Harvesting in the field and in the data


School yard garden

Last Friday I was suppose to meet with an organization that oversees many schoolyard gardens and do 7 surveys at once.  With vacation schedules however it ended up not being an ideal day to get the data so we decided to put survey-taking until late august. I did however get the chance to tour one of the school gardens, and two gardens in distant neighborhoods who also agreed to take the survey.

The three garden visits were very different and really highlighted the differences in motivations, organization, and technologies use in UA. One of the gardens I had visited two months ago and it was wonderful to see it in full production (see pictures below). I also got to eat green beans in one of the school gardens and have an indepth presentation about a new rooftop garden project. Although I didn’t complete any of the survey’s in their entirety, it gave me a great chance to remind participants with whom I still needed pieces of data that I would be recontacting them, and tell the new survey takers exactly what data they would need to fill out the survey in late august. As I have mentioned previously, face-to-face contact definitely seems the best way to ensure survey participation.


May 15th in the garden


July 26th in the garden


July 26th in the garden

Yesterday I also got to harvest some lovely blueberries and raspberries on Ile-Perrot just before the rain set in. It was a great way to start the week, when I will be visiting and surveying two large projects that both have multiple gardens and partnerships.


Weekly update and 1st shot at data processing

Last week I was able to get 2 more organization garden surveys, did 2 more this week and I have 2 more on the books next week. My assistants have also managed to secure some more survey meetings (still slow but at least its still not at a stand still).

The situation with the individual gardens has picked-up, but we still seem to be at a dead-end with the missing community gardens (trying to call everyday hoping to get a response).

I also downloaded all of the survey responses we have collected to date and started to “process” the questions into usable P numbers and other types of information. I found it necessary to go through each survey, question by question, with who ever administered the survey with the paper copy of the responses. Although I have shown both my assistants how to input data and done a number of surveys with them, they both did some surveys on their own (which is kind of the whole point of having help), and I didn’t feel comfortable not verifying all the data myself. I wanted to make sure there were no transcription errors, but more importantly, I realized that some pieces of information that are key to processing were missing in some cases and I needed to know why.  There are many possible sources of bias and error with surveys, and I wanted to make sure we are minimizing all of those sources in our control. Basically, I wanted to minimize any bias or uncertainty that was linked to the survey administrator and not the survey taker (We can’t control if people don’t know the quantity of compost they produce or use, but we can make sure that we have taken copious notes on what they do know and make sure we have asked questions to get as much information on inputs and other relevant information). I realized very quickly that without the brand-name, weight, and N:P:K ratio of commercial inputs, the assumptions I needed to make to go from survey answers to P applied were a little big. I thus decided some of the surveys my assistants did needed to be completed by recontacting survey-takers. I want to be absolutely sure we have done our due diligence.

With other questions, which I already know will not yield P numbers, but give insight on management practices that do affect P flows, I need to process the data so that yes and no answers become 1 and 0’s and weight them by number of gardens, by area, and by type. It is exciting to start seeing a glimpse of the fruit of our labor. I will need to redo the data processing at the end of the season, as I plan on calling a fair amount of survey-takers back to confirm harvest numbers and check if they added any other inputs.


Dancing phosphorus once again

I am actually starting to create the dance piece I envisioned 2 years ago (ok well with a few changes).  I few months ago, at a food system sustainability meeting, I met a great PhD student from Concordia University who founded the sensorium and who promotes and collaborates with artists working on different facets of the Montreal food system. We got to talking, I mentioned my P is for Play idea, and we decided we could indeed collaborate.


P is for play project
Photo credit: Eve Marie Beauchemin

In order to fit within the mission of the Sensorium, I needed to adapt my original vision of the project. It needed to be a more public and a more participatory learning experience for the audience, and also try to make the food link explicit in more than one way. The objective of the piece was always educational so basically it was just a question of altering the type of learning the piece could deliver.

As of now, the plan includes performing in a metro station (so underground which is cool because P is a mined resource and is in soils), making the project more of a public piece, making the dance participatory (so members of the public actually participate in the performance), and providing a little food tasting where the P content of foods is labeled. The piece is also suppose to be done with bilingual narration, thus accessible to the more of the Montreal audience.

In order to alter my original idea and make it work in this new performance context, I think the piece needs to be:

  • Short (I am thinking 10 to 20 minutes at the moment)
  • Include a small non-participatory performance piece
  • Narration (its hard to keep things short in concise when doing bilingual so that will be a challenge)
  • A learning the participatory part with narration of what each move means
  • A final little participatory performance
  •  Ending with a questions and discussion section at the food table

By making it short I think we can retain the attention of people in the public space, and we could even do the piece more than once.

Next Monday, my co-choreographer and I are going to visit our rehearsal space with our new Concordia collaborator and thus I have started doing a little research on participatory dance and other art-science collaborations. Although I obviously have some ideas of how I want to proceed, the scientist in me wants to go to the “literature” and learn from what has been done.

Through my research about how to create a participatory piece here are a couple of the projects I cam across and I thought I would share for good measure.

Computer algorithms and folk dance

Oceans health and climate change

There is also a fair bit of relevant literature on community science, action science, and knowledge co-creation (without a specific dance component) and then on participatory dance (without a specific science communication theme).

Surveying individual private gardens


Completing a survey directly online in the garden. Photo credit: Susanna Klassen

I have previously mentioned surveys in private gardens a few times in update posts, but I thought I would take a moment to recap how surveys in that type of garden have been going. I had put the main responsibility of finding private gardeners on one of my two field assistants (and my self of course) that had previous work experience in the Montreal UA scene. Both of us reached out to friends, family, work colleagues, public posts and various listservs of organizations that have avid gardeners. The response rate was been low however for the “cold-calls” and it seems that although our friends, family, and acquaintances say yes, its hard to actually get them to sit down and do the survey. My objective was to get at least 30 respondents (about half in balcony settings and the other half with ground gardens). Although we have identified more than enough gardeners that have said yes to taking the survey, its already mid-July and we are still missing more than half of their responses.

Here is an example of a lovely garden I visited in June:


Earlier in my field season I decided I wanted to do mostly face-to-face meetings to fill out the survey, ensuring that questions were answered fully and in the way I needed (although even in person I can’t really control all of that). The difficulty we are experiencing to get people to set a time to meet has lead me to re-open the option to let people take the survey online and call me with questions if they have any. I think this might mean I have to do follow-up calls when I am doing data processing however, because people might not fill it out exactly right (even though there are instructions and what not).  I have suggested this online option not only with the private gardeners who are not responsive to setting a meeting time, but also organizations that I have contacted multiple times and have been unsuccessful in scheduling a meeting for a long time.

I am hoping that response rates will increase although I know late July and August are prime vacation time and that I might need to refocus my energies for an intense period in early September.


Photo credit: Francis Cardinal


Visiting community gardens

One of the many types of UA I am surveying is the community garden. In Montreal there are 97 such garden spaces which are mediated by the city. That is, the city gives the land, water, tools, fences, and in some cases an “animateur horticole”. Within each garden, each gardener gets their own plot to manage (sometimes only half a plot in certain gardens as citizen demand is so high).


pictures of three different community gardens


pictures of three different community gardens

IMG_3460  There are about 8 500 plots in the Montreal municipality (and there are usually one or two gardens with many plots in the independent cities on the island as well). I don’t have the resources to sample them all, but I wanted to include these important features of UA in my study. In order to get a little geographic distribution and some of the variety of management practices, I set out to visit 10 gardens in 10 different boroughs (arrondisements) and interview 3 gardeners per gardens.

As I have discussed in earlier posts, I have had to stray from my original design a little, including the community gardens. Because each garden is fenced and remains locked even when people are in it, we really need an initial contact in each garden to let us in and also give us some legitimacy. In April we tried to do this through the City and attending the beginning of the season meetings, but this only worked in one borough. We took advantage of it, and ended up doing 3 gardens in the borough. In other cases, we were able to eventually get into contact with garden presidents, but in a few boroughs, we were never able to get in touch with someone, or were flat-out refused.

Thankfully one of my collaborators is also doing work in community gardens so I was able “skip” some boroughs she was doing as she will fill out the survey with the gardeners she works with. Freeing up a little time to concentrate of the areas where contacts has been more difficult to find.

Last week, I completed the survey in three community gardens (and one survey with a collective garden who’s plot was in a community garden and one institutional garden). Overall, although it’s a bit stressful to initiate the survey with people you don’t know in community gardens, people have been very gracious (sometimes eccentric) and excited to tell us all about their garden. The surveys sometimes take much longer than they should as people like to tell stories about their garden (it varies between 10 minutes and an hour).  Sometimes it’s hard to get the information we need, especially with 1st time gardeners who are not organized. But other times, it’s amazingly easy to gather the information. For example, I met a man who has been at the garden since 1982 and so he knew his stuff!

I am still missing four boroughs and some of the community gardens I contacted in the independent cities. My assistant and I will continue to try to find contacts.

In other interesting news, Dr.Chris Buddle, a professor a McGill who has a great blog and is very active on twitter, shared a great link to an article on some art-science collaborations I was not aware of. I also discovered this great blog called the nature of cities about urban ecology through this very nice post that is accessible and does a great job summarizing the literature and motivations behind the theories a lot of us use (ok well me at least) when working on cities and socio-ecological systems in general through great examples from NYC issues and student class projects.

Larger farms and greener pasture


Parc agricole du Cap Saint-Jacques

  Last week got off to a slow start but ended with a bang. On Monday I decided to recontact those people I was hesitating to last week. I felt that if I didn’t become my own best spokes-person for collecting data, I wasn’t going to be getting any data this summer. I regretted the decision a little because some people (who had previously said yes in the spring to participate in the study but to recontact them later in the summer) declined to participate. I know its common to have people turn you down for surveys and interviews, but I guess I thought I was doing well with my flexible schedule and recontacting them when they said it was best.

Our earlier efforts (my field assistant and I) however to get meetings with larger farms on the island paned out. We were able to do three new surveys, complete two others from farms form which we needed additional data, and get contact information for two more. Although my field assistant had been out to a few farms, it was my first time on a larger-scale farm last Tuesday. Commuting took-up a good part of the two days I met those producers but it was so refreshing to visit a different landscape. I could hardly believe I was on the island of Montreal.


Great rooftop garden

Some of my other contact and recontact efforts also paid off closer to the city-center. I did a survey on a lovely roof-top garden, received two emailed surveys from organizations I was waiting on, and finished two private garden surveys.  Over the weekend, my other assistant and I finished surveys in two community gardens and got two unexpected private gardens done. I also have at least 3 other surveys now scheduled for this week.

Although two weeks ago felt a little gloomy, I feel like greener pastures are here.  And to top things off, my lab went strawberry picking on Ile-Perrot (which although not technically the island of Montreal is part of larger Montreal and could really even be included in my study area if one wanted).


Parc agricole du Cap Saint-Jacques