The Role of Leadership for Community Building and Community Garden Programs


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Virginia Tech


Community gardens play a valuable role in creating places where people can socialize; share knowledge, experiences, and mutual interests; and improve food security. As previous research has shown, effective leadership is a prerequisite to community building in garden programs. However, relatively little research to date has examined the types of leadership and leadership practices that exist and work in community garden settings, and even less has focused on the role of leadership in facilitating social interactions and relationship building.

This study aimed to gain a better understanding of leadership practices related to community building in the context of community gardens by exploring various stakeholders' perspectives on leadership. The primary purpose of this research was to: 1) explore knowledge, attitudes, and practices regarding community building in different types of community gardens; 2) obtain a better understanding of stakeholders' views on leadership competencies and roles; 3) examine how informal leadership emerges and develops; and 4) identify how organizational structures and managerial schemes influence leadership practices and performance. Building upon transformational and adaptive leadership theories, this research focuses on the interactive process whereby leaders and various actors mutually influence each other to meet individual as well as organizational goals.

This study employed a two-phase research design. The first phase consisted of collecting quantitative data through self-administered surveys from five groups of stakeholders – garden coordinators, executive directors, gardeners, representatives of allied organizations, and non-gardening neighbors – in four Virginia community garden programs located in Blacksburg, Salem, and Roanoke. The second phase entailed conducting semi-structured interviews with 21 participants and using cross-case analysis to interpret the results. The comparative case study included four community gardens characterized by different organizational structures and ties to their adjacent communities.

The findings indicated that leadership performs an overarching role not only in fulfilling a garden program's mission, but also in facilitating social interactions and trust-based relationships between garden members and with wider communities. Good leadership practices in the context of community gardens implied engaging in inclusive and transparent communications with different entities on a regular basis and attending to the needs and motivations of each member. This study also shed light on the value of dedicated informal leaders to facilitate a garden's social function and to take on the maintenance and supervision of hands-on tasks on-site. Comparative analysis of the four cases revealed that different characteristics inherent to the community gardens, such as whether they are place-based or interest-based and whether their governance structure is formally or informally driven, are closely related to the leadership approaches that constitute best practices. These findings have implications for practitioners who organize and manage community organizations in a broader context, as well as community garden programs.



Community Garden, Leadership, Community Building, Organizational leadership