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Understanding and managing the impacts of transience in student-led university food gardens

Laycock Pedersen, Rebecca

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Rebecca Laycock Pedersen


University student-led food gardens are increasingly used to facilitate learning fostering prosustainability attitude and behaviour change. However, they are led by a transient student population, which impacts how they operate and the benefits they provide. This study undertakes the first explicit and empirical inquiry into how students’ transience impacts student-led food gardens, and how these impacts might be addressed to maximise the gardens’ benefits. I investigated this through an action research study, using a quantitative systematic literature review to assess the benefits of ‘sustainable university community gardens’ (a proxy for ‘student-led food gardens’) and take stock of what is already known about the impacts of students’ transience on these gardens. I used a case study of the United Kingdom’s National Union of Students’ Student Eats student-led food growing scheme to understand how transience impacts the participation dynamics of the student-led food gardens, and the ways in which they are vulnerable to students’ transience, drawing on interviews, participatory workshops, photovoice, a fishbowl discussion, and a research diary. This data was used to create a causal loop diagram and assess the vulnerability of the gardens using Biggs et al.’s (2012; 2015c) resilience principles. I found the student-led food gardens operated in a vulnerable state because of the impacts of students’ transience. Paradoxically, transience both increased and decreased problematic participation, while exacerbating friction and power asymmetries between students and staff, underrepresentation of longterm stakeholders, lack of monitoring slow variables, and a lack of tolerance to ambiguity and uncertainty. In spite of this vulnerability, evidence suggested the gardens provided opportunities for building sustainability competencies. Actions were taken to address the negative impacts of students’ transience and build resilience into the gardens. These fed into the recommendation that a portfolio of strategies is needed to address the immediate challenges of problematic participation, and build social-ecological memory in the gardens.


Laycock Pedersen, R. (2019). Understanding and managing the impacts of transience in student-led university food gardens. (Thesis). Keele University

Thesis Type Thesis
Publicly Available Date May 26, 2023
Keywords action research, causal loop diagram, community gardens, higher education, participation,resilience principles, social-ecological memory, social-ecological resilience, sustainabilityeducation, temporary organisations, turnover
Award Date 2019-12


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