Research Summary #3
SPNO Social Capital Formation Case Study:
Sudbury Community Gardens
City of Greater Sudbury and the Sudbury Social Planning Council
The City of Greater Sudbury was formed on January 1, 2001 following the amalgamation of the communities of the former Regional Municipality of Sudbury. With a rich history starting in the late 19th century based on vast mineral and lumber resources, Sudbury has grown rapidly and matured into a diversified regional urban centre, which has become the focus of technology, education, government and health services for Northern Ontario. It is the largest municipality in Ontario based on total geographic area.
The population of the Greater Sudbury Region is 164,049. Sudbury is a diverse and rich multicultural community and is truly bilingual, with over 28% of the population indicating French as their mother tongue.
Sudbury Social Planning Council and the Community Gardens Project
Initiated in 1989 as a Committee of the United Way, the Social Planning Council of Sudbury (SPC) became incorporated and received charitable status in 1991. The Sudbury SPC has a 15 member voluntary Board of Directors and has a membership of individuals and community agencies representing over 800 people.
Community gardens in Sudbury have evolved through a community development process over the last 10 years. The first garden was initiated in an active low-income housing community. With a variety of supports and creative leadership, the model was replicated in two other low-income neighbourhoods.
The research for this case study began in late July 2001 with a review of existing documentation on the Sudbury Community Gardens Project. A “lifeline analysis” was conducted on July 30 in Sudbury with local leaders who were previously or currently involved in setting up two of the three community gardens in the Sudbury area. Following the lifeline session, the researcher spent the next three days interviewing personally and by telephone local people who were involved in the Community Gardens Project. Several of the interviews were conducted in each of the three community gardens sites, which allowed the researcher to visit each community garden. Additional interviews were conducted by telephone from Toronto in the two weeks after the Sudbury site visit. Altogether twelve individuals were interviewed including four community gardens participants and residents, two local non-resident volunteers, five community workers with different agencies, and one senior City housing official. Finally, about ten participants in the Cabot Park community garden completed two self-administered “bonding” surveys. The researcher was able to tabulate the results and return to the community in November for a focus group session on the findings.
Lifeline Analysis: Community Capacity-Building Process
The “lifeline” of Sudbury Community Gardens Project suggests four main phases of development.
Project Inspiration, 1991 – 1997:
The inspiration for the development of a Sudbury Community Gardens Project came from a local initiative in the early 1990s at Ryan Heights, a subsidized housing setting in Sudbury. A dynamic local resident leader, searching for ways to keep youth actively and positively engaged with the community, responded to an opportunity presented by workers from several community agencies (Better Beginnings, Better Futures [BBBF], Grass Roots Economic Opportunity Development [GEODE]), which were collaborating to promote community gardens. Ryan Heights’ community garden became the model for the future development of the Community Gardens Project in Sudbury. The Sudbury SPC was not directly involved in the community garden at this time.
Pre-Project Developments, 1997-99
The Sudbury Housing Authority under the City’s auspices managed the largest concentration of housing for low-income people north of Toronto at 1960 Paris Street, a subsidized housing complex in the south end of Sudbury. This became the focus of community activity to initiate another community garden in 1997.
A team of community development workers and volunteer leaders from a variety of community organizations, including an inter-faith group and the Sudbury SPC, brought the community garden idea to the low income housing project at 1960 Paris Street. The community worker of the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON), which had just assumed programming responsibility of a multi-use facility at l960 Paris Street took the lead. An agricultural economist with the Royal Bank was engaged as a volunteer. Thus, the Residents Council was supported in developing a community garden and a Community Garden Resource Group was started. The Sudbury SPC did not assume a leadership role but contributed some community development staff time.
The 1960 Paris Street Community Garden Resoure Group secured the support of the head of the Sudbury Housing Authority and then the Mayor for the development of a community garden. In 1999, a community garden with 29 plots was launched, providing vegetables for 160 families and children in the community.
Project Definition and Initiation, 1999 – 2001
The Sudbury SPC took the lead in a partnership with the VON to formulate a proposal called “From the Roots Up . . . A Template for Community Gardens in the Region of Sudbury”, which was submitted to the City in September 1999. The submission proposed that a low income, high need community be selected and connected with the resident and agency leadership from the two previous community gardens.
The Project received a commitment of about $15,000 of City funding from National Child Benefit clawback savings support for the purchase of supplies and materials related to community gardening and for staff or organizational support. The Project first intentionally strengthened its connections to leadership in both Ryan Heights and Paris Street and provided technical and material support to their gardens in 2000. Cabot Park, a social housing site in the north end of the City, was selected for a community garden.
The Sudbury Community Gardens Network with representatives from all three community gardens and community agency staff and other volunteers was set up in June 2000 and established a vision and mission statement, guiding principles and membership criteria. The Network established a very important connection with Fox Lake Lodge, north of Sudbury, a business mining carbonitite, which is a very potent, non-chemical fertilizer. Members of the Network visited Fox Lake Lodge for information and education on gardening and the use of fertilizers.
The focus of the Cabot Park Community Garden was directly on the children in the community. The Cabot Park Kids Committee took the lead on developing the garden. In late June 2000, Cabot Park held its first planting. Its first season of community gardening was very successful.
Crisis of Sustainability, 2001 – 2002
While excitement and enthusiasm in Cabot Park was building during 2000 – 2001, momentum in the Ryan Heights and Paris Street community gardens stalled a bit in 2001. Major leadership changes happened. There was no continuing funding support for staff support from the SPC nor were any of the partner agencies able to provide more intense support to local residents or to help them make the transition to new leadership. SPC has tried to continue to provide liaison support to the three gardens with its community development worker. The ability, however, to maintain the connections among leadership in the three community gardens has been seriously reduced by the lack of dedicated organizational or staff support.
Applying the Community Capacity-Building Process Framework
The SPNO has developed a Community-Capacity Building Process framework for the analysis of its case studies that follows the following sequence:
Assessment of capacity — determination of the potential for capacity development and viability of community initiatives.
Project capacity — ability to develop a leadership group to undertake the community initiative.
Partnership capacity — ability to extend or expand the community initiative by increasing participation of organizational partners to sponsor, lead, or resource the development.
Sustainability — ability for the initiative to continue through the commitment of the ongoing support of community, system, and/or institutional processes and structures.
Applying this framework to the development of the Sudbury Community Gardens Project offers the following insights on community capacity-building:
- The ease and effectiveness with which agency staff work together on community development initiatives at the field level in Sudbury suggests a certain shared community development “culture”, unbounded by organizational affiliations, which is a form of social capital in itself. A very cooperative approach was adopted with different agencies and community workers taking lead roles at different times. Notably, community development staff in Sudbury move easily from job to job with the different community organizations and sometimes work on a half-time basis for two community organizations simultaneously without any apparent difficulty.
- One benefit of a collaborative, cross-agency staff culture in Sudbury is that the development of opportunities is not limited by organizational perspectives or interests in terms of either place or time. The opportunity to transmit the learning from Ryan Heights in the early 1990s to Paris Street in 1998 is carried through time by a community development worker involved in a different capacity with another community group for the later community garden. This is replicated for Cabot Park. The fluidity through time in the community partnerships that created the three community gardens suggests a process that is almost organic in itself. But, like anything organic it needs sustenance to survive and thrive and that was lacking in late 2001.
- Using the “Community Capacity-building Framework”:
- Ryan Heights demonstrated the potential and viability of community gardens (Assessment of Capacity).
- Paris Street pulled together a broad community leadership group to apply the first community gardens experience to another setting (Project Capacity).
- Cabot Park was intentionally designed to show how previous experience, and a consolidated community partnership with City support could expand community gardens and develop a strategic “template” and resource materials for future community gardens (Partnership Capacity).
- Systemic or institutional commitment to further expansion is lacking (Sustainability).
Analysis: Social Capital Measures
Participant “Bonding” Survey Questionnaires were completed by residents involved in the Cabot Park Community Garden. Nine Cabot Park residents completed the “Bonding” Survey. Six completed the Social Network Index Mapping form. Both instruments attempt to get a measure of social capital evident in or associated with the community garden activity. Analysis of the results of the Participant “Bonding” Survey suggests the following*:
Sense of Community Membership
- Overall, among these nine respondents the strength of the social capital measures related to the Cabot Park community garden is quite strong in terms of the sense of community, personal development and mutual caring among gardening participants.
- The sense of community membership through participation in the garden is the strongest social capital measure among Cabot Park respondents. Respondents felt most positive about:
- feeling comfortable about expressing strong feelings about the garden to other members;
- feeling a community spirit from participating in the garden;
- the lack of tension or conflict from other gardeners who want to control things; and
- having a clear understanding of the garden’s purpose.
- In a focus group discussion with the respondents on these results, they indicated recognized that the garden had brought people out of their homes into the garden plots together and helped them get to know each other better. Focus group participants indicated that these benefits were “more important than the food”.
- The focus group participants also noticed a difference in the first year when gardeners worked together on one big garden and the second when individual plots were assigned. Even this small degree of individualization took away from some of the sense of all contributing to one community effort.
*The detailed case studies report the responses in tabular and bar chart form with both count and percentage data.
Sense of Personal Growth and Development
- There was less agreement among respondents that the garden contributed to a sense of personal development, although 59% of the response was positive on these indicators.
- On further investigation, eight out of nine respondents reported feeling “very good about myself when I am working in the garden”, which shows a high degree of affirmation from the community gardening activity.
- There was greater uncertainty and disagreement about whether the community gardening was teaching participants new skills and abilities.
Sense of Reciprocity and Caring
- Six of the nine respondents have seen “close friendships” form as a result of participation in the community garden . Seven agreed that they had “made some new friends” from
- There is a little more reserve on whether the garden “helps create a strong sense of caring for each other in this neighbourhood”.
- Focus group participants associated strongly with the sense that the community garden contributed positively to a sense of caring in the community.
Social Networking Measures
A second questionnaire (Social Network Index), also independently and anonymously completed by six respondents from the Cabot Park community garden, inquired about participant relationships.
- Respondents identified 36 people whom they knew in the community garden. Seven of the people identified were not known previously to the respondent. The length of most of these previous relationships ranged mostly from five months to three years.
- Respondents had the highest expectations that they would get “positive feedback” from other community gardens. They have a high level of comfort as well about “seeking advice” from other participants about the garden.
- Respondents are prepared to engage “socially” outside garden activity with more than half of the other gardeners they identified. This did not include, however, any of the seven new acquaintances through the community garden.
- The response is weaker on the closer kinds of relationships such as “sharing private feelings” and “trusting with a personal secret”. Still four out of ten of the relationships are at that level of intimacy. None of the new acquaintances are included in these measures of closer friendship.
Analysis: Connecting and Linking Strategies
The SPNO also wishes to learn from its case study research about what connecting and linking strategies are used and under what conditions they are employed to facilitate the formation of social capital. The SPNO model sees social planning councils using connecting and linking strategies under different conditions and situations to build community capacity, form social capital for specific community purposes, and to effect larger social change.
Reported Benefits of the Community Gardens
Key informants interviewed for this case study, which included local residents, community agency workers and the senior City housing manager gave testimony to the purpose and benefits of the community gardens at the community level in the following ways:
- Local residents more frequently referred to the social and learning benefits of the gardens to children and families in the three subsidized housing communities;
- Key informants from supporting agencies more often referred to the “capacity-building” benefits of the gardens to both individuals and the larger community.
- Both local resident and agency key informants, however, identified about equally the clear benefits of the community working together in the gardens. The intergenerational connections are particularly noticeable to some.
- Many examples were offered on the “inclusiveness” of the community gardens.
- There were a number of examples of how involvement in the gardens led residents into leadership roles or self-advancement.
Bonding strategies build trust and cooperation among individuals and within communities.
- In the focus group discussion with Cabot Park residents, the value of the community gardens was clearly identified as a major contributor to community-building, helping people to get to know each other and, thus creating a safer community.
- The Ryan Heights community leader stated that “a lot of friendships have been made in the garden”. She told of a group of ten or twelve gardeners that used the afternoon or evening gardening opportunities during the summer to socialize.
- Key informants at Paris Street reported that the community gardens “coaxed people out of their apartments”, especially
Bridging strategies break down barriers across groups and communities and enable collaborative action on shared objectives.
- The connection between the first two gardens was made by the involvement of community workers who happened to be situated in a place to make the link.
- Connecting the three community gardens was an intentional strategy by 1999 when the “From the Roots Up” proposal was developed.
- The Community Gardens Network that was set up in June 2000 with representatives from all three community gardens plus the community agencies involved was seen as useful. Unfortunately, the lack of ongoing resources to support the functioning of the Community Gardens Network has reduced the bridging activity and stalled the momentum towards further community gardens development as originally envisaged.
Scaling-up strategies connect communities in collective action for policy and systems level social change and development. Scaling up depends on striking vertical linkages with groups and resources external to the community and in places of decision-making and command of resources.
- The Sudbury Community Gardens initiative established a strong vertical linkage with the City and the Greater Sudbury Housing Corporation. The involvement of respected community agencies and the Royal Bank volunteer gained the confidence of the Sudbury Housing management, such that all three community gardens benefited.
- Local residents in several sites expressed awareness of a changed perception by politicians, City and housing staff since the community gardens were started. They felt that their efforts in making the community gardens work had influenced what outside people thought of low income people and communities.
- The Sudbury SPC reported that the Community Gardens Project had strengthened its own relationship with the City and led to additional joint initiatives for supporting low income families in Sudbury.
Organizational and Practice Perspectives for Social Planning
The following considers Sudbury SPC’s involvement in the community gardens development from both an organizational and a practice perspective.
Organizational Asset Base:
The Sudbury SPC performed an important support role for the community gardens, exhibiting the following characteristics, as did other participating agencies such as the VON and BBBF:
- A clear commitment to the community without being controlling, but showing a lot of flexibility and adaptability to changing community needs;
- A supportive presence with community people on-site;
- Knowledge and expertise about how to do community development and how to recruit and assign community workers with a solid understanding of community development;
- A capacity to connect with outside volunteers, as well as to support their involvement; and
- Providing access to other sectors in order to acquire resources for the community (e.g. business, government).
Key informants were also fairly clear and consistent about what kinds of knowledge and skills a community development worker needed in order to work effectively with communities on initiatives such as community gardens. These included:
- Enthusiasm and motivational skills to excite and encourage participation of community residents;
- Patience with and respect/empathy for the daily barriers to consistent participation by people struggling on low incomes;
- Responsiveness to expressed community needs and reliability for follow-up action on commitments that the worker makes;
- Organizing and coordinating skills;
- Personability and ability to relate well to people;
- Well-connected to other workers and to sources of support external to the community; and
- Eliciting the trust and confidence of both community members and outside stakeholders.
This last point on “trust and confidence” is integral to the success of the community development workers involved in all three community gardens. Local residents trusted the workers’ capacity to translate community needs to the external sources of support in the system. External stakeholders had to have some confidence in the value of responding with resources and that was frequently elicited via worker representation and assurances of the community’s conviction and integrity.
Some of the conclusions for the Halton SPC in the Food for Thought Program (Case Study #1) would seem to apply to the Sudbury SPC’s experience with the community gardens initiative with some important modifications that suit the particular features of the community development culture in Sudbury.
- Joined Community and Institutional Trust. As in Halton Region, a relationship of trust and confidence has been established between the community sector and the institutional authorities in Sudbury (i.e. with the City and subsidized housing management). Unlike Halton, however, this trust has not led to sustaining institutional resource support for the community gardens initiative. The lack of infrastructure support (i.e. paid staff time for organizing, coordinating and expanding community gardens) is a major barrier to further development and may even risk the progress made to date.
- Strategic Leadership Positioning and Outreach. In both Halton and Sudbury, senior SPC leadership have strategically engaged in making “vertical linkages” with institutional leadership. In Sudbury, the relationships established with senior institutional leaders have produced additional collaboration (e.g. SPC allocation of NCB funds to families with children on social assistance) but not an institutional champion for community gardens proactively promoting the start up of more gardens.
- Establishing and Exercising Reciprocal Advantage In both Halton and Sudbury, organizational “ownership” of the initiative is not an issue. In Sudbury, the community gardens have evolved more organically through a very fluid and interactive community development culture among a set of agencies and their field workers. The attempt, however, to move from the “evolutionary” development of community gardens to a more strategic planning approach based on a “template” and a structure (the Community Gardens Network) has stalled. Essentially, the Sudbury SPC’s challenge seems to be the need to frame a compelling sense of the “reciprocal advantage” of advancing the development of community gardens. It is hampered in this regard by a leadership vacuum resulting from the departure of several key community workers and volunteer leaders.
Strategic planning from a social capital perspective suggests the need to strengthen the bridging capacity of the Community Gardens Network. This would serve both to support mutual reinforcement among the three existing garden communities and also to establish a base for the future expansion of community gardens. The Community Gardens Network has not, however, clearly defined for itself a path or future plan for development. A first part of a bridging strategy must be to re-establish the functioning of the Community Gardens Network on a regular basis.
Another dimension of bridging that requires strengthening in Sudbury Community Gardens is connection to other sectors outside the low income communities. These may be business, church groups, gardening clubs, seniors clubs and communities, schools. If the value and community-building contribution of the community gardens becomes more recognized and appreciated beyond the low income communities in which they are now located, the Community Gardens Network could offer to “export” its own knowledge and expertise to other prospective sights that are not necessarily situated in subsidized housing projects.