Puttin’ a seed in the garden

Wow, where do I start? I have now been in Cape Town for just over 4 weeks now.  My research got off to a pretty rough start.  Initially, as indicated in my last post, I was hoping to correlate culture to food insecurity.  However, once I looked deeper into this, I realized that to objectively identify culture is virtually impossible.  This made my research question very challenging since there are no good, reliable ways of measuring cultural variation without projecting my culture into picture.  In other words, my culture inherently influences how I interpret other individuals’ culture. Another challenge I faced was how to separate food insecurity due to cultural factors, rather than sheer poverty.  If people are extremely poor, does culture even matter in determining what they eat or where they get it from?  I feared that observations I made about their culture would merely be projections of their poverty, disguised as being “culture.”

So, I went back to the drawing board.  I visited a number of different NGO’s working in the field of food insecurity.  One organization named SEED really caught my attention.  The organization works in primary schools teaching young learners about the environment, gardening, growing food, and recycling.  The organization works in over a dozen lower income schools implementing a garden and an outdoor classroom where teachers can bring their students to conduct class outside.  The gardens serve two functions: to provide students with an outdoor classroom where they can practice their class material outdoors and learn about the environment and gardening, and to provide supplementary food to the schools feeding schemes for less privileged children.  In the schools that SEED works in, roughly 1 in 3 students are food insecure and receive regular meals from the schools.  There is a big push, from both private NGO sector and the national government, to try to make school feeding more sustainable by encouraging schools to procure food themselves, in hopes of ultimately teaching students how to become food secure, eliminating the need for food handouts.

For over 10 years, SEED has been helping schools install gardens.  However, there is fundamental problem with implementing school gardens.  In nearly all cases, after SEED has completed their three- year program and has pulled out of the schools in hopes that the school will continue the garden themselves, the garden is neglected and virtually vanishes.  SEED’s problem is not unique.  There are numerous other organizations doing almost identical projects- in the majority of all cases, the gardens do not make it very long.  Why is this?  Why is there such a big push for school gardens, from both the government, NGOs, and, as my preliminary research indicates, many schools teachers and administers, yet the gardens are consistently failing? This is where my research has taken me.

To maintain a school garden it takes constant involvement from the school and community.  For these gardens to function as they are intended, their care must come from the school’s community, not the NGO workers.  I want to develop a better understanding of why school communities have such a hard time engaging with the gardens.  Understanding this is imperative to develop more effective ways of implementing school gardens.  Globally, and nationally, school gardens are on the rise.  They are said to be an effective tool in helping with environmental awareness and food insecurity. However, in Cape Town, the practice of school gardens is easier said than done.

For my project, I am looking at stakeholders’ perceptions of school gardens.  This includes schools’ teachers, administrators, and caretakers.  I have created a survey addressing the perceived benefits and challenges of school gardens.  I will distribute the survey in all seven schools that SEED currently works in.  I will also spend the next 4 weeks conducting in depth interviews with the school garden stakeholders.  My hope is to increase understanding of the experienced and perceived barriers to sustaining school gardens.

SEED fully supports this project and has agreed to provide me transportation to SEED schools and help facilitate my research process, mainly by introducing me to the schools’ principals and teachers.  I will then present my findings to SEED at the end of the summer.

Outside of research, Cape Town is, hands down, without question, the most radical, hip, jivin’ city in the world.



  1. elrudebusch says:

    I bet it was frustrating when you realized you had to change your research question at the last minute, but hopefully you’re still excited about your new focus. It certainly sounds interesting and I bet that SEED will greatly appreciate your findings!