The Motivations and Needs of Rural, Low-Income Household Food Gardeners


  • Kate J. Darby Western Washington University
  • Taylor Hinton Allegheny College
  • Joaquin Torre Western Washington University



Household Gardening, Food Security, Rural, United States, Low-Income


In local food systems research and practice, little attention has been given to the motivations and behaviors of low-income household gardeners as food provisioners. In this paper, we examine the motivations, barriers, and practices of food gardening among low- income rural U.S. residents with the goal of informing policies and programs that might support these food provisioning activi­ties. This work draws from ethnographic inquiry, including surveys, interviews, and garden visits with households in rural, Western Pennsylvania. Over half of those surveyed (n=124) grow some of their own food, with higher rates of gardening among higher-income households. Low-income gardeners are most motivated by three things; (1) a desire to save money, (2) pleasure from the practice of gar­dening and time spent outside, and (3) a connec­tion to spiritual practice. For the low-income gardeners we interviewed, gardening creates and reinforces social connections and cultural traditions. For many, gardening is also a political act: a way to guard against an uncertain future and resist a centralized food system. The findings from this study suggest that local food systems programs and policies might better support low-income food-provisioning households by acknowledging and respecting the knowledge and skills held by these individuals, recognizing and supporting the social and cultural role of gardening, and providing structural support around the space and time con­cerns identified by survey respondents as major barriers to gardening.

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Author Biographies

Kate J. Darby, Western Washington University

Department of Environmental Studies, Huxley College of the Environment

Taylor Hinton, Allegheny College

Environmental Science, Allegheny College.

Hinton is now at Secondary Education, Mercyhurst University.

Joaquin Torre, Western Washington University

Department of Communication Studies, College of Humanities & Social Sciences



How to Cite

Darby, K., Hinton, T., & Torre, J. (2020). The Motivations and Needs of Rural, Low-Income Household Food Gardeners. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 9(2), 55–69.