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Program Effectiveness of Community Gardens in Nashville, Tennessee for Homeless and Low Income Populations
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Community gardens can provide many benefits including increased produce consumption, improved mental health, and increased exercise. However, few studies have been done on how participation in community gardens can impact the homeless and low income populations. This study was done as a qualitative case study on the effectiveness of three community garden programs in Nashville, Tennessee: Poverty and the Arts, The Nashville Food Project, and Hands on Nashville. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with nine individuals to determine 1) if the anticipated benefits (e.g., increased produce consumption, improved mental health) were being experienced by the gardeners and 2) if any identified gaps in benefits could be addressed through programming recommendations. There was only a marginal improvement in amount of produce consumed by participants. While the participants made it clear that they were happy with the programs, they rarely experienced the potential social benefits normally associated with working in a community gardens. Minor additions to programming have potential to increase participant benefits and we recommend that gardens consider how this might be accomplished. Programming that enhances nutrition education and greater opportunities for food preparation could increase produce consumption and simultaneously advance social interaction among participants. We found that the relationship between homeless and low income populations and community gardens is complex and that more studies would help to improve community garden outreach to these groups.