School Vegetable Gardens As a Site for Reciprocity in Food Systems Research: An Example from Cape Town, South Africa

Jo Hunter-Adams


In this snapshot, I discuss the potential value of gardening as a reciprocal research method. I draw on my experience of partnering with a school in establishing and supporting an ongoing primary school vegetable garden, as part of a long-term research project. I suggest that the garden creates a space in which to "talk around" the problem of diet-related non-communicable disease, rather than trying to define or address it directly, and therefore allows for the co-construction of our understanding of "food choice," both in exploring the limitations of choice, and in discovering participatory opportunities to leverage for change in the food system. In this light, I discuss the value of slow research around a shared physical space, where reciprocity is derived from a negotiated give-and-take of learning to grow vegetables. Over time, locally relevant, relational and cumulative framing emerges. I argue that slow, reciprocal research involves embracing the full complexity of context, and adopting a posture of flexibility means that, rather than trying to control outcomes, we remain curious about the process itself.

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