"We have been part of the response": The Effects of COVID-19 on Community and Allotment Gardens in the Global North
Throughout history, urban agriculture practitioners have adapted to various challenges by continuing to provide food and social benefits. Urban gardens and farms have also responded to sudden political, economic, ecological, and social crises: wartime food shortages; urban disinvestment and property abandonment; earthquakes and floods; climate-change induced weather events; and global economic disruptions. This paper examines the effects on, and responses by, urban farms and gardens to the COVID-19 pandemic. The paper is based on data collected in the summer of 2020 at the onset of the pandemic when cities were struggling with appropriate responses to curb its spread. It builds on an international research project (FEW-meter) that developed a methodology to measure material and social benefits of urban agriculture (UA) in five countries (France, Germany, Poland, UK and USA) over two growing seasons, from a Food-Energy-Water nexus perspective. We surveyed project partners to ascertain the effects of COVID-19 on those gardens and farms and we interviewed policy stakeholders in each country to investigate the wider impacts of the pandemic on UA. We report the results with respect to five key areas: (1) garden accessibility and service provision during the pandemic; (2) adjustments to operational arrangements; (3) effects on production; (4) support for urban farms and gardens through the pandemic; and (5) thoughts about the future of urban agriculture in the recovery period and beyond. The paper shows that the pandemic resulted in multiple challenges to gardens and farms including the loss of ability to provide support services, lost income, and reductions in output because of reduced labor supply. But COVID-19 also created several opportunities: new markets to sell food locally; more time available to gardeners to work in their allotments; and increased community cohesion as neighboring gardeners looked out for one another. By illustrating the range of challenges faced by the pandemic, and strategies to address challenges used by different farms and gardens, the paper illustrates how gardens in this pandemic have adapted to become more resilient and suggests lessons for pandemic recovery and longer-term planning to enable UA to respond to future public health and other crises.