“We Don’t Want to Hand Out, We Want to Hand Up”: Cultivating Community Food Security through Rural Community Gardening Programs in Central Appalachia

Community gardening programs have long been celebrated for their beneficial contributions to urban sustainable development, including community food security, human and social capital development, and improved environmental quality. Yet research on similar programs in rural environments is nearly non-existent, despite the persistence of similar social, economic, and environmental challenges and opportunities among rural people and places. To better understand how community gardening supports sustainable development in rural places, this paper documents the history, strategies, and outcomes of the Grow Appalachia initiative, a community food security organization headquartered in Berea, Kentucky. Grow Appalachia provides financial, technical, and educational assistance to select community-based organizations to establish community gardening programs and other food system assets. This paper documents both the development of Grow Appalachia’s mission through its near decade of community food security work, and, drawing upon a collaborative program evaluation conducted between 2016-2018, how Grow Appalachia’s evolution and strategies have produced positive outcomes for its gardener participants, organizational partners, and the communities in which they all reside. Ultimately, this paper offers a re-definition of what “community gardening” means, offering insight on how these initiatives and their impacts on community food security are experienced, pursued, and achieved by rural people and in rural places previously ignored in formerly more urban-centric sustainable development scholarship and practice.