Community gardening is as much about community as it is gardening, and compared to growing plants, cultivating community is far more difficult. In Community Gardening in an Unlikely City: The Struggle to Grow Together in Las Vegas, Schafer documents his time as a member of a fledgling Las Vegas community garden and the process through which a rotating group of gardeners try to forge community. He demonstrates the ways in which choices gardeners make about what goals to pursue, or who belongs, or what story to tell about their collective efforts, influence how they and others experience and interpret the garden. The garden culture that emerges over time shapes how, or whether, community is practiced at the garden, and has important consequences for the gardeners’ abilities to connect with the low-income, Black and Latinx community in which it is located. Schafer’s analysis provides important insights about urban culture, the environment, and food justice in the American Southwest, and a sober look into the often messy process and practice of community.
Tyler Schafer is assistant professor of sociology at California State University, Stanislaus.
Chapter One: Sowing Seeds of Community and Sustainability in a Wasteland
Chapter Two: “We Have a Community Garden in Las Vegas?” Situating Sustainability in Sin City
Chapter Three: Miracle in the Mojave: Spiritual Place Narratives and Cultivating Community
Chapter Four: Talking the Talk: Performativity and the Cultural Production of a Community Garden
Chapter Five: “We Have Everything Else, but We Have No Foundation”: The Impact of Strategic Choices on Collective Identity Formation
Chapter Six: It’s for Everyone, It’s for No One: Explicit Inclusivity, Implicit Exclusivity, and the Boundaries of Community
Chapter Seven: Committing to Community
The Las Vegas desert environment poses significant challenges to transforming a debris-strewn plot of land into a community garden. Beyond climate, the transient population attracted to Vegas casinos does not maintain a tradition of community gardening as in other US urban areas. Schafer alludes to these horticultural hurdles but, as a volunteer, observer, graduate student, and sociologist, he focuses on the urban, cultural, historical, sociological, and interpersonal factors impacting the implantation of the Vegas Roots Community Garden (VRCG) at the edge of historic West Las Vegas, a predominantly Black neighborhood. Grounded in carefully documented sociological theory and ethnographic methodology, this case study focuses a close lens on VRCG's 2011 implantation and its evolution to the present. A main force in the garden's creation and survival, its director steered the garden's focus from addressing local food insecurity to catering to a diet-conscious clientele. Although not a how-to manual, this study will provide food for thought to anyone involved with, studying, or interested in initiating community gardening. The detailed notes and solid bibliography encourage further investigation. A must read for anyone interested in urban agriculture. Highly recommended.
Against the neon and seemingly inhospitable arid backdrop of Las Vegas, Schafer offers a searching analysis of urban agriculture that centers the challenges of creating community and place. This nuanced book takes community gardening as a process of cultural production, and in so doing, makes the case for why tracing culture at a macro and micro level can attune us to the complexities of community.
Not many cities have a stronger image and identity than Las Vegas, where notions of impermanence and transience reign supreme in an otherwise inhospitable natural environment. But the bigger the perception, the more complicated the reality. In this compelling ethnography, Tyler Schafer analyzes a group of Las Vegans working against many of the popular ideas about their city by literally and figuratively putting down roots in its ground. These community gardens and gardeners offer insightful windows into understanding the complicated practices behind making place and culture in today's city. Weaving an array of stories against the backdrop Las Vegas and all its excess and waste, the book convincingly shows readers the simultaneous messiness and necessity of community.
Located in the heart of the Mojave Desert and famous for the glitz and glamour of its central strip, Las Vegas is an unlikely place to fine a community garden. But not only does the Vegas Roots community garden exist, it provides fertile ground from which to explore the intersections of urban history, culture and social movements. With a deep and empathetic ethnographic eye and a keen understanding of social theory, Tyler Schafer reveals that the planting of roots in an urban landscape is about much more than the cultivation of vegetables. Ultimately, he tells a story about how individuals attempt to build community amidst the broader social forces that constrain their lives.
9/16/21, Choice: This book was included in a feature highlighting the Editors’ Picks for September 2021.