Last week I gave my first ever guest lecture for a UniSA course called “Environment: A Human Perspective”. There were about 50-60 first year students present and my nerves came on strong at the beginning. But I made it through, and listening back I think I managed to get my passion and enthusiasm for urban agriculture across to the students – I even made them laugh couple of times!… intentionally, of course.
Part #1 of the lecture covered the basics of urban agriculture (UA), some of its differences around the world and how common it is in South Australia.
In Part #2 (which is still being edited) I describe how there is more to UA than simply the productive side (how much food people can grow) – there is also a strong social value side. In the middle there’s some interaction where I ask the students what it takes to grow food from start to finish, and how this in turn influences your research design.
I mention both my honours research on the social reaction of people to aquaponics, in addition to how some of the local councils react to the idea of aquaponics. And finished up with a little on my PhD research on the productive capacity and social value of UA via the Edible Gardens Project.
I know there are a couple a little rough moments in here. But I would still love to get any feedback you may have.
Many people across Australia grow some of their own food. In fact in South Australia, 59% of households do so (Wise, 2014). As most of us now live in urban areas, this food production is taking place in cities, towns and suburbs. Urban agriculture is any form of urban food production from growing vegetables, fruits, herbs, to even keeping urban livestock such as chickens, fish or bees
Have you ever wondered how much food your garden actually produces each year? Or how much water, time and money went into producing that food? The Edible Gardens project wants to find out.
The project is currently open to all South Australian home, community and school gardeners. Feel free to share this with anyone you know living in South Australia who produces urban food.
“Preparation” is the word
The first step was to take stock. According to the University of South Australia I have four years to design my research, collect sufficient data, analyse it, write it all up and then publish / present / submit a thesis.
So boy did I make plans. I started with:
A four year budget with price ranges
A Gantt Chart timeline complete with contingencies
Drafts for every step of the project, estimating and imaging as best I could what each of those steps would entail. This way, even though I may not look at some of those drafts again for another six months – by the time that particular step came along I already had an idea of what I needed to do
Draft promotional posters with various taglines to suit different types of gardeners
A list of what participants would get from taking part in this project
Another list on what the value of this project was for different interested parties, e.g. local Councils or the Natural Resources Management (NRM) Board
Even with all this preparation I have still experienced delays and mishaps amounting to approximately 6-8 months. Happily, I’ve been told that this is considered both standard and reasonable for most PhD projects.
Yet there is still the unexpected…
There were two things I underestimated at the beginning of my PhD. The first was the reciprocal nature of citizen science. The Edible Gardens project is supported by the Discovery Circle – an Australian citizen science initiative working to better connect people with nature. Citizen science involves opening a project to contribution by interested public. Some projects open their entire process from design, data collection, analysis and reporting. A more typical approach is engaging people in the data collection phase of the research. The data collected and all the results are usually freely available to the public.
This meant my project had to be engaging and interactive enough to keep people’s interest. It needed a whole web interface for registering gardens, searching through the list of participating gardens, entering data, viewing results and a way to compare the results of different participants.
The second underestimation was the sheer amount of work, time and talking I would have to do to promote the project. We designed postcards (easy to distribute, display and take home), clever Facebook posts, guest blog posts and numerous versions of short blurbs. I’ve visited community centres, Council offices, libraries, community gardens, gardening groups, markets and events. Sometimes I feel like a tv with only one channel.
Why it’s worth it
Since making the project open to the public (about 3 weeks ago) we have had 140 survey responses from all around Metropolitan Adelaide and from some gardeners as far away as Mount Gambier, the Yorke Peninsula and Port Lincoln.
Of these 140 people, 95 of them have volunteered to collect data on their own gardens and 73 of them are keen to attend a focus group on the social value of growing your own food. I love response rates like this.