Unity Gardens mission to improve community health:
Physically by increasing accessibility of
fruits and vegetables as well as providing education on nutrition and food
Socially by providing education, increased social capital,
and opportunities for the disadvantaged
Economically: by developing a
sustainable local food system, recapturing food waste, creating new jobs, and
increasing per-capita productivity
Unity Gardens provide fresh healthy food for anyone.
Unity Gardens brings diverse people together
Unity Gardens provides education empowering the community to grow its own healthy food
Each Unity Garden has two criteria:
Diverse people coming together to grow a garden.
Sharing the food grown in the garden with the community.
The Unity Gardens Inc. is a collaborative network of
community gardens originated to increase the availability, awareness, and
accessibility of healthy, locally grown food. Each Unity Garden has two
criteria; diverse people coming together to grow food and a sharing component.
The gardens provide food for any in need & bring diverse people together to
grow, harvest, share, and eat healthy food. The Unity Gardens Inc. surrounds
community gardens with the resources and systems needed to ensure success with
growing food while developing partnerships with area businesses, government,
universities, schools, churches, nonprofits, and neighbors.
The mission is to improve community health -- physically, socially, and
economically. The Unity Gardens will reduce chronic illness and obesity within
the community via education and increased accessibility of fruits and
vegetables. The Unity Gardens will improve social health by providing
unconditional free food and opportunities for the disadvantaged. The Unity
Gardens will improve local economic vitality by developing a sustainable local
food system, recapturing food waste, creating new jobs, and increasing
The first Unity Garden started with an idea,
vacant land, conversations with local homeless residents, and a bit of
gardening experience. Inspired to action by a seminar on urban development and
the enthusiasm of area residents, Sara Stewart began "sprouting" the idea of planting a
vegetable garden in the downtown South Bend area. As a backyard
gardener and a public health nursing instructor, Stewart had the skills to both start
a garden and inform the community. In April, with help from volunteers, Stewart
started working the soil. I also started communication about the garden's
progress, both in person and via e-mail. Messages of growing food and growing
community, sowing seeds of sharing, and finally "We Are Growing More than
Vegetables Here" permeated the garden stories. The enthusiasm grew as
well, sprouting action and donations from service organizations, governmental
entities, and local colleges. The media helped spread the word, and the
community responded with more support. After three seasons, there are now
close to 50 Unity gardens in the South Bend area, and with partners helping
such as The Saint Joseph County Health Department, The Purdue Extension, The
Troyer Group, Barnes and Thornburg, Memorial Hospital, The Center for a
Sustainable Future, and the Indiana Department of Corrections Youth
Healt care costs, chronic illness, obesity, and cardiac
disease, correlated to poor nutrition and decreased per capita productivity are
a problem for our community. In the St. Joseph Co. Community Health Assessment,
61% of county residents reported being overweight or obese. 80% of these
reported not seeking the advice of a health professional to improve or combat
this. In addition to providing healthy food, Unity Gardens include an
educational component to help community members improve their health.
Consistent with the objectives identified by the USDA's Healthy People 2010 and
2020, Unity Gardens help reduce the incidence of chronic illness and obesity
through prevention and education.
The literature reveals ways that community gardens revitalize communities.
They reduce crime, create income opportunities, encourage neighborhood,
economic, and community development, reduce family food budgets,
stimulate social and cross-cultural interaction, and improve quality of life for residents.
Disadvantaged residents indicate the gardens provide meaningful service
opportunities, increased community connections, and a pathway for social change.
In 2008 and 2009 the gardens were fully harvested.
Decreased availability and accessibility of healthy
food cause people in poverty to suffer disproportionately from chronic illness,
which further reduces their ability to become productive community members.
Poverty is the 3rd leading cause of death. Our entire community suffers from
lack of per capita productivity. We pay for it literally through increased
indigent health care costs, and indirectly through increased crime
Quality of life decreases as community members are less connected.
Unity Gardens primarily grow food, removing the crisis of the moment,
yet the Unity Gardens also intervene multidimensionally. They will be
hubs of activity year round as training centers, green houses and processing
centers, providing areas to plan, educate, train, and employ people.Produce
grown in the gardens will be used in restaurants, schools, hospitals, pantries,
farmer's markets, and groceries, further increasing the appreciation and demand
for locally grown, healthy food. Food waste will be recaptured and composted to
increase the food yield and job production even more, while simultaneously
reducing landfill waste. The entire community will become a model of
The Unity Gardens will improve the physical
health of the community through developing a collaborative network of community
gardens; encouraging and supporting those growing food. Although the Unity
Gardens grew from one garden to 13 in the 2009 season, the food supply was
still less than the demand. So in 2010 we had 34 gardens . There was increased
neighborhood involvement , and much more food to harvest. We will continue
partner with other community members to grow more food in 2011.
The Unity Gardens will decrease rates of obesity and chronic
illness through education and increased accessibility of healthy fruits and
vegetables. This will be measured by counting the number of community gardens
& total square footage, conducting food surveys and diet plans, tracking
USDHHS statistics on produce consumption (Healthy People 2020). By partnering
with Memorial Hospital and the St Joseph County Health Dept, HP-NWS weight,
mean cholesterol levels, county death rates from diabetes and heart disease
will be compared each year.
The gardens will also improve the
community's social health by developing opportunities for diverse and
vulnerable populations to gather, collaborate, and support each other. The
Unity Gardens will build community by bringing neighbors and groups together in
shared garden activities and educational events. Sign-in sheets will track the
participation rates. Greenhouse events will host groups to come together to
sprout seeds. Educational events will highlight growing tips, composting,
nutrition, canning, and food preparation. Schools, universities, and camps will
participate in service learning, internships, and continuing education on a
variety of topics including sustainable food systems, global petroleum issues,
and studies investigating childhood malnutrition and hunger. Crime rates in
garden census tracks or zip codes will be used to measure crime
The Unity gardens will stimulate economic development
through food processing, waste recovery, and developing a marketable product
for sale, all of which create jobs. Per capita income and unemployment rates
will be compiled to demonstrate economic development stimulated from job
creation surrounding food processing, food sales, and waste recapturing.
Numbers of industry consumers (businesses, hospitals, schools, restaurants,
etc.) of the marketable Unity products will be assessed to determine specific
Unity economic growth.
The Unity Gardens is a unique and
holistic public health initiative, working with a variety of organizations to
stimulate economic development in an action-oriented and health focused manor
through developing a new, local, sustainable food system. This has resonated as
something worthwhile to others. The Unity Gardens continues to be propelled to
success through the support of the community; media, collegiate, business,
local government, hospital, etc.
What is most unique about the Unity
Gardens is an approach based on unconditional sharing. Through empowerment
& facilitative education, the Unity Gardens are vehicles for economic
recovery as well as health care promotion. The Unity Gardens bring people
together in the garden space, then surround them with resources and
opportunities for health, education, and internship. The Unity Gardens
intervene simply (as in feeding a hungry family) or complexly, thwarting
contextual barriers and other multidimensional factors contributing to poverty.
The Unity Gardens have captured widespread support as an effective grass roots
strategy to improve life for the entire community.
information, including volunteer opportunities, monetary donations, or starting
your own Unity Garden please feel free to call or e-mail.
Sara Stewart RN MSN Executive Director Unity Gardens