how race, ethnicity, or place of origin relate to plant selection and reason for gardening.
American Geographical Society: What are the practical, day to day implications of your study?
Hamil Pearsall: Many city planners see urban agriculture as one way to make cities more sustainable and livable. Our study will help planners understand how urban community gardens contribute to biodiversity in the built environment. Additionally, our study shows how culture connects to plant biodiversity, which could be useful for organizations that provide resources, such as seedlings, to urban gardeners.
American Geographical Society: How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
Hamil Pearsall: Most research on urban agriculture focuses on the social, community, and economic aspects of community gardens. Our study explores urban garden biodiversity and how cultural factors, such as an interest in preserving cultural heritage, influences biodiversity. Our study contributes to a small but growing interest in relating the socio-economic and cultural dimensions of gardening to the biodiversity of gardens.
American Geographical Society: What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?
Hamil Pearsall: We found that urban gardens in Philadelphia are biodiverse; we identified 104 cultivated edible and ornamental species and 28 varieties representing 34 families in 8 community gardens. We also found that place of origin is related to the types of plants people chose to plant in their garden and their reasons for gardening. For instance, many gardeners born outside of the US cited an interest in preserving their cultural heritage as a key motivation for gardening. In contrast, many gardeners born in the US cited relaxation as their motivation.
American Geographical Society: What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?
Hamil Pearsall: Our study suggests that culture is embedded in the ecological aspects of urban community gardens; urban garden biodiversity reflects the cultural identities of the gardeners.
American Geographical Society: How does your research help us think about Geography?
Hamil Pearsall: Our study shows how connections between places – from Bhutan to Philadelphia or from Jamaica to Philadelphia – are reflected in the biodiversity of urban gardens and that cultural identities are critical for maintaining these connections.
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