So, you are stuck at home. You may be isolating, quarantined, or suddenly found yourself under- or completely unemployed with too much time on your hands. You sit with your family, your children, your housemates or by yourself. You watch the news and hear from others about the panic-buying. You’re concerned over food supplies and the fresh food you can find at the shop seems expensive. What are you going to do? Well you could do what many people have done, rush to buy a bunch of food seeds and seedlings. The idea is to “grow your own” and hopefully secure a more reliable (and cheaper?) supply of fresh food. The only problem is, you’re not really sure how to grow food plants – you can keep your house plants and the shrubs in your garden alive sure, but this seems a bit more complicated…
This is the reality for many Australians at the moment. This swell of new food gardeners is a wonderful outcome from the concern and restrictions of the COVID-19 crisis. But how likely are these gardens to flourish? Do newbie gardeners have the skills and experience to produce reasonable and consistent amounts of food for their households this autumn and winter? Or will most of them watch disheartened as their newly minted “victory gardens” fail? The latest results from “Edible Gardens“, a state-wide citizen science project from the University of South Australia, suggest huge variability in the effectiveness of home food gardens.
So, what can we as a country do to help all these newly enthused food gardeners succeed? And how good would it be to come out of this crisis with households and communities that were more resilient, more productive, and more inter-connected than ever?
The first open-access article I, along with Dr James Ward and Dr Barbara Koth published in 2017 was called, “Aquaponics in Urban Agriculture: Social Acceptance and Urban Food Planning”. It’s about the perception and social acceptance of aquaponics by urban food growers and Local Government Area in Adelaide, South Australia. A considerable amount of research has been conducted on the technology itself, but little has been done on how people (other than those who actually have such systems) feel about aquaponics. Additionally, the level of awareness and acceptance of local councils (in South Australia known as local government areas or LGAs) can influence either the support or restriction of aquaponics in urban areas.
Collectively our participants not only considered the various strengths and weaknesses of aquaponics, but also used their own experiences to recommend ideas for the possible adoption and expansion of aquaponics. These recommendations culminated in the idea of a set of scaled guidelines, including financial, logistical, resource requirements, and expected productivity for each potential scale of operation – from single backyard to large-scale commercial.
When the discussion moved to urban planning and the influence of local government areas, every participant alluded to a lack of council support for urban food production. There was a strong desire for a shift in current urban planning and that of state level government to better acknowledge and support urban food production of all kinds.
It just so happens that 2017 was a good year for writing; I (along with my co-authors), had my first two scientific articles published. Both are open-access and are therefore available for anyone, anywhere in the world to read – no subscription necessary. Publishing articles as open-access may cost more and require a little more ‘hoop-jumping’, yet it is a valuable method of science communication (particularly suited to citizen science).
Hence myself, along with my supervisors Dr James Ward and Dr Philip Roetman wrote a paper called, “The Case for Citizen Science in Urban Agriculture Research”. It’s about the practical challenges of researching urban food production, how past studies have gone about researching urban food yields and inputs, and how effective a citizen science approach can be. We describe the design of the “Edible Gardens Project” as an example of how citizen science can be successfully applied to urban agriculture research.
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.
What a brilliant interview with Dr Rachael Dunlop – I love the idea of starting by learning to communicate effectively and THEN getting into science. Possible a harder way of doing things but she has made it a success.
This March Alan Alda was interviewed by Will Grant and Rob Lamberts from the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science. Alan is not a scientist, instead he is simply fascinated by talking to, and questioning all kinds of scientists.
During this interview Alan talks about the power of curiosity – the drive to ask and find out “why?”, and yet he insists that curiosity combined with ignorance is even stronger!
During his life Alan has had the opportunity to interview many, many scientists. Some of these he did without a list of questions, but more as an informal curious conversation. He said that doing so brought out much more of the individual scientist’s personality than usually shown. And he spoke of wishing that scientists could get into that conversational tone all by themselves, without an interviewer to help them.
Alan is a vocal advocator for teaching communication skills to science students as a core part of their university education.
Alan also spoke of the need to not dumb down the science being communicated but to instead to focus on clarity and vividness. He defined being vivid as, “to show how it affects our daily lives, what the stories are that led to these discoveries.”
Some scientists may ask what good communicating their research to the public actually does for them. According to Alan, the scientists who undertook training at the Centre for Communicating Science found that working to refine their research message resulted in them becoming much more focussed and clear about what they were doing and why.
This idea that re-working, re-explaining and re-focusing on the purpose and value of your science can actually lead to better science, is amazing. By attempting to communicate your message to a variety of people, journalists, community groups or organisations you are constantly re-afirming and checking how you describe and explain your work. This sort of reflection can be a powerful process for clearer, more vivid science.
This is a presentation of your research proposal to a panel of academic markers (and hopefully some other interested people) to see whether they also think that your idea is realistic, rigorous and interesting. If all your markers pass you, you become an official PhD student – safe for the rest of your 3.5 years of research.
I was feeling both nervous and confident. Nervous because I was presenting to a panel of academic markers who would judge whether my research proposal was good enough to continue. I was also nervous as I wanted this presentation to contribute to my reputation as someone who is not only good at presenting, but also downright enjoys it. Due to this I had invited more people than strictly necessary to make a bit of a fun event about it.
I was confident for a few reasons. Firstly because I was presenting on a topic I knew – my own research. I also made sure that I knew all the requirements of the presentation: the time limit, and length of question time, all the aspects I had to cover (background, aim and objectives, methods and analysis).
I had practised alot. I knew my slides, all the transitions and animations. I had my speech on palm cards even though I didn’t think I would need them. I had practised with the slide clicker and had presented twice to my supervisors to get their opinions and advice. You can practise in front of anyone, friends, family or peers.
I also went to an effort to make the experience a comfortable one. I got to the room first and set up my slideshow, turned on only some lights so the slides could be seen, and put on some soft friendly music. This way, when people starting coming in they didn’t stand around awkwardly. Instead they relaxed and chatted to others there until it was time to begin.
So how did it go? Really really well. I kept to time, didn’t need my palm cards and was marked highly. I get to continue as an official PhD student of UniSA and study the topic of my own choosing: urban agriculture.