Problem: Planners, politicians, organizations, and citizens in many cities recognize community gardens as a vital part of urban food production. To fulfill community or organizational goals, it is helpful to systematically identify and assess urban vacant land that could be used as potential garden sites.

Purpose: The technical purpose of this project was to demonstrate how stakeholder input could be combined with expert opinions and applied to available data to create an inventory of undeveloped land potentially available for community gardens. In the specific context of Madison, WI, it provided information relevant to the city's planning and land use goals.

Methods: We developed a community garden site suitability index based on criteria including size, location, and site conditions. The characteristics of existing community gardens in Madison, WI and the preferences of current gardeners were used to specify suitable value ranges. The multiple step process for identifying criteria and determining acceptable suitability values based on stakeholder input is an advance over similar efforts in other cities that relied primarily on expert judgments. After review and validation by local community garden managers, this framework was applied to publicly available data about undeveloped land, land tenure, land use, and biophysical conditions with a geographic information system. The result was a map and corresponding database of potential parcels or portions of parcels suitable for community gardens.

Results and Conclusions: The GIS-based approach provided a way to combine stakeholder input with expert judgment to create a synoptic inventory of potentially available land for community gardens. This inventory revealed 640 parcels and 1065 acres of potential suitable vacant land parcels for community gardens; this represents about 1.3% of the city land base.

Takeaway for practice: Given the City of Madison’s goal of 4% of its land base dedicated to food production, this publicly accessible database is helping move community gardening from a tolerated and temporary activity to a planned long term use of vacant land.