Cultivating Food Security in Nova Scotia Public Schools: A Case Study of an Elementary School Garden Project

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Carlsson, Liesel
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Background: Community food security (CFS) exists when all community residents obtain a safe, personally acceptable, nutritious diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes healthy choices, community self-reliance and equal access for all. A small but growing body of peer reviewed research suggests that school gardens provide an array of nutrition, health, social, and ecological benefits. School gardens have been promoted as a strategy for building CFS, but to date no research is available exploring school gardens’ role in CFS. Purpose: This thesis explored the role of school gardens in building CFS. More specifically, it surveyed, from the perspective of the school community and affiliated public health practitioners: 1) any health, social and ecological effects of the school food garden at River Valley Elementary School, and 2) what factors contributed to producing these effects. Methods: A qualitative, exploratory, single case study design was followed, using an elementary school food garden as the case. Data collection consisted of focus group and individual interviews, document review and participant observation in classroom and extracurricular garden activities. Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological System’s Theory and Garret and Feenstra’s Model for Sustainable Food Systems were used as frameworks to inform data analysis. Results and Conclusions: While the school garden at River Valley Elementary School did have some direct effects on human and environmental health, it was the indirect effects that were most important for their potential contributions to longer term CFS. The school food garden at River Valley Elementary has the potential to influence long term CFS through developing in children knowledge, skills and values that encourage participation in sustainable food systems. A societal culture supportive of healthy, sustainable food at schools, backed by relevant government and school policies, were key ecological systems factors reinforcing and supporting this garden’s effects on human and environmental health, and economic vitality. If all schools are to have access to building and maintaining a sustainable a school garden, these findings suggest that adequate funding for a paid school garden coordinator and the support of a team of committed volunteers is essential. Furthermore, the social, health and ecological effects of school food garden at River Valley and their relationship to each other was complex. More research is needed to extricate if and how the observed immediate effects contribute to the indirect, CFS building potential of school gardens suggested in this thesis, and further explicate what factors at the micro-, meso-, exo-, macro-, and chronosystem levels contribute to this.
Community food security , School gardens , Food security , Food sustainability