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Continuing my thesis research: Roaming through Vancouver’s community gardens

Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity as part of my thesis research to visit many of the community gardens which dot the City of Vancouver’s landscape. There are over 70 gardens in the city, of varying types, shapes, and sizes. There are urban farms in the Downtown East Side which grow food as a matter of food security, delivering locally grown veggies to urban residents in need; gardens with food forests built on permaculture principles, and gardens dedicated towards educating the youngest members in society about seasonality and food.

As part of my research, I have been conducting both interviews and surveys with garden members and coordinators and will soon be starting the analysis stage of work. There are still, however, a number of questions to answer on how I go about doing it. For example, interviews can be used a few different ways. They can be transcribed and coded, in order to get a more systematic way of looking at themes and results from an interview. I could take notes on them to complement the data from a survey, and/or use some quotes for illustrative effect. Since the “core” information I have collected is actually from my survey, I plan on doing something which veers towards the latter.  As for my survey itself, the first questions on this end relate first to what kind of statistical software to use. I’ve been asking my friends and colleagues for their advice–and everyone seems to have a different answer!  My own choice is between the open-source software ‘R,’ that seems to be a favourite among statisticians, biologists, and many scientific and other realms, or SPSS, which is often favoured among social scientists and features an easy-to-use interface but is more expensive and has less capacity in computing more complex functions.  Beyond this, of course, will be all the smaller but still important decisions on how to code responses, what statistical tests to use, and how to deal with missing data, among others.

These are all the less glamorous parts which form part of the life of an environment studies student (if there is any “glamour” at all!).  I must say, however, that the process of going to all the different gardens and talking to the garden members who devote their time to building these spaces has been a wonderful experience.  I remain astounded each time I visit a garden by the differences in each, the garden atmosphere shaped uniquely by both the people which tend to the plants, and by the land itself.  What remains constant among each of the gardens is the dedication of members to sustaining it. It is remarkable to see how a small group of people, previously unbeknownst to each other, can come together to work on such projects. Building a garden is no walk in the park–it requires hours of labour to build beds, pathways, and fencing, not to mention the meetings, organization, and negotiation alongside such projects.  And that’s all before a seed has been sowed.  Seeing all this commitment in practice has really driven home for me how these gardens can act as illustrative examples of active citizen engagement, and of the material and immaterial benefits which can emerge from such participation–a “growing” example of sustainability at the community level!

Darlene Seto is pursuing her master’s degree at the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia. A keen student of environment policy and governance, her current graduate work revolves around diversity and engagement in alternative food systems.

Posted on: May 24, 2011, 8:51 am Category: The Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: , , , ,

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