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Understanding Transience and Participation in University Student-Led Food Gardens

Pedersen, RL; Robinson, Z; Surman, E

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RL Pedersen

E Surman


In an increasingly mobile world, transience is becoming the norm. Sustainable community food initiatives, therefore, must organise to withstand high turnover of volunteers. Using a case study of the United Kingdom’s National Union of Students’ food growing scheme in universities, this paper aims to map the causes and effects of short-term, irregular, and low participation using a causal loop diagram to understand how to mitigate their negative impacts and improve participation. Data was gathered through interviews, workshops, photovoice, a fishbowl discussion, and a reflective diary. We found three amplifying feedback loops increasing short-term, irregular and low participation, their causes, and their impacts. These feedback loops were precariously buffered by a continuous in-flow of new potential participants each academic year. We also found that the stakeholders of these gardens conceptualised time akin to both temporary and permanent organisations, and these differing conceptualisations were a source of tension. Furthermore, although ‘organisational amnesia’ was a problem, the gardens were still learningful spaces. We recommend both upstream and downstream solutions are implemented to buffer the impacts of transience and suggest that university and students’ union staff could play a crucial and subtle supporting role.

Acceptance Date May 9, 2019
Publication Date May 15, 2019
Journal Sustainability
Publisher MDPI
Keywords turnover, education for sustainability, higher education, students' union, community garden, volunteering, causal loop diagram, temporary organisation, organisational amnesia
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