As a master’s student at Royal Roads University, I had the opportunity to apply for a MITACS Research Training Award for funding and support studying a problem of interest to me; In August, I applied for the funding to research how Nurture In Nature Community Farm had affected the physical, emotional, and psychological health of the members and how the program could be made better. Find a video about the results below!
After receiving the position, I worked with Dr. Richard Kool as my academic supervisor to design a research proposal with ethical considerations for research participants, then 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. 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, or AFN’s. In contrast to the conventional style of farming, which was designed to improve the economic status of the farmer, AFN’s often 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, and 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. I wanted to know more about why they joined, what values were underlying their desires to give up their own time and get their hands dirty. I had some feedback from the summer that demonstrated how everyone felt coming to and leaving from the farm, so I had a general idea of how everyone felt, but this online survey that I sent out in November was much more in depth.
After receiving back my online surveys, I was delighted by the depth of the responses, the care that these individuals were putting into volunteering their time, and what they wanted to get out of this experience. 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 appreciated 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, so it had higher impacts on other 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; so I created a script from the members’ responses and asked them to send me voice recordings of their words along with photos of their summer experiences. I put those together to create a story of how and why we grew our own food, and how you can too. Enjoy the video!