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  • Author or Editor: Michael W. Hamm x
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A comprehensive model for measuring the impact of community gardening on the physical, nutritional, and sociological structures of at-risk, urban communities is desperately needed to ensure the long-term sustainability of such programs.

This presentation will focus on the stepwise formation and implementation of an evaluation tool which was developed to fill this urgent need. The intent of the research approach is to scientifically validate the connection between community gardening and community well-being. In partnership with noted horticultural researchers, urban gardeners, dietitians, and sociologists, we have developed a statistical survey which integrates scientifically proven evaluative methods with new measurement techniques.

Preliminary findings from the first year of survey administration will be shared in order to stimulate further discussion and refinement of this particular model, and to encourage the development and implementation of scientifically-based, evaluative tools for other urban gardening and community development programs.

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Quantitative and qualitative data from a group of 12 novice hoophouse farmers over a 3-year period in Michigan were analyzed to better understand factors associated with profitable use of these structures. There was wide variation in labor inputs and effective wages. We used regression analysis and semistructured interviews to better understand the variation in performance. Not all farmers were making use of the hoophouse between outdoor seasons when supply is low and prices are high, as economic theory would predict. However, high wage earners were more likely to push production into the extended season months, hire labor at higher wages, and spend less time in maintaining crops and appeared to harvest more efficiently. Markets played a role in farmers’ success as some farmers were able to make significant profits by organizing community-supported agriculture (CSA)/direct sales or by finding new markets.

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Relatively low-cost season extension structures have the potential to contribute to farm economic viability in temperate climates by providing a means to continue sales beyond the limits of outdoor-only field production. These structures, commonly called hoophouses, high tunnels, passive solar greenhouses, or unheated greenhouses, allow for the extension of heat-tolerant (warm season) crops on both ends of the production time frame and at winter harvesting of cold-tolerant (cool season) crops. In this study, results are presented from a multiyear investigation into the economic impacts of year-round production and harvesting, with a focus on profitability of the structure and crop production as a whole. The results of case studies from nine Michigan farms reveal a very broad range of outcomes across farms in construction time, labor allocation and returns, and gross and net revenue. The economic implications of farmer use, including projected investment payback time, are discussed.

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