Cornell University Press

Donald Rakow, Meghan Gough, and Sharon Lee on Public Gardens

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We asked authors Donald Rakow, Meghan Gough, and Sharon Lee three questions about their new book, Public Gardens and Livable Cities, and the impact of community gardens on local populations.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

We were given a special tour of the student gardens at one of the Windy City Harvest sites, part of a Chicago Botanic Garden program in partnership with a Chicago community college. The tour guide, a young man named Cornell, who was so proud of the gardens and what they had accomplished, pointed out the hoop house they had erected to protect the vegetables and the way they promoted pollinators. Then he turned to Don Rakow and asked, “And do you know that there are yellow tomatoes?” To which Don replied with a straight face, “No, really?”

This really spoke to us about the passion that young people can have, both for growing vegetables and acquiring new knowledge.

Empowered and passionate neighbors who had worked to create a community garden with help from Pennsylvania Horticultural Society kept watch on this neighborhood treasure. When thieves attempted to take their newly planted trees, neighbors chased the thieves down the street.

Roots to Reentry (another PHS program) alumnus told Don “This program helps you see the light at the end of the tunnel, but you need to find your way through the tunnel yourself.” 

What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

A book such as this, with three co-authors and many people to interview, involves a complex and evolving process, so the journey from concept to the finished manuscript is a long one. 

3. How do you wish you could change your field of study? 

I wish there had been more recognition early on of the role of public gardens as community institutions with responsibilities to ensure the livability of those communities. And I wish it hadn’t taken so long for our field to appreciate, acknowledge, and honor the knowledge that community residents hold.

*Featured photo: Hands holding soil. Credit: Gabriel Jimenez.

Cover image of Public Gardens and Livable Cities.
Read more about this book.

Donald A. Rakow is Associate Professor in the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He is coauthor of Nature Rx and Public Garden Management.

Meghan Z. Gough is Associate Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Sharon A. Lee is President of Sharon Lee & Associates, a consulting firm specializing in publications for and about public gardens. She is coauthor of Public Garden Management.

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