A Research Experience: Community Gardens in Chicago

Urban garden project in Chicago

By Abigail Petersen:

This summer I was one of the Research Interns for the ACES Office of Research. I was stationed in Chicago with the task of researching community gardens for the University of Illinois Extension. This internship is a unique experience for many undergraduate students as the interns design, implement, and carry out their research study in just 11 short weeks.

Although this may sound scary, interns are not going at it alone; they are paired with a team of seasoned and supportive research advisors and mentors that guide the interns through the study process. We spent the previous spring semester preparing for the internship developing a research proposal with a budget, research procedure, and supply list. The proposal was then submitted to the ACES Office of Research and our stakeholders (in my case UIUC Cook County Extension) for review and then revision.

Once the internship began, it was a whirlwind of experiences. My partner and I focused on studying the facilitators and barriers of urban garden programs. My particular focus was community garden programs while my partner studied school garden programs. Facilitators and barriers are just fancy words for answering the questions: what is keeping a garden open and successful? And what is causing a community garden to close? After creating a literature review, visiting and working in over 20 community gardens throughout the city, and interviewing over 40 research participants, I was finally able to analyze the results of the past weeks. We found that participation and community investment was the number one facilitator for community gardens and is what impacts its success the most.

This research experience has been very beneficial for me and opened a lot of doors. It is something that many graduate schools that I am applying to are looking for and has set me apart from other applicants.

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