Most people do not associate Bridgeport with self-sustaining agriculture. But according to Christina Sandolo, executive director of the Green Village Initiative (GVI), Fairfield County’s largest city is remarkably verdant when it comes to growing crops.
“There are about 20 community gardens and one urban farm, which GVI runs,” she explained. “There are about 25 school gardens and there are a few indoor hydroponic growers.
There are a few organizations that manage community gardens, including us, and we are working with the city of Bridgeport to create an urban agriculture master plan.”
In 2015, the GVI partnered with Fairfield University’s Center for Faith and Public Life (CFPL) in an ongoing program to track the state of urban agriculture in Bridgeport’s community gardens. The latest addition to this endeavor was a senior project by Julia Nojeim, an environmental studies major who just received her undergraduate degree. For Nojeim, working with the GVI provided an opportunity to see how an urban center could function as a resource of agricultural self-sufficiency.
“We had the goal of showing all of the benefits that urban community gardening has on the residents and communities, both within the gardens and around the gardens,” Nojeim said.
“The main point of my research was to look at how many different crops people were growing, what they were harvesting, how much time they are spending in the garden and to showcase the amount of value they have in their own lives as well as in the community.”
In her research, Nojeim highlighted the cultural diversity of the community garden denizens in these leafy settings.
“There is an incredible variety of people from different nations in Bridgeport, and they bring their home culture of food and agriculture,” she said, citing gardeners from Thailand, Puerto Rico and Jamaica among those in her research. “They bring crops special to them as well as crops you’d normally see growing in Connecticut like peppers and tomatoes.”
Nojeim added that her research also tracked time and cost savings linked to growing one’s own food versus going to the supermarket. In the course of a four-week data analysis of local produce harvesting, she found “gardeners saved over $100 for the small amount of how much they harvested.”
GVI’s Sandolo noted that Bridgeport’s urban gardens have also been an invaluable strategy in fighting urban blight.
“Many of those sites that are now gardens would have been abandoned lots,” she commented, also admitting that these sites needed upgrades because the Bridgeport soil beneath those lots was not conducive to agricultural splendor. “We build raised beds and kind of cap the bottom of them and bring in organic soil.”
Joseph Delgado, a research coordinator with the CFPL, observed that the community gardens have also harvested returns for the local real estate market.
“What we found where there were gardens, especially where they were near each other, those houses lost less value after the Great Recession,” he said, crediting the healthy valuation on a sense of community. “Maybe people care more about their houses because they are closer to community gardens.”
Delgado also admitted that the community aspect of these gardens stood in contrast to the popular urban stereotype of city dwellers not having close relationships with their neighbors. “Sometimes people need a unifier and in many ways the community gardens are,” he said. “That sense of community and willingness isn’t always immediately visible.”