Here is an article I wrote that appeared this week in Isthmus, Madison’s weekly newspaper:

A first-of-its-kind study

analyzes how much Madison-area gardeners produce and why

Surprise, it’s not just about food!
Denise Thornton on Thursday 09/15/2011

When Vincent Smith came to Madison to study urban agriculture, he picked fertile ground. Gardening is a growth industry here. One in three Madison-area households grows some of its own food. There is a waiting list for plots in many of the area’s 50 community gardens, and there are more than 40 organizations involved in local food production, with some of that produce going to food pantries.

Smith is the first person to systematically study how much area gardeners are producing and why. According to his findings, Madison-area gardeners cultivated 48,184 food-producing gardens on 6.5 million square feet of ground to produce $9.4 million of food in 2010, but whittling their grocery bill had little to do with why most seeded, weeded and watered.

The median household income of community gardeners was $70,000, and $87,500 for home gardeners — both higher than the Madison-area’s median income of about $55,000. “There is a lot of food growing out there, and for some, it is unquestionably a net gain financially,” says Smith. “However, the wide range of personal and social values associated with food gardening goes way beyond the actual market value of the food.”

Smith arrived at the UW-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies to get a Ph.D. after a stint as program director of the Center for Urban Agriculture in Santa Barbara, Calif. He grew up on a farm in Missouri and has a master’s degree in environmental education with an emphasis on outdoor, farm-based education.

“UW-Madison has a phenomenal number of people working on food, including world-renowned environmental sociologists who study food, combined with a high community interest in food production,” says Smith. “I had only been in Madison a couple of months when Community GroundWorks, then Troy Gardens, asked me to be on their board of directors. I started meeting people and networking.”

As he reached out to such groups as the Community Action Coalition, Research, Education, Action and Policy of Food Group (REAP), Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition (MACSAC) and City of Madison Gardens Committee, Smith found that many groups and growers were looking for hard numbers on the actual value of community food production.

“Organizations needed data for writing grants, and growers just wanted to know if it was worth their effort,” says Janet Silbernagel, chair of the Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development Program of the Nelson Institute. Silbernagel served as one of Smith’s advisers. “Vincent decided to undertake this study because people needed it, and he was the right person to do it. That had not been studied before.”


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