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Seeking Connections with Nature through Community Gardens

Plaxedes T. Chitiyo, Ph.D. | Assistant Professor, Environmental Science, Center for Environmental Research and Education, Duquesne University

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Humans are born with an innate need to connect with nature. In “Seeking Connections with Nature through Community Gardens,” Dr. Plaxedes T. Chitiyo of Duquesne University described the need for collectively managed sustainable spaces in cities like Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh has been reinventing itself as a sustainable city through programs such as the Climate Action Plan, the Greater Pittsburgh Food Action Plan and Clean Water Action, but there is room for improvement. “We always think of ourselves as humans, that we are distanced from nature and our environment, but actually, we are part of the environment.” With over 27,000 vacant lots in the city, Pittsburgh has ample opportunity to create collective sustainable spaces, which as a result, would advantage local communities. “They say our city has to spend 500 dollars per vacant lot to maintain it throughout the year, and if you look at how many thousands of vacant lots we have, why not use those spaces?”

Community gardens, in particular, can lead to benefits such as improved mental and physical health, environmental protection and social cohesion. “Some people might ask, what are community gardens? Community gardens are open spaces that may be collectively managed by people. People might manage that space as a whole or they can subdivide into different plots—producing food, different types of vegetables, or they can include some ornamentals in there, some flowers.”

By educating, creating partnerships and collaborating with different organizations, Dr. Chitiyo believes we can find this connection to nature together. “The partnerships that the different garden groups form amongst themselves, as well as with different organizations like Grow Pittsburgh, like Phipps, is part of learning and understanding more about what is taking place within that space.” This diversity in voice and experience is a crucial aspect of our quest to connect with the natural world.

With over 100 community gardens sprinkled throughout Allegheny County, communities are already beginning to see the benefits of maintaining this shared sanctuary. Not only are community gardens hotspots for agrobiodiversity, cultural diversity, and genetic diversity, they can lead to increased food production and more equitable and accessible produce options, thus ensuring more food security. On top of this, managing gardens forces us to interact with our surroundings, strengthening our bond with nature and teaching us more about the environments in which we live. “One of the things that we have to acknowledge is that we are so distanced from nature and so sometimes we take things for granted, we don’t even think about where our food is coming from.”

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Speaker Bios and Abstracts

About the Speaker

Dr. Plaxedes Chitiyo is currently an assistant professor at the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences at Duquesne University for the Center for Environmental Research and Education as well as the internship and capstone coordinator for the environmental science and management graduate program. She received her B.S. in agriculture and natural resource management from Africa University, an M.S. in biology from Tennessee Technological University and a Ph.D. in environmental resources and policy from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Her scholarly interests are in the areas of sustainable agriculture in developed and developing regions, urban green space development, community gardens, environmental justice and policy, sustainability, and community development.