A reflection on the summer of 2020

Grow Your Own Food

As a master’s student at Royal Roads University, I had the opportunity to participate in a Mitacs Research Training Award to study how Nurture In Nature Community Farm affected the physical, emotional, and psychological health of the members and how the program could be made better next year.

The above video shows the results of that study, how we worked together to grow our own food, and all of the other amazing things that happened along the way!

Research:


For the project, Dr. Richard Kool of Royal Roads University signed up to be my academic supervisor. He helped me design a research proposal with ethical considerations for research participants. Then we worked through a literature review of cooperative agricultural terminology, variations, criticisms and suggestions. I spent 6 weeks reading about how cooperative agriculture, could, should, does, and/or doesn’t work. That was a lot of reading!

 

I learned that systems of agriculture other than conventional versions, or the current mechanized version we all imagine as farming, are called alternative farming networks (AFN’s). In contrast to the conventional style of farming, which was designed to improve the economic status of the farmer, AFN’s strive to incorporate food as a crucial aspect of their community instead of just as a commodity bought and sold.

Which does make sense; if we kill the biosphere through unsustainable agricultural practices, we will kill ourselves. According to some reports, we only have 60 years of topsoil left, and we can’t feed ourselves without soil and the organic materials that it produces.

I also liked the term civic agriculture, which demonstrated to me that a community’s social and economic structures are inextricably linked. Food production can be used as a means to do right by, for, and within your community.

I used my deepening understanding of cooperative agriculture to design an online survey for the members of my community farm. This research was designed to learn more about why they joined, what values were underlying their desires to give up their own time and get their hands dirty.

Results:


After receiving back my online surveys, I was delighted by the depth of the responses. I saw right away the care that these individuals were putting into volunteering their time. Their responses matched my research:


1) There is a market for locally grown produce; people want more of it.

2) Members saw participating in the farm as an act of joining in and counteracting larger, systemic issues such as climate change, consumerism, and irresponsible land use.

3) Participation in the garden increased member’s knowledge, and they expressed gratitude for the ability to learn through experience.

4) Members noted positive social, emotional, and psychological benefits of participating in this community initiative.

5) The most difficult parts of the garden were finding a work-life balance that incorporated this new use of time and managing social dynamics.

The one aspect of my research that did not correlate with other research was that the farm members never mentioned feeling better physically due to their participation. In this very outdoorsy town, I imagine this result is due to the fact that these individuals were already active and eating well before they joined the garden. Because of our mountain lifestyles, this community farm had higher impacts on social and emotional factors of wellbeing.


After I finished my report of my findings, I realized that it would never do justice just to say what was said in a 50-page paper. Instead of filing my research away, I created a script from the members’ responses and asked them to send me voice recordings of their responses. I put those together to create a story of how and why we grew our own food, and how you can too. Enjoy our video- And good luck growing your own food, creating a sense of belonging in your community, and decreasing your environmental impact in the process!