Photo credit: Eric Higbee, "Marra Farm" (2007)

Cultivating Communities is a neighborhood gardening program for low-income communities in Seattle , Washington . The program was developed when Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) recognized that residents were planting gardens outside their homes, where the soil was potentially contaminated with lead. To address the problem, SHA partnered with the Department of Neighborhoods' P-Patch program, which helps Seattle residents develop unused plots of land in the city. Together they formed Cultivating Communities in 1995, adopting a proactive approach to working with low-income communities and immigrant populations. Seattle now has 17 community gardens in 4 SHA sites in different communities, providing lead-free organic gardening space for more than 120 families to grow food for family and friends. Two of the four participating communities, Rainer Vista and Yessler Terrace, have populations in which 50% of the residents are of Southeast Asian origin, many with agricultural backgrounds.

Cultivating Communities has leveraged local resources to support the community gardens, such as the Neighborhood Matching Fund (NMF) administered through Seattle city government. Applications to the Cultivating Communities program are available to any community group, which can form for the purpose of getting a community garden. Cultivating Communities also assists residents with grant management if needed. Currently, Cultivating Communities is transferring the management of existing gardens to community residents and establishing new gardens in recently redeveloped communities. Cultivating Communities also has two community-supported agriculture (CSA) enterprises that provide supplemental income for some families. Subscribers pay a set fee and receive a bag of fresh organic produce for 24 weeks. The interaction between customers and gardeners enables the gardeners practice their English skills and links them to the broader Seattle community, helping them adjust to life in the United States . Since most of the gardeners had little contact with each other when the project began, the enterprise is also helping to build community among the gardeners themselves.

Cultivating Communities addressed a potentially harmful problem by building on the capacity and skills of residents and leveraging local resources. The program has resulted in multiple health-promoting outcomes. Most directly, these include 1) Decreased exposure to lead by providing lead-free gardening plots (air, water and soil); 2) Decreased risk of chronic disease as a result of increased availability of healthy food (what's sold and how it's promoted); and 3) Decreased risk of mental health problems and violence by promoting social connections and trust between community members (social networks and trust). In fact, residents have noted that relationships among neighbors have contributed to community building and crime prevention. Additionally, the program has achieved outcomes that indirectly promote health including 4) Increased economic opportunity through supplemental income development and increasing participant skills (jobs and local ownership); 5) Opportunities to learn English (education); and 6) Improved relations between different racial and ethnic groups (racial justice).


For more information: Cultivating Communities; (p) 206-684-0540; 700 3rd Ave 4th fl.; Seattle, WA 98104-1848;


This community example was written with funding from The California Endowment.

From: THRIVE: Tool for Health and Resilience in Vulnerable Environments