Assessing community needs to expand youth garden
The IssueThe Santa Cruz County Youth Garden, located near the UCCE Watsonville office, started in 1998 as a project of UCCE Master Gardeners and the Santa Cruz County Probation Department. The project aimed to help youth on probation complete court-ordered community service, learn about gardening and become involved in marketing projects. UC Cooperative Extension advisors in Santa Cruz County wished to determine whether there was interest and need to expand the Youth Garden to include a broader range of services to the Santa Cruz County community.
What Has ANR Done?With the help of California Communities Program intern Rachel Brand, UCCE Santa Cruz County conducted a community needs assessment study to determine if there was an interest in expanding the youth garden to include research and education. The needs assessment also aimed to identify how adding research and education would enhance other local initiatives that encourage residents to make healthy food choices.
The first part of the needs assessment gathered information from coordinators of three successful garden programs managed by experienced UCCE academics and staff. These interviews provided insightful information on the role of the garden in the community by clearly identifying users, programs, staffing needs and obstacles.
A second set of interviews was conducted with 13 local stakeholders familiar with or connected to programs that encourage healthy eating and agriculture education. These interviews included a discussion of how the interviewees’ organizations would use the garden as a resource, what challenges they see with expanding and maintaining a garden, and how the expanded garden could be an integral part of the community’s culture.
The data suggested that there was an overwhelming amount of support and interest in the expansion of the garden, especially in its potential to be used for conducting healthy eating and agricultural education workshops, demonstrations and programs.
Identifying community needs is the key to successThe use of gardens for education is common. What makes this project unique is the development and implementation of a community needs assessment prior to modifying the garden's focus, scope and physical layout. The data provided specific information on how to modify the current garden in order to best meet the needs of the community by including research and education.
Specifically, community stakeholders talked about showcasing the garden to build understanding of where food comes from, using the garden as a tool to develop career skills, and making use of the garden to promote sustainable agriculture. These potential research topics will have a direct impact on supporting healthy food choices and horticultural education within the community. In addition, community stakeholders also noted that expansion of the garden to include education would provide opportunities for field trips, service learning and food preparation courses.