Exploring the sociomaterial dynamics of home food gardening in a Black-majority, low-income neighbourhood in Chicago, IL, U.S.A.

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Appreciation for the contributions of urban home food gardens to social-ecological resilience, food security, and human health is growing, most recently as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the precarities it has laid bare in the food system. In this study, we used actor-network theory as a guiding sensibility to explore the sociomaterial dynamics of urban home food gardens in a low-income, Black-majority neighbourhood on Chicago’s south side. As collectives, gardens gathered diverse human and nonhuman actors including soil, plants, family members, friends, strangers, and government and non-government organisations. Relations of care, of humans and nonhumans, stabilised networks, as did the co-construction of identity. The care provided for nonhumans, however, did not always qualify as good care, and practices of care for humans through sharing food and plants from the garden were more complicated than suggested by previous studies. Gardening networks–and associated communities of practice–were contracting because of illness, death, and migration of gardeners from the neighbourhood. Based on study results, we make several policy recommendations for expanding urban home food gardening, including increased financial, technical, and material support from local governments and the promotion of gardening as a practice of care in a more-than-human world.

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Local Environment