Effects of high-tech urban agriculture on healing environments in Dutch nursing homes

It feels a bit odd to post about research results while the Corona virus is keeping us all occupied. However, last week Paulien van de Vlasakker defended her MSc thesis, and the results are nice to share. Moreover, so many of my colleagues are working very hard to keep education going – why not report on some of the nice things that are being done here at Wageningen University. For all those currently involved in cursory education: keep up the good work, you are heroes!

The text below is written by Paulien and describes the findings of her thesis. The thesis was preceded by an internship on the same topic, on which she reported earlier.

“In recent years, an increasing number of urban agriculture initiatives have been initiated to offer locally produced and fresh food products. One newer form of urban agriculture is high-tech urban agriculture. Advanced technologies, such as led lightening and hydroponic cultivation methods, allow the production of fresh vegetables and herbs inside the built-up environment. High-tech indoor gardens are a form of high-tech urban agriculture, combining food production with greening, and can offer advantages such as all-year-round production of leafy greens, improved air quality of the indoor space and enhancing the aesthetics of the location. The multifunctionality of high-tech indoor gardens can be of value for places where people live who are in need of improved well-being. In the Netherlands, welfare, housing, daily care and treatment for vulnerable elderly people come together in nursing homes.

I studied how high-tech indoor gardens can contribute to the well-being of elderly living in Dutch nursing homes. In care settings, the term ‘healing environment’ is often used to describe aspects of the environment that have health-improving benefits. The purpose of this study was to identify how and to what extent high-tech indoor gardens can contribute to the healing environment of nursing homes. High-tech indoor gardens have two distinct aspects: 1) the appearance of the garden itself, and 2) the production of food. I hypothesized that the appearance of the garden influences the perceived ambiance, enhancing mental and social well-being, and that the production of fresh vegetables and herbs contributes to the vegetable intake, improving physical well-being.

This case study research was inspired by social practice theory and looked at the emergence and transformation of existing practices in four different nursing homes, located in Velp (Province of Gelderland). I looked at how different leisure practices among elderly residents evolved around the indoor garden, and how the cooking practices performed by the caretakers were affected by the use of the freshly harvested products. For my data collection, I conducted interviews with elderly residents and decision makers. In addition, I used surveys to collect information from caretakers and performed observations at all four nursing homes. For the qualitative data analysis I used NVivo and for the quantitative data analysis I used SPSS.

The thesis concludes that high-tech indoor gardens are effective in the creation of  healing environments because they create more livable environments by improving the ambiance and influencing residents’ vegetable intake. I showed that vegetables produced by indoor gardens can influence vegetable intake by changing the meal experience. Residents explained that they could clearly distinguish the difference between a meal prepared with the vegetables from the indoor gardens and a dish without fresh vegetables. Most residents find it very important to eat fresh foods. They enjoy the taste of the different products from the garden and appreciate that they are locally and freshly produced. Many residents were used to growing vegetables in their own vegetable gardens and expressed feelings of familiarity and recognition towards the garden and its products. Especially typical Dutch herbs and vegetables, such as parsley, chives and butterhead lettuce are popular among the elderly residents.

Whether or not the harvest was used in cooking practices by caretakers was influenced by several factors: 1) Caretakers who have gardening experience and enjoy cooking, are more likely to integrate the harvested fresh vegetables and herbs in existing cooking practices than caretakers with no gardening experience and who do not enjoy the task of cooking; 2) In nursing homes in which mostly non-fresh ingredients are used for the preparation of meals (frozen meals), caretakers are more motivated to use the fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden, and 3) For optimal use of the indoor garden, it is important that it is placed close to the kitchen and close to the living area of the residents. Caretakers can more easily integrate harvesting practices with cooking and other practices when the garden is located at a place that they often pass by. When the garden is placed close to the living area of the elderly residents, the residents can enjoy the aesthetic aspects of the garden.”

 

Special @SUSPLACE_ITN Feature: Exploring the Transformative Capacity of Place-Shaping Practices

Figure 2: Sustainable place-shaping. Source: Horlings et al. (2020) https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-020-00787-w

The SUSPLACE Special Feature ‘Exploring the transformative capacity of place-shaping practices‘ is published open access in Sustainability Sciences. It comprises nine articles: eight original research articles and an Introduction article by Lummina Horlings, Dirk Roep, Erik Mathijs and Terry Marsden. From the introduction:

The eight papers in this Special Feature result from the EU funded SUSPLACE collaborative programme that aimed to explore the transformative capacity of sustainable place-shaping practices, and if and how these practices can support a sustainable, place-based development. The programme encompassed 15 research projects investigating a wide range of place-shaping practices embedded in specific settings. From a common framework on sustainable place-shaping, each research project has developed its own theoretical and methodological approach. This editorial explains the overall approach to sustainable place-based development and more specifically the three analytical dimensions of transformative practices, that together propel sustainable place-shaping: re-appreciationre-grounding and re-positioning. After an overview of the eight articles, the contribution to sustainability sciences is discussed. The research programme has provided insight into the transformative agency of practitioners and policymakers engaged in shaping sustainable places, as well as the transformative role of researchers. 

Keywords: Sustainable place-shaping · Transformative capacity · Sustainability sciences · Place-based development

Horlings, L.G., Roep, D., Mathijs, E., Marsden, T. (2020) Exploring the transformative capacity of place-shaping practices, 15(2):353–362 Sustainability Sciences,  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-020-00787-w

New Book: Achieving Sustainable Urban Agriculture

Book cover Achieving Sustainable Urban Agriculture

This collection reviews key recent research on developing urban and peri-urban agriculture. The first part of the book discusses ways of supporting urban agriculture, from policy and planning to building social networks for local food supply chains. The chapters in the second part of the book survey developments in key technologies for urban agriculture, including rooftop systems and vertical farming. The book also assesses challenges and improvements in irrigation, waste management, composting/soil nutrition and pest management. The final group of chapters are case studies on urban farming of particular commodities, including horticultural produce, livestock, and forestry.

The book targets a varied audience: academic researchers in agricultural science, urban planning and environmental science specialising in urban agriculture; urban planners and policy makers in local government; national government and other bodies promoting urban agriculture.

More information about the book can be found at https://shop.bdspublishing.com/store/bds/detail/workgroup/3-190-83836

 

Values and relationships in the diverse economy of De Ommuurde Tuin: an illustrated ethnography

inez thesis coverLast year Inez responded to a RSO thesis advert to join a research team exploring the social economy of food and nature in Gelderland in connection with several science shop projects coordinated by Jan Hassink. Inez completed her research at de Ommuurde Tuin in Renkum, and took the opportunity to further explore visual and creative methods, documenting her results in an illustrated ethnography that was shared with stakeholders at our most recent network gathering Nijmegen. Thanks for being part of our research team Inez ! 

Inez Dekker, MSc student Sociology of Development (MID) Wageningen University

Below please find the abstract of the MSc  minor thesis Values and relationships in the diverse economy of De Ommuurde Tuin: an illustrated ethnography

The full thesis can be downloaded from the WUR-Library by clicking on the hyperlink

Summary : In the last decades a growing number of alternative food and care initiatives emerged in North-America and Europe. Due to uncertain situations within current neoliberal economic systems such as the recent recession, ongoing outsourcing and environmental depletion, and alienation from production (Morgan and Kuch, 2015), these initiatives offer an alternative to an existing neoliberal model. Moreover, they inspire to create a more diverse pallet of economies alongside dominant economic and social systems. Important to mark here is that their decisions and actions are not merely led by dominant economic models, but intentionally done to create worlds that are environmentally and socially just (Gibson-Graham et al., 2013). Often these initiatives fit in an alternative economic framework where a diverse, interdependent, rich and prolific disarray of ‘good life’ are central for their economies. One of such frameworks is the diverse economic research framework based on the work of Gibson-Graham (2008) where the economy is one based on a myriad of human and non-human social relationships that go beyond capitalist economic models. While there seems to be an emerging interest for practices within alternative economic frameworks, such as in community supported agriculture (CSA) or care farms, there is an absence of how human and non-human relationships create values that form an (diverse) economy. Moreover, in conventional economic thinking, practices occurring outside current economic system remain often unrecognized and unseen, though, these are essential for an economy to exist. Therefore, I aim to strengthen a network of diverse economic initiatives focus on initiatives located in the Dutch province Gelderland. To do this, I created a visual illustration that highlights the diverse practices and human and non-human relationships in the organic horticulture business located in Gelderland called ‘De Ommuurde Tuin’. I add to the scholarship of diverse economies by describing and showing the processes that produce a diversity of values in De Ommuurde Tuin’s daily economic practices. These processes are not only led by relationships among humans but include human and non-human relationships as well. To do this, I not only use a written form, but foremost I used visual and sensory research methods that highlights relationships between humans-humans and humansnonhumans. By putting forward the senses, the visual and emotional, this research concerns the processes in daily economic practices through a study of an economy that is lived and experienced. Moreover, I make alternative and diverse frameworks of economy/is more visible for a wider public through presenting my outcomes in a visual manner in booklet form. This approach tries to display and recognize economic alternatives, which helps to connect and build a coherent and powerful social movement for another economy (Miller, 2008; Gibson-Graham, 2008; Gibson-Graham and Miller, 2015)

Register now for RSO55306 – A Global Sense of Place: Place-based approaches to development | Period 5

soap-bubble-406944

In the face of urgent environmental and societal challenges, how do we move towards inclusive futures? What is the role of people in places? And what can be our role as (social) scientists?

In this course, we explore inclusive place-based approaches to development. We analyse how change happens from below and how people take matters in their own hands, shaping the places they live in according to their own needs and values. A relational perspective allows us to see the interdependence between the local and the global, the urban and the rural and the individual and the collective.

Besides engaging with key theories and analysing topical cases, we reflect upon our own role as (social) scientists and explore the tools and methodologies we need in place-based research, specifically focusing on participatory and creative methods.

This advanced MSc course is relevant for all students (including PhD candidates) with an interest in inclusive development, that seek theoretical as well as methodological guidance. The course can help students prepare an MSc thesis proposal and is supported by lecturers from all chair groups involved in the Centre for Space, Place and Society (RSO, SDC, HSO and GEO)

For more information, contact anke.devrieze@wur.nl.

 

Young people with practical education and sustainable food

Carlijn de Kok, student International Development Studies, wrote her MSc thesis on young people studying cooking, baking or food studies and their engagement with sustainable food. I ask her to share some of her findings.

Why did you choose this topic?

“The literature tends to argue that it is mainly highly educated people who buy sustainable food. It remains unclear, however, to what extent people with a practical education are interested in sustainable food (as well) and if and to what extent they consume sustainable food. Following Karl Marx and his thoughts about the alienation of labour, it can be assumed that people who are engaged with food in their daily lives are more likely to be critical regarding food – and thus to consume sustainably. This is why I decided to focus on people studying cooking, baking or food studies: I expected that their engagement with food in general would lead to more interest in sustainable food.”

What was your theoretical starting point?

“Studies on consumption often use rationalist approaches whereby the individual is taken as a starting point to understand consumption. However, we also know that there is a difference between caring for the environment and changing consumption: this is explained by the ‘attitude-behaviour gap’. This is why I wanted to take a more contextual approach, using Social Practice Theory. This theory puts everyday social practices at the centre of analysis, and considers consumption in terms of its practical, contextual and everyday nature, leaving room for both agency and structure.”

So what practices did you study?

“I defined the general practice of food consumption as a range of sub-practices, including acquisition practices (buying and growing food) and use(r) practices (food preparation-, eating-, and disposal practices), following the work of Sargant (2014). I also made a distinction between how respondents view sustainable food (their cognitive engagement), what they are doing in practice (their practical engagement), and the underlying motivations and reasons for participating in these practices (I called this the narrative behind their engagement).”

Ok, that sounds interesting. But how did you study this?

“In order to understand students’ cognitive engagement with sustainable food and the narrative behind their engagement, I used interviews, a focus group and questionnaires. I interviewed fifteen students following a practical education: five bakery students, five cooking students and five students of food studies. Fifteen cooking students participated in the focus group, and seventy-five students filled out the questionnaire. In order to better understand people’s actual engagement with sustainable food I complemented these methods with food diaries: six of the students interviewed recorded for one to three days what they bought and consumed, where they bought that, and whether there were any sustainability labels on those products.”

And? What did you find?

“There were a few interesting findings. First of all, my respondents are in fact rather knowledgeable about sustainability, the issues in the food system and sustainable food, and they see urgency in acting sustainably. Especially animal welfare, environmental friendliness, a fair price for farmers and naturalness are considered important. All respondents participate in at least some sustainable forms of food consumption. Second, part of the respondents is rather interested in and knowledgeable about sustainable food. This group often performs sustainable food acquisition practices, mostly out of sustainability motivations (for respondents who only occasionally buy sustainable produce, sustainability is less often a motivation). Students of food studies are most often interested in sustainability, followed by the cooking students – for whom sustainability mostly relates to quality.

Thirdly, the extent to which respondents perform food consumption practices sustainably differs per locale. In general, respondents more often act sustainably when they are grocery shopping. They much less do so while eating out, on-the-go or at school or work. In these places sustainable food is less accessible and available, and students feel that their choices have less impact. Finally, I found that respondents’ cognitive and practical engagement with sustainable food does not always align. While some respondents stated to act more sustainably than their food diaries showed, in some cases it was the other way around. These students did not connect much to the concept of sustainability, but they were motivated by certain elements of sustainability such as animal welfare, and so they did make sustainable choices.”

Taking all of these findings into account, what is your main conclusion?

“Young adults who are following a practical educational programme related to food are to a certain extent interested and engaged in sustainable food. Sustainable food plays a role in their daily lives: respondents perform certain food consumption practices sustainably, mostly out of sustainability motivations. The extent to which respondents manage to do so, however, depends on the locale.”

Thesis opportunity: developing a framework for business models that enhance soil quality

The Rural Sociology Group and Business Economics Group jointly offer thesis opportunities on developing business models that enhance soil quality.

Developing a theoretical framework for business models that enhance soil quality in crop and dairy production.

Soil quality is (rapidly) decreasing in The Netherlands, and thereby endangering future income perspectives of farmers. Moreover, reduced soil quality provokes all kind of negative externalities, such as reduced biodiversity, increased climate-change related risks, etc.. Hence, increasing and maintaining soil quality is a prerequisite for sustainable soil use.

This issue affects a multitude of stakeholders, each with different positions and preferences.

Business models, including various stakeholders and aimed at increasing and maintaining soil quality, are essential to enable farmers taking appropriate measures focused on these aims.

Currently, various initiatives have been taken to develop business models, mostly at a smaller scale. However, for mainstream agriculture to getting involved in improved soil management, a thorough theoretical framework, based on scientific analysis and rooted in (at least) economic and sociological theory, is essential. Only then, essentials of balanced business models can be developed which have the pursuit for larger-scale adoption in practice.

Being a pilot study, the aims of this MSc Thesis research are:

  • Qualitative analysis of real costs of soil management (i.e. monetary and non-monetary costs, such as costs for society) through the application of basic economic (cost) concepts;
  • Qualitative analysis of the stakeholder structure;
  • Definition of business cases and performance of a qualitative SWOT-analysis;
  • Evaluation of several existing business cases against the developed framework.

We are looking for a MSc-thesis student with an interest in the topic and a background in (business-)economics and/or rural/agrarian sociology.

Searching for a master thesis topic? Write your master thesis about community fridges in The Hague!

 

fridge foto hagueWhat are community fridges?

Community fridges are refrigerators located in a public space, for example in a neighborhood or community centre. These refrigerators enable food to be shared within a community. In The Hague, community fridges are utilized primarily to share left-overs from restaurants with people facing hardship, with the goal of offering easy access to fresh, nutritious food. The initiative aims to simultaneously reduce poverty and food waste. To read more about the specific case in The Hague, visit their website: https://www.versenvrij.nl/

vers frij hague

Interested in writing your master thesis about this initiative?

In cooperation with LUMC (Leiden University Medical Center – Campus The Hague), we are searching for a master student who wants to do a thesis research about community fridges in The Hague.

Topic 1: To explore user experiences and the role of these fridges in addressing food insecurity.

Topic 2: To explore how users manage risk and safety in the distribution of surplus food, and the care of community fridges.

We will encourage you to actively design your own research and hope you are eager to use various methods.

You are :

  • interested in the issues of food insecurity and food waste
  • willing to engage actively in designing a research about community fridges
  • willing to conduct research in The Hague (think about travel-costs)
  • experienced in doing qualitative research; e.g. participant observation, semi-structured interviews, the photo-voice method, focus groups
  • interested in mixed methods; combining qualitative with quantitative data (e.g. surveys or questionnaires)
  • a native Dutch speaker and willing to write your thesis in English
  • able to start this spring (possible to start immediately)

 

If you are enthusiastic about this research topic, please send an e-mail to thirza.andriessen@wur.nl , L.A.van_der_Velde@lumc.nl , & oona.morrow@wur.nl

Postdoc vacancy – Developing An Integrative Approach to Regenerative Agriculture, Circular Agri-Food Systems, and Convivial Conservation

We are recruiting a postdoc for the three-year research project ‘Tackling Crises in the Countryside: An Integrative Approach to Regenerative Agriculture, Circular Agri-Food Systems, and Convivial Conservation‘. Apply before January 20, 2020.

Food, farming, and conservation face major, interrelated challenges in the countryside, yet are treated as largely independent in research and policy. This postdoc will explore regenerative agriculture and convivial conservation as two paradigms that aim to address these challenges. The key questions are (1) how can the two paradigms be integrated into a holistic approach, and (2) how can this integrative approach help sustain biodiversity, livelihoods, social equity? Next to developing an integrated approach and assessing the impacts of its application at different integrative levels, the postdoc is expected to disseminate findings and develop an acquisition portfolio.

The postdoc will be positioned at the chair groups of Rural Sociology and Sociology of Development and Change under supervision by Dr Dirk Roep (Rural Sociology) dirk.roep@wur.nl and Mindi Schneider (Sociology of Development and Change): mindi.schneider@wur.nl

This is one of the 15 vacant postdoc positions at the Social Sciences Department of Wageningen University. For more information on requirements and selection procedure see: We-are-looking-for-15-Postdocs-in-social-sciences

Master thesis opportunity – Regenerative food systems and the changing interfaces of food production and consumption in Taranaki, New Zealand

An exciting, funded thesis opportunity for students interested in regenerative food systems in New Zealand

Introduction

Regenerative agriculture has gained momentum as increasing groups of farmers become preoccupied by ‘soil health’ and attentive to the practices required to augment and sustain soil biodiversity. Regenerative agriculture builds on the principles of circular farming, enhances biodiversity as ‘nature-inclusive’ farming, mitigates climate change, adopts ‘a true costs’ approach towards the impact of (diverse modes) of food provisioning, and includes more sustainable, inclusive business models. It has been identified as a major solution for carbon sequestration and a response to destructive environmental consequences of conventional or industrial agriculture on the planet and climate.

Farm Next Door, is an entrepreneurial initiative from the Taranaki region that applies precision tools to small-scale ‘hyper-localised, backyard’ urban, community supported farming/horticulture. Farm Next Door intend to nurture and facilitate the support structure for a new urban farming community. This network of local producers will farm regeneratively, earn income from their own land, and supply local, values-based produce for local consumption.

Exploring innovative and sustainable food systems, Like Farm Next Door requires attention to both production (regenerative agriculture) and consumption (the conscious and responsible consumer). What is required is a more holistic approach to how business is conducted – one that is inclusive of social good (Vishwanathan, Seth, Gau and Chaturvedi, 2009). A focus that is inclusive of consumption allows us to understand how more sustainable patterns of consumption might be co-created through an in-depth understanding of what, how and where we choose to onsume. Engaging with the forces required to alter consumption enables a greater transformative societal shift (Fuchs and Boll, 2018).

Research project and thesis opportunity

Within this context, Massey University and Wageningen University have set up a research project that allows for 2-3 Master thesis students to conduct their research on regenerative farming. Four broad research questions provide a framework for the overall project, with smaller subsets of emergent questions guiding the focus of each individual student thesis:

  1. How can regenerative, circular, zero-waste systems be embedded within the Farm Next Door initiative and multiplied across all urban farming practitioners that will be part of this operation? What are the challenges, constraints and opportunities presented by such a holistic approach?
  2. What innovative 21 st century economic and business models provide the basis for sustainable livelihoods and thriving communities? What lessons can be drawn from initiatives across various global contexts?
  3. How are changing food production-consumption interfaces and the increasing demand for traceable, environmentally sustainable, nutritious foods promoting co-creation of common or public goods or positive externalities of innovative food systems? How are these forms of value demonstrated?
  4. How can issues of equity, ethics and responsibility be integrated within agrifood transformations and changing land use practices to secure sustainable livelihoods and promote flourishing communities in Taranaki?

Research will entail immersion in the Taranaki region at different junctures by all the researchers, to enable the development of context-based understanding in addressing the broad research questions outlined above. It will also enable the practical action research derived from the series of targeted inquiries identified by Farm Next Door listed below:

  • To identify the emerging decentralised small scale organic farm movement in Taranaki – what? when? where? how?
  • To explore how precision horticultural practices and the latest AgTech solutions can be adapted and applied to the emerging decentralised small scale organic farm movement in Taranaki
  • Understand producer and consumer dynamics – motivations to engage and co-create a new way of producing and consuming food and how behavioural change in ethical purchasing behaviour is encouraged to a wider demographic than the current “local ethical consumer”

In consultation with their identified thesis supervisor(s), students will select one of the 4 broad questions listed above for their thesis topic and develop subsets of smaller, more focused research questions to guide their field work in Taranaki. Alongside this more academically-oriented focus, they will apply appropriate methodological approaches to integrate key action research components based on the targeted areas of inquiry developed by Farm Next Door. This dual aspect to the research undertaken in this project will provide academic rigour whilst retaining direct and practical relevance to the Farm Next Door initiative and its wider purview in Taranaki.

Planning

Expected start of the thesis: between January/February 2020.

Expected fieldwork period: April – July 2020 (4 months)

Requirements and procedure

Interested students can apply for this possibility by sending and email to Dirk Roep/Jessica de Koning/Mark Vicol to express their interest in this exciting opportunity. In order to be considered, students must meet the following criteria.

  • Students are enrolled at the Wageningen University
  • Students are preferably part of one of the following programmes:
    • MID programme, specialisation Sociology of Development
    • MOA programme, specialisation Sustainable Food Systems
  • Students preferably have completed RSO-31806 Sociology of Food and Place and/or RSO-30806 The Sociology of Farming and Rural Life
  • Students must be willing to work in a team led by Massey University
  • Students must be willing to stay in New Zealand for a period of 4 months
  • Students meet the criteria of entering New Zealand set by New Zealand immigration.

Final selection of candidates will be made by Dirk Roep, Jessica de Koning and/or Mark Vicol.

In return we offer

  • Relevant work experience in a research collaboration between Massey University and Wageningen University
  • Reimbursement of costs of travel, housing and transport (incl. return flight Netherlands-New Zealand).

Contact

Dirk Roep (dirk.roep@wur.nl), Jessica de Koning (jessica.dekoning@wur.nl) Mark Vicol (mark.vicol@wur.nl).