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Learning Gardens for All: Diversity and Inclusion


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By their nature, gardens embody diversity. This article explores the cultural significance and value of school gardens for diverse communities in restoring and reclaiming their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and resilience through stories, myths, and practical examples. It highlights details for experiential dimensions of garden based learning. Grounded in the research-based, seven-fold benefits of garden-based sustainability education, this article is the international collaborative effort of garden researcher-practitioners from Indigenous, multicultural, urban, biocultural, and STEM perspectives from over a half dozen different diversity-intensive urban learning gardens in the Pacific Northwest. It also describes dynamic experiential teaching approaches for sharing stories and engaging with hands-on approaches to garden-based learning at multiple scales and modes. Vivacious, research-based, garden-based learning from regional learning gardens activates urban areas as sites of diversity-enhancing sustainability education, nurturing the resilience and collaborative creativity required for biocultural flourishing. © Common Ground Research Networks, Marna Hauk, Dilafruz Williams, Judy Bluehorse-Skelton, Sybil Kelley, Susan Gerofsky, Claire Lagerwey, All Rights Reserved.
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The International Journal of
Sustainability in
Economic, Social and
Cultural Context
Learning Gardens for All
Diversity and Inclusion
ISSN: 2325-1115 (Print)
ISSN: 2325-114X (Online) (Journal)
First published by Common Ground Research Networks in 2018
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International Journal of Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural
Context Volume 13, Issue 4, 2018,
© Common Ground Research Networks, Marna Hauk,
Dilafruz Williams, Judy Bluehorse-Skelton, Sybil Kelley, Susan Gerofsky,
Claire Lagerwey, All Rights Reserved.
ISSN: 2325-1115 (Print), ISSN: 2325-114X (Online) (Article)
Learning Gardens for All:
Diversity and Inclusion
Marna Hauk,
Prescott College, USA
Dilafruz Williams, Portland State University, USA
Judy Bluehorse Skelton, Portland State University, USA
Sybil Kelley, Portland State University, USA
Susan Gerofsky, University of British Columbia, Canada
Claire Lagerwey, Portland State University, USA
Abstract: By their nature, gardens embody diversity. This article explores the cultural significance and value of school
gardens for diverse communities in restoring and reclaiming their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and
resilience through stories, myths, and practical examples. It highlights details for experiential dimensions of garden
based learning. Grounded in the research-based, seven-fold benefits of garden-based sustainability education, this article
is the international collaborative effort of garden researcher-practitioners from Indigenous, multicultural, urban,
biocultural, and STEM perspectives from over a half dozen different diversity-intensive urban learning gardens in the
Pacific Northwest. It also describes dynamic experiential teaching approaches for sharing stories and engaging with
hands-on approaches to garden-based learning at multiple scales and modes. Vivacious, research-based, garden-based
learning from regional learning gardens activates urban areas as sites of diversity-enhancing sustainability education,
nurturing the resilience and collaborative creativity required for biocultural flourishing.
Keywords: Learning Gardens, Diversity, Inclusion, Sustainability Education,
Indigenous Education, Experiential Education, STEM
his research article was catalyzed by a workshop offered by six garden researchers in the
Pacific Northwest region through multi-case study. It explores seven characteristics of
inclusive sustainability learning gardens across a range of contexts and offers dynamic
praxis for engaging learners in inclusive garden design, presence, and practice spanning learners
at K-12 and postsecondary educational levels.
By their nature, small-scale local organic gardens frequently embody biocultural diversity
(Barthel, Folke, and Colding 2010; Shava et al. 2010), and the learning gardens we research are
also diverse in terms of the human socioeconomic and ethnocultural diversity, Indigenous and
settler backgrounds, age, gender, and other dimensions. This article explores the cultural
significance and value of learning gardens and school gardens for diverse communities (in all
these dimensions) in restoring and reclaiming their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual
health and resilience through stories, myths, and practical examples. It highlights details for
experiential dimensions of garden-based learning education. This multi-case study is grounded in
the research-based, seven-fold benefits of garden-based sustainability education, as elaborated in
the Living Soil and Learning Gardens framework for sustainability learning gardens from
Williams and Brown (2012). This article is the international collaborative effort of garden
researcher-practitioners from Indigenous, multicultural, urban, biocultural, and STEM
perspectives from over a half dozen different diversity-intensive urban learning gardens in the
Pacific Northwest. The gardens in this article are from both sides of the US-Canada border on the
Pacific coast of North America and include school and urban agriculture sites in Oregon and
Corresponding Author: Marna Hauk, Post Office Box 55995, Portland, Oregon 97238, Sustainability Education,
Prescott College, Prescott, AZ, 86301, USA. email:
Washington states and in Vancouver, BC, Canada. We are a community of scholars—school,
community, and university teachers and activists, involved with learning gardens at all levels of
education, from K-12 to post-secondary, and in informal/non-formal learning settings—bringing
cultural and Indigenous perspectives to the teaching and learning process. This article also
describes dynamic experiential teaching approaches for sharing stories and engaging with hands-
on approaches to garden-based learning to enhance biocultural diversity at multiple scales and
modes. Vivacious, research-based garden learning from regional learning gardens activates urban
areas as sites of diversity-enhancing sustainability education, nurturing the resilience and
collaborative creativity required for biocultural flourishing. Biocultural flourishing involves
“approaches to bioculturally responsive curriculum includ[ing] situating curriculum in place,
emplaced identity, embodied relationality with the more-than-human within which we are
collaborating to thrive, and cultivating and honoring human-place sustainable biocultural
practices” (Hauk 2016, 190).
This writing on learning gardens reflects our beliefs and values as educators, especially our
unyielding commitment to diversity and inclusion, to non-marginalization, to cultural
competence in environmental and sustainability education programs, and to improving garden
learning experiences for diverse populations. Payne (1998, 40) emphasized that “there are
significant social and cultural meanings attached to gardening and agriculture, which have an
impact on people’s responses to working the soil.For culturally and linguistically diverse
students, the garden has potential to empower and to encourage pride and respect in their cultural
heritage. Inclusive learning gardens offer culturally diverse learners safe and welcoming
environments, hands-on activities, and cooperative learning (Bendt 2010). They serve to build
and strengthen interpersonal relationships while making meaningful connections through gardens
by activating prior cultural knowledge (Morris 2010).
Informing Literatures
Sustainability education arises at the convergence of embodying and learning about ecological
embeddedness, generative economics, and equity, all of which intend to promote social justice
and equity (Jenlink 2004; Landorf, Doscher, and Rocco 2008). One effective nexus for teaching
sustainability is the learning garden, which brings the multiple considerations of food sovereignty
and experiential education, cultural foodways, regenerative food systems, ecology, equity, and
economics together, nurturing the convergence of cultural and ecological dimensions of
sustainability. Community gardens and urban farms are living classrooms for ecojustice
education (Martusewicz, Edmundson, and Lupinacci 2011). “An urban school garden is a history
of contested space, courage, renewal, and hope” (Gaylie 2011, 45). Clavin (2009) explained how
community garden projects support skills in community building, ecological desi gn and
observation, appropriate technology, holistic health, and communication and stakeholder
engagement. Rein and Ross (2009) emphasized the ways that projects such as Richmond’s Urban
Tilth and many other grassroots gardens create space for cultural continuity as well as food
sovereignty. Community and learning gardens generate space for honoring food traditions and
thus also generate inclusive spaces (ACGA 2015). Sustainability learning importantly includes
these valuable dimensions of inclusive learning gardens.
This multi-case study used the Living Soil and Learning Gardens framework for sustainability
learning gardens from Williams and Brown (2012) to organize findings from more than a half
dozen urban and school learning gardens spanning the Pacific Northwest that each featured
aspects of inclusion. Each author or author team connected one of the seven characteristics with
their learning garden experience, adding in their own perspectives and approaches to saturate the
rich descriptions of inclusive learning gardens. The article concludes with an integrative
description of some dynamic praxis breakouts utilizing experiential learning methods to teach
about inclusive learning gardens. The article additionally offers a coda of a sample group creative
piece generated from these collaborative breakouts. These were the fruit of our experience
facilitating a workshop during the international On Sustainability conference in January 2016 in
Portland, Oregon. We engaged these topics with more than thirty sustainability theorists and
educators. Throughout, we explore how sustainability learning gardens value inclusion through
the multi-dimensioned framework that moves learners from the flatness and mechanization of
industrial education back to multi-textured, sense-rich, ecologically intelligent and relationally
full “living soil” learning gardens.
Findings: Seven Dimensions of Inclusive Sustainability Education Learning
This collaborative research article leverages the seven dimensions of sustainability learning
gardens from Williams and Brown (2012) to detail different features of inclusive learning
gardens. These seven dimensions of gardening are contradistinguished from and seen as
correlative transformative shifts to seven dimensions of the guiding metaphors of modern,
industrial education (Hunkins and Hammill 1994). Table 1 summarizes these corollaries,
synthesized from Williams and Brown (2012, Chapters 1 and 3).
Table 1: Synthesis of Correlations between Williams and Brown’s (2012)
Seven Areas of Concern in Modern Education and Seven Learning Garden
Principles Based on the Living Soil Metaphor
Seven Areas of Concerns in Modern
Education (Williams and Brown 2012, 4–8)
Seven Learning Gardens Principles
Based on the Living Soil Metaphor
(Williams and Brown 2012, 46)
Decontextualization of learning
Cultivating a sense of place
Loss of curiosity and wonder
Fostering curiosity and wonder
Acceptance of mechanical and industrial scale
Discovering rhythm and scale
Homogenization of curriculum and learning
Valuing biocultural diversity
Privileging of abstract ideas
Embracing practical experience
Perpetuation of individualism and autonomy
Nurturing interconnectedness
Stimulation of only certain senses
Awakening the senses
Source: Williams and Brown 2012
Each of the scholars involved in this article described how one of these learning garden
principles came to life in a living exemplar of a learning garden with which they were involved.
The scholars, many of whom were already university colleagues, collaborated via the 2016 On
Sustainability conference and through writing sessions afterward to describe how
interconnectedness threaded across all of the gardens. And finally, inspired by some of the
workshop strategies shared in the 2016 On Sustainability workshop informed by this research,
the findings include ideas for how educators would incorporate some of these principles into
their learning experience designs. The article concludes with a sampler of the workshop poem
co-generated by two dozen experientially engaged sustainability leader-participants. This
research thus includes useful descriptions for how inclusive practices and strategies in learning
gardens bring place-sensing, curiosity, wonder, organic scale and rhythm, practice, and sensory
enlivenment to life in ways that value and embody interconnective biocultural diversities.
Dimension One of Inclusive Learning Gardens: Awakening the Senses
Learning gardens awaken the full range of senses (Root 2016). Sensory awakening includes
extending multiple intelligences engagement outside for vibrant embodiment compared with an
indoor, sitting classroom. The benefits of this vibrant engagement of the senses include
lengthening attention, cultivating presence, deepening meaning-making, grounding learning, and
encouraging interconnective thinking (Williams and Brown 2012). Hauk et al (2016) indicated
how engaging more of the senses in sustainability education supported critical and transformative
capacities. Sensory depth catalyzed these critical and transformative capacities through
awakening compassion, nurturing alternative epistemologies, and providing stamina, agency, and
hope in the face of systemic challenges to sustainability.
Figure 1: Images from Institute for Earth Regenerative Studies
Garden-related Research Participants and Events, Portland, Oregon
Source: Photographs and Photo Collage © Marna Hauk 2016
Experiences in the learning gardens in formation in northeast Portland at the Institute for
Earth Regenerative Studies support these findings. A year-long pilot program for women activist-
visionaries to design and undertake mentored community climate justice and resilience projects
has taken place in a garden learning context. This can include holding classes in the garden as
learning context as well as engaging in collaborative gardening as the learning content.
Participants remarked in summative, narrative program evaluation how the vibrant garden-based
learning supported them thinking divergently about power and the possibilities of community
organizing. Many reported feeling sustained by the senses and beauty they were opening to
through their outdoor experiences, and that this strengthened their stamina for the long haul of
Gaian resilience and climate justice work, which was echoed by their readings in Active Hope
and the work that reconnects (Macy and Johnstone 2012). For some, their climate justice
awareness expanded through sensory awakening in the garden learning context. Biomimicry-
inspired experiential and sense-intensive activities supported their systems thinking capacity,
which helped them think critically about climate justice issues, while supporting them moving
beyond binaries into systems-level sustainability creativity and innovation. Mathews (2011)
argues for this kind of deep biomimicry which is sense-rich and encourages mutuality between
ecological beings and human beings.
Inclusive learning gardens have a particularly poignant power while awakening the senses
for learners from non-dominant positions. Sensory expansion is a powerful way to expand
learners beyond conventional knowing (Williams and Brown 2012). The majority of participants
in this ecosocial incubator certificate program for Gaian Resilience and Climate Justice were
low-income or working-class queer women. Calls for ecofeminist, feminist, and expanded
environmental education also value these embodied and multiple ways of knowing and this kind
of sensory educational praxis which open up environmental justice and cross-cultural, ecocentric
perspectives and liberation (Fawcett 2013; Gough 2004, 2013; Olsen 2002).
Dimension Two of Inclusive Learning Gardens: Fostering Curiosity and Wonder
For Rachel Carson (1956), wonder and humility are essential to developing a mysterious sense of
place; they enable human beings to contemplate the beauties of the earth and, in the process,
motivate learning. Being curious, asking questions, and nurturing wonder for the endless
mysteries and splendors of our earthly home are not only wholesome but also necessary to
engage children and youth in meaningful learning where they take ownership for their own
education. In engaging with real life, curiosity and wonder each play significant roles returning
an adequate sense of awe for the unknown. This is in sharp contrast to the search for one right
answer among predetermined choices in multiple choice tests which have all but reduced our
latent interest in life to extinction. In Sense of Wonder, Carson (1956) posits that if even one
adult will share a sense of wonder with an awestruck child then it is likely that child will be able
to maintain a natural state of curiosity and wonder, an openness to the magnificence of the world,
for as long as life continues. In a time increasingly defined by escalating social a nd ecological
crises as well as by an unprecedented access to instant information ad nauseam, the preservation
and explicit nurturance of children’s latent capacity for curiosity and wonder and ability to ask
the unasked and unanswerable questions is of fundamental importance.
Unfortunately in a race to the top for global techno-scientific competitiveness, something is
lost along the way: sufficient space for engaging curiosity and wonder. While it is daily
becoming ever more apparent that more information will not solve or reverse pernicious social
and ecological problems, perhaps more questions might help, if only in opening hitherto
unopened doors of inquiry and reorienting conventional patterns of perception. Engagement with
and activities in the learning gardens manifest unbound curiosity and wonder, a sharp contrast to
our presently modeled education system where checking only one right answer among a limited
number of already predetermined choices is the measure of success. Learning gardens can
provide such fruitful inquiry opportunities for students in making connections with their place,
locale, and the natural world beyond the boundaries of intellectual mind as emotions—especially
related to wonder—are equally valued.
Active curiosity and wonder are associated with critical thinking and the search for meaning,
sustaining and nurturing these capacities is not only holistic but is also in the interest of our
educational institutions. Working with the living soil in learning gardens can bring students into
close and intimate contact with the terrestrial source of food, and may spark lines of critical
inquiry (Figure 2). For example, we have heard young children ask probing questions relating to
topics such as global food trade, persistent use of indiscriminate life-killing chemicals in
conventional agriculture and on farms, high proportion of corn in the modern diet, and the
ubiquity of large grass lawns. Many of these questions have no simple or convincing answers.
With respect to intractable social and ecological crises that represent children’s cultural
inheritance, these unanswerable critical questions can be nurtured into further inquiry. A critique
of cultural assumptions and aspects of the dominant paradigm is implicit here and can be valued
at all levels of education.
Figure 2: Learning Garden Laboratories, Portland, Oregon
Source: © Authors 2016
Natural settings motivate endless marvel (Abram 2012). There will always be more to be
curious about or to wonder upon in the diversity of school learning gardens. As Rilke (1934)
suggests, unanswerable questions can be our guide. Engaged with life, questions lead to more
questions. Thus we inquire, why is it that as students progress in school they tend to stop asking
questions and forget to wonder? Or, as essayist Neil Postman (1994) asks, why do children enter
school as a question mark and leave as a period? Through ongoing observations students may
become more interested and curious with regard to the layers upon layers of relationships rooted
in even a simple untended corner of school grounds. As with the arousal of our senses in the
gardens, curiosity refers to a state of deepened interest about a topic or subject matter. In other
words, curiosity may drive a search for answers within a particular research interest, for example
“what are the characteristics of living things in this garden? Wonder relates to an open state of
free thinking that transcends the boundaries of existing subject matter (Opdal 2001). And,
wonder may be more broadly concerned with the philosophical dimensions of experience, asking
“what is life?” Both questions are important and necessary. When they question, students are
thinking, seeking meaning, and connecting new ideas to familiar concepts. Curiosity obviously
motivates learning through continual production of questions. Neurophysiological theory
suggests that curiosity is a state of arousal due to complex stimuli and uncertainty that lead to
exploratory behavior (Berlyne 1966). Stimulus variables such as unfamiliarity, novelty,
complexity, ambiguity, and incongruity may increase arousal level and induce curiosity. For
exploratory activities, place, locale, community, and soil provide a rich milieu and learning
gardens provide tangible context. Curiosity often foregrounds an element of uncertainty and
ambiguity requisite for stimulating wonder. In particular, wonder “arises from surprise at or
puzzlement about the object” (Schmitt and Lahroodi 2008, 128). Wonder contrasts with curiosity
insofar as the latter simply seeks to delve deeper into mysteries of experience within accepted
frames of reference while the former questions the very frames in which meaning is constructed
(Opdal 2001). On this view, wonder may be of particular importance in the case of sustainability,
as this emergent field is largely about dealing with uncertainty. In the context of compounding
social and ecological crises, it seems natural and appropriate for a degree of “surprise at, or
puzzlement” to characterize experience. Tangible terrestrial inspiration presents a wealth of
unanswerable questions that can encourage learning. For example: How do worms breathe
underground? How is humus formed? How does a living soil seem to almost endlessly make
room for more water, microorganisms, bacteria, and worms, and yet not bulge to the point of
eruption? These questions and more, while technically answerable, invite joyous and timeless
wondering in much the way as passing clouds provide endless variations of images and
Dimension Three of Inclusive Learning Gardens: Cultivating a Sense of Place
The cultural significance and value of gardens and connection with the land to heal and build
community health and resilience through traditional foods play a critical role in restoring and
reclaiming the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health of historically marginalized
communities (Cajete 1999). Centuries of colonization and genocide have forced removal from
and restricted access to traditional lands, customs and seasonal practices (Milburn 2004).
Figure 3: Learning Gardens Collage
Source: © Judy Bluehorse Skelton 2016
Additionally, the twenty-first century has seen increasing numbers of people forced from their
homes due to war and drought, resulting in unprecedented populations of refugee communities
(Burns 2004; Myers 2002). Through education, we share Indigenous perspectives of the value of
creating healthy and respectful relationships with the living, natural world, renewing and
regenerating our personal and planetary health.
Through this work, we engage in questions critical to Indigenous identity and sense of place,
including the question of what it means to be indigenous to a place. To restore our “sense of
place,” we can recognize and remember ancient relationships: Our relationship to water, to the
plants and animals, to the very soil beneath our feet. We weave ancestral knowledge with
contemporary technology to address issues of health and social injustice stemming from
colonization and displacement. As expressed in Figure 3, gardens become community gardens,
healing gardens, learning gardens, nourishing and nurturing, feeding the body and the soul,
cultivating a sense of place, a sense of belonging.
How do we reclaim not just our health, but also our culture, our economy, our connection to
land and intimate sense of place? How do we sustain our circles, our languages? The land and the
ceremonies, the little rituals of daily life, hold the keys. According to Native American
ecopsychologist Leslie Gray: “Health is defined as a balanced relationship with your habitat,
your ecosystem. This kind of relating empowers you as well as the ecosystem, so that both
remain sustainable by generating aliveness in each other. There’s an old Chuckchee saying,
‘Everything that is, is alive.’ Indigenous peoples believe that you have to do your part to keep the
earth alive, i.e., you must have reciprocal relations with the environment” (Gray 1995, 181).
Through the garden we can experience the circle of life, offering gifts of renewal and
regeneration, embodying the seasons of a place as surely as it marks the seasons of our lives from
infant to elder. The cyclical pattern is timeless and all encompassing, equally relevant in the
microcosm as well as the macrocosm of twenty-first-century life. Engaging all our senses, we
observe, touch, smell and taste. From herbal teas to fresh fruits and vegetables, the aromas,
colors, shapes, textures and flavors awaken memory and connect us to place. The rituals of
sharing food together, sipping tea together, and offering a song to the trees and gardens before
we harvest create the transformative moments of profound connection, of belonging. To sit in
circle, to sip the fragrant tea together, is like “a handshake” one elder told us, a medicine for the
spirit. “We have agreed to what we have shared, we trust… we are relatives now (Elder Bob
Tom, personal communication, Pi Nee Waus luncheon for elders at the Portland State Native
American Student and Community Center, 2006).
Dimensions Four and Six of Inclusive Learning Gardens: Embracing Biocultural
Diversity through Practical Experience
Realizing that many socio-cultural and environmental problems of the twenty-first century are
perpetuated by a certain kind of teaching and learning, learning gardens offer platforms ripe for
transforming deeply-rooted, dominant metaphors currently besieged in western mental models of
teaching and learning. Within the modern economy, the education system and society at large
have privileged abstract ideas while practical experiences have been devalued and dismissed
(Williams and Brown 2012). By devaluing practical experiences we are privileging those in
dominant positions of power and in turn, dismissing embodied knowledge expressed in
experience, cultural traditions and place. In addition, by privileging abstract thought, learners can
become disconnected from holistic approaches that value emotional and embodied ways of
knowing. If not addressed, current mental models stemming from mechanistic and dominant
ways of thinking will continue to dictate and disconnect human understandings of new and old
phenomena (Bowers 2002).
Related to privileging of abstract knowledge, many schools, particularly those serving
historically marginalized populations (Kelley 2013; Kelley and Williams 2013), overemphasize
standardization, resulting in a homogenization of curriculum, teaching, and learning.
Consequently, this trend towards a “one-size-fits-all” curriculum tends to exclude the cultural
assets and knowledge that students and their families share. Just as biodiversity is recognized as
the sign of a healthy ecosystem, cultural diversity and biocultural diversity are essential to a
healthy learning system. Everyone has a cultural connection to food. Biocultural diversity speaks
to this connection, describing how human, sociocultural systems have coevolved within their
local, place-based food systems. Unfortunately, far too many of these connections have been
severed for various reasons; learning gardens have the potential to mitigate this separation.
Increasingly, public schools are becoming more diverse, multicultural contexts, described as
“cultural-interface zones”—places where the cultural backgrounds of students collide with the
dominant culture of schools (Norman et al. 2001). Yet, when diverse ideas and experiences are
embraced and engaged through meaningful, relevant experiential learning, these cultural-
interface zones are transformed from cultural conflict to biocultural richness. Learning gardens
can provide a context for reconnecting people with culturally-significant food choices. We have
witnessed this time and again at the Learning Gardens Laboratory (LGL) in Southeast Portland,
Oregon. By creating a welcoming learning community and investigating local, regional, and
international food experiences, we have seen families identify, share, and reconnect with their
cultural connections to food. These experiences not only help displaced individuals and
communities begin to develop connections to their new home, but also provide rich discourse
opportunities to learn about different experiences and assets that families bring to the learning
The mechanistic, reductionist worldviews that privilege abstract ideas and lead to
homogenization of curriculum, teaching, and learning are particularly relevant in STEM
(Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Education. The dominant narrative promoting
STEM education is for increasing US competitiveness in global markets, perpetuating the same
mechanistic, reductionistic ways of knowing and being. However, from our perspective, a more
important reason to promote equity and excellence in STEM education is because all of the
significant problems of the modern world—climate change, collapsing ecosystems and food
systems, air and water pollution, and more—require a fundamental scientific literacy for
individuals to understand and engage as empowered, active, global citizens. At its core,
engineering design is a problem-solving framework. Applying scientific understanding, with
mathematical and technological tools, allows learners of all ages to creatively address local and
global challenges. A diversity of thinking is essential, for without it, we are likely to perpetuate
the same patterns and problems.
As a response to the myriad of educational problems, learning gardens offer opportunities to
develop life-generating metaphors. They provide spaces for practical, shared experiences where
cultural knowledge is valued, shifting the way we think and engage ecologically and culturally.
Sterling (2010) suggests that learning should exist within the systems themselves so that context
is the primary catalyst of learning. Learning Gardens can contextualize learners within real-world
systems while moving away from disconnection and abstraction of normative, mechanistic
classroom models. By beginning with context, learning is automatically rooted in place (place -
based), community (relationships to self and others) and culture (cultural relevance and equity).
Through Science in the Learning Gardens (SciLG), a National Science Foundation-
supported program (DRL 1418270), project leaders at the LGL have endeavored to counteract
abstract-heavy, disconnected approaches to learning. Through SciLG, middle school students at
LGL regularly participate in relevant, STEM learning experiences that engage the head
(cognitive domain, academic study), hands (psychomotor domain, practical skill development)
and heart (affective domain, values, individual and group connection) (Sipos, Battisti, and
Grimm 2008) within a Learning Garden Context. According to Sipos, Battisti, and Grimm
(2008), the integration of these three areas more likely results in holistic, transformational
learning. Experiences that engage the head, hands, and heart are deepened through cultural
exchanges that build community, breakdown stereotypes, and create spaces where all
perspectives are viewed as valuable assets.
Experiences at LGL embody head, heart, and hands-on learning through relevant, STEM
education, helping students connect school learning with their everyday lives (Figures 4-6).
Middle school students regularly engage with the cognitive and academic domain as they learn
about key ecological processes through a systems-thinking lens. Students ask investigable
questions, observe bioregional patterns, engage in scientific drawing practices, collect and
analyze local weather data, reflect on their learning, and apply their evolving, co-constructed
understandings to address real-world challenges. Nearly all experiences at LGL engage students
in hands-on, psychomotor approaches. For example, students regularly practice using all their
senses through sensory garden tours, taste testing activities, observations of seasonal transitions,
and open-ended explorations. The affective domain is at the center of learning for middle school
students at LGL. Each session begins with an opening circle, giving students an opportunity to
share something from their lives, and to build relationships with one another and with the land. In
the garden, students learn to value not only human relationships, but ecological and cultural
relationships as well.
One key practice we use with students is the “sit spot” activity. Sit spots are locations in the
garden, chosen by each student, that they regularly visit throughout the school year. Sit spots are
intended to be calm, contemplative places for students to disconnect in order to reconnect. In
their sit spots, students are able to slow down, engage their senses, and become more mindful of
the garden surroundings. With that grounding in place, students use their co -created knowledge
of place to engage in hands-on inquiry lessons and student-led engineering and design projects
that are connected to seasonal conditions and academic learning goals.
An example of how these principles come together through SciLG at LGL: In the autumn of
2016, eighth graders are exploring the concepts of energy and matter through the garden. As they
explore LGL individually and in community (heart), they have been discovering the many ways
that plants capture and store energy, how microclimate zones affect temperature, and interactions
between biotic and abiotic factors (head). Later in the season, students will apply their
understanding of energy and related ecological concepts to build cold frames (hands) with the
goal of extending the growing season. Projects like these give students the autonomy to take
abstract ideas and use their own hands to create tangible, real-world prototypes. Furthermore,
shared experiences like these create direct links from the Learning Garden to the classroom, thus
grounding abstract concepts in reality. Instead of reading about a concept, students are able to
engage with the concept and see themselves in relationship to it.
In all domains of learning, practical experience not only provides a way to actively engage
learners through multiple modalities, it also provides an entry point to the cultural assets that
students bring from their homes and communities. Many of the middle school students served at
LGL are recent immigrants, English-language learners, or from other historically marginalized
groups. Through shared experiences, particularly opening circle, food mapping lessons, and other
reflective activities, students learn more about themselves and each other, and develop a deeper
connection to place. Qualitative analysis of students’ writing and artwork, conversations and new
questions, as collected through field notes and the products of student work at the LGL, gives
evidence of learning in the realms of head, hand, and heart, as learners show advancement in
cognitive/ scientific knowledge, practical skills and abilities, and reflective self-knowledge in the
context of community.
Figure 4: Learning Garden Laboratories, Portland, Oregon.
Source: © Authors 2016
Figure 5: Learning Garden Laboratories, Portland, Oregon
Source: © Authors 2016
Figure 6: Learning Garden Laboratories, Portland, Oregon
Source: © Authors 2016
Dimension Five of Inclusive Learning Gardens: Discovering Rhythm and Scale
Most school classrooms, built in the modernist industrial tradition, confine learners to a built
environment constructed of grids within grids upon grids (Gerofsky 2011). Looking around a
typical classroom, one sees mostly straight lines, rows and square corners. Space, on large and
small scales, is organized on a grid pattern; so is time, with school calendars, daily timetables and
course selection sheets squarely gridded and reinforced with the jangling alarm of bells.
This preference for the straight and square pervades many human-built urban, suburban, and
rural environments. People living within contemporary industrial/post-industrial cultures are so
accustomed to the predominance of the grid in our internalized images of space and time that we
have difficulty recognizing other forms of space and time patterning in our worlds.
Learning gardens, at schools and in communities, can offer an immediate and welcome
respite from the squared-off world within the four walls of a typical classroom. Entering a place
where everything is alive, and where the cycles of the seasons take priority, learners and teachers
may find room to breathe, to think, to appreciate, to relate, and to connect with rhythms and
scales that go beyond the human, and that support diverse and flourishing life.
One simple approach to learning with this awareness is to take time to observe, contemplate,
and notice, with all the senses, in both focused and diffused ways. The tough grid of the school
timetable and regimes of learning goals and high-stakes testing does not often allow for
contemplation and observation, but a field trip to the garden (or forest, or hillside, or meadow, or
beach, etc.) offers space for different forms of attentiveness.
Observational practices we have used in our learning gardens include drawing to learn/
naturalists’ sketchbooks; listening exercises, with eyes closed; ecopoetry and ecomusic walks;
nap-in group listening and dreaming; and opportunistic observations of bees, worms, eagles,
voles, caterpillars, beetles, coyotes, and other living creatures in our urban garden (Figures 8,
Some of these observations are on a tiny and intimate scale: the rippling edge of a leaf, the
zigzag path of an ant, the sound of our own heartbeats, and the rhythm of our breathing. Others
are on a grand scale: the swaying and sighing of huge trees as the wind picks up, the spectacular
seasonal growth of blackberry canes, the seasonal patterns of sun and rain.
Rhythms that may not be accessible to casual and diffuse observation are often made
sensible to more focused observations guided by a teacher’s expertise. For example, we have
explored the intimate relationship between lupine flowers and their pollinators, led by an
undergraduate student in agriculture who had noticed the flower-bee interactions in the garden
and researched it further. One mathematical artist-in-residence helped us construct six-month-
exposure pinhole cameras that recorded the spectacular patterns of the sun’s path in the southern
sky from summer to winter solstice (Figure 10). A graduate student who was also an
astrophysicist helped us feel these same patterns kinesthetically and with a high degree of
accuracy using our hands to measure angle of elevation and our whole bodies to trace the suns
seasonal path (Figure 9). A mathematician-sculptor helped us explore the interaction between the
straight lines of locally harvested bamboo poles and the paradoxical curved surfaces of a huge
hyperboloid arbourway we constructed together (Figure 7). Constructing sundials and rain
collectors, cob ovens and wind-played Aeolian harps, root cellars, windsocks and labyrinths can
help learners become aware of the rhythms of the elements, weather patterns, the turning and
trajectory of the earth, and the seasons, all of which sustain life and health of the planet and of
human and other-than-human beings.
Within the realm of the human and the social, rhythms and scales of being in relationship
can also reveal themselves in focused making, relating and observing in learning gardens
(Ostertag 2015). Learning history in and with the garden has opened up a nu mber of generative
projects that helped both teachers and students become aware of human patterns over small and
large time scales.
For example, the Chinese Market Garden project brought together kids and elders from the
Chinese-Canadian Historical Society and CEDAR camp for Indigenous young people, along with
university archivists, teacher candidates and graduate students, to explore the historical
connections among expert immigrant market farmers with Indigenous peoples and governments
all around the Pacific Rim, in a relationship that was both generative and fraught with racism and
Work with eco-artists and traditional craftspeople from several traditions connected us with
ancient technologies of rope-making, fiber spinning, natural dyeing, seed-saving, wheat-weaving,
and song, music, and dance that celebrate the seasons of birth, growth, death, and regeneration,
annually and across life spans.
The engagement that can take place in and around a learning garden, and other living places
that exceed the grid of human-made patterning, have the potential to bring learners to new
attentiveness to the rhythms and scales of the world, with multisensory engagement, a sense of
wonder and joy, fully embodied and hands-on experiences, and an awareness of the
connectedness and relationship to all things. As learners develop these experiential, focused and
diffuse ways of noticing, it is possible to re-enter the four square walls of built classrooms from
time to time, treating those walls as permeable and mutable, and bringing the affordances of the
grid in balance with other kinds of non-industrial rhythms and scales in more sustainable ways of
teaching and learning.
Figure 7: University of British Columbia, UBC Orchard Garden
Source: © Susan Gerofsky 2016
Figure 8: University of British Columbia, UBC Orchard Garden
Source: © Susan Gerofsky 2016
Figure 9: University of British Columbia, UBC Orchard Garden
Source: © Susan Gerofsky 2016
Figure 10: University of British Columbia, UBC Orchard Garden
Source: © Susan Gerofsky 2016
Figure 11: University of British Columbia, UBC Orchard Garden
Source: © Susan Gerofsky 2016
Dimension Seven of Inclusive Learning Gardens: Interconnectedness
The seventh dimension of sustainability learning gardens, in the Williams and Brown (2012)
framework, is how learning gardens nurture interconnectedness, both in terms of interconnective
relationships and in fostering an ecological perspective. These researchers detailed how learning
gardens generate a “whole systems solution…connecting learning with eating, growing with
harvesting, caring with consuming” to form a “nexus of interconnectedness” (Williams and
Brown 2012, 139). The cordage wreath woven by students in the UBC Orchard Garden serves as
a visual metaphor for the interweaving interconnectedness that characterizes sustainability
education learning gardens (Figure 12).
In the Institute for Earth Regenerative Studies learning gardens in Portland, Oregon, one
activity of the women’s climate resilience ecosocial incubator involved interconnective learning
via collaborative basking with a sunlit birch and biomimetically imagining how the birch’s
quality of fluid movement in the wind as well as the regener ative seasonal self-mulching of the
birch could serve as templates for adaptation and mutual care toward climate resilience in
community (Hauk 2017). The interconnectivity dimension of this garden moment thus “bring[s]
a relational state of being to the center” (Williams and Brown 2012, 138). This wider point of
interconnectedness in the sustainability learning garden is particularly important for cultivating
the empathy and respectfulness that are hallmarks of the brave work (Arao and Clemens 2013)
needed for deep inclusion. Relationality is also key to Indigenous ecological systems
understandings of cultivation (Deur and Turner 2005; Kimmerer 2013). As a kind of imaginative,
ecological approach, garden-based learning cultivates an ecological epistemological stance that
centers relationship in which nature is inextricably embedded in knowing and can be met (Judson
2010). It has been explored as a culturally inclusive educational approach for aboriginal learners.
Garden-based learning invites experiences of belonging. Sustainability garden relationship and
interconnection catalyze generative contexts for inclusion, across dimensions of culture, multiple
ways of knowing, and interspecies and interpersonal relationships.
Figure 12: Cordage wreath from learning garden materials. University of British Columbia Orchard Garden
Source: © Susan Gerofsky 2016
Conclusion: The Promise of Inclusive Learning
These accounts of inclusive gardens support all seven of the characteristics of sustainability
learning gardens framework established by Williams and Brown (2012). These inclusive garden
learning experiences awaken the senses and multiple ways of knowing, spark creativity by
fostering curiosity and a sense of wonder, to cultivate a sense of place and a valuing of
biocultural diversity that embraces and enhances practical experience and attunement to rhythm
and scale. All these nurture interconnectedness. Inclusive learning gardens value food traditions,
sacred plant meanings, open up systems thinking and multiple ways of knowing, expand
experiences of belonging, and build relationships while reframing diversity as a strength and
equity as a shared, co-created process of growth and provisioning. Inclusive sustainability
learning gardens expand and connect arts, math, and science in integrative insight and processual
imagination while they can support food sovereignty and continuity in growing food traditions
and lifeways.
Creative Coda: Experiential Encounters and Garden Plant Praise
Such approaches can be brought to life with experiential learning approaches. These six authors
shared a mixture of memory, herbal and plant interactions, arts-based engagement, collaboration,
and story-sharing to bring garden and foodway teachings to life. Two of the authors often teach
future sustainability educators about these topics through story sharing circles that also share
herbal tea. Passing herbal plants around can evoke memories of plant relationships and food
traditions. Sipping herbal tea can draw out the medicinal presence and power of the garden and
forest beings. Gestural sketching of plants that moves the whole body invites a deeper creative
engagement and sensory enlivenment. Engagement with ecofractal natural patterns surfaces
collaborative creativity (Hauk 2014, 2015). Imagining relationship directly with the plant through
poem-making phrases of address can emphasize the relational dimension of garden plant
experience. Some of the authors have hosted world cafe conversations about accessibility and
gardening to connect these experiences with larger considerations of power, access, and
We offer a sampler of parts of an assembled poem developed by participants during the
workshop at the January 2016 On Sustainability conference, as pictured in Figure 13.
Assembled Poem from the Inclusive Garden Workshop Participant Writing
Oooregon grape
Ancestral healer
lively evergreen
relative, timeless,
- Remember Us.
Oh Cottonwood, come play with
me, take me to your
dreamland of sweet
flickering light.
Oh life sustaining rosemary,
You evoke memories of
millennia or is it billenea
of galaxies
submission to the unknown
in humility -
Oh lilac, your beauty
and scent reminds me
of my mother, our
nature walks together,
and the love of gardening
she instilled in me.
Oh birch tree, how you move in the
wind but stand strength on the ground
while I read a book in the garden.
O, I am white iris lily
tender petals purpled
with sky blue sky
reaching out, singing
Oh cactus, with your
watery, wiley wise and
watchful ways - a
trickster to the heat and
nurturer to those who
truly know you….
blesser you.
Oh giant maple, I feel
so much gratitude for the
world of imagination and connection
you gave me - so full of
beauty, wisdom, and history,
permanence and impermanence
O’ to the land of the
long leaf pine
Oh, pea pod, thank you
for connecting me to my
grandfather and my
Oh rhubarb -
subarctic wonder, resilient
full of vitamin C. Family
wide-spreading, sour sweet
pie jam preserves
durable, persistent
O toe may toe,
sun fruit night
shade pungent
sweet seedy meat
Oh fire of creosote, coursing
through water…radiant
in oil of olive - transported
desert to portal step - healing
my heart and spirit
Oh strawberry tribe, lovingly tether and
ingeniously bind me to the ground,
to the summer smile, to burgeoning bliss, yes!
Oh, sword fern
Fronds bending out from your base
covering hillsides
under Douglas fir
marching across Cascadia.
O Garlic, thank you for the smells
you bring to my kitchen to make the
distance from home disappear as I
disassemble your flavor clove by clove.
Oh lilac, your scent
is embracing, giving my
senses, my memories and
my soul a place to rest.
Figure 13: On Sustainability Conference Session Compilation of Participant Gestural Sketches,
Ecofractal Cards, and Garden Poem Fragments from the “School Gardens for All: Diversity and
Inclusion” Workshop facilitated by Authors, January 2016 in Portland, Oregon
Source: Marna Hauk 2016
This article is an adaptation of a workshop presented at the Twelfth International Conference on
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Marna Hauk, PhD: Postdoctoral Scholar and Instructor, Sustainability Education, Prescott
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Oregon, USA
Dilafruz Williams, PhD: Professor of Leadership for Sustainability Education, Department of
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Claire Lagerwey, MS: Alumna, Leadership for Sustainability Education, Portland State
University, Portland, Oregon, USA
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... Practices developed by the Orchard Garden team have been informed by studies in GBL and its beneficial effects on mathematics education, art education and ecoliteracy. The Orchard Garden's programmes are supported by studies of the role of GBL in promoting positive environmental stewardship (Mayer-Smith & Peterat, 2016), cultural diversity (Cutter-Mackenzie, 2009) and Indigenous relationships with plant nations and greater-than-human kin (Hauk et al., 2018). The design of Orchard Garden projects has benefited by its engagement with studies dealing directly with the institutional and educational effects of university campus learning gardens and of learning gardens in PTE in particular (Gaylie, 2009). ...
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The European explorers who first visited the Northwest Coast of North America assumed that the entire region was virtually untouched wilderness whose occupants used the land only minimally, hunting and gathering shoots, roots, and berries that were peripheral to a diet and culture focused on salmon. Colonizers who followed the explorers used these claims to justify the displacement of Native groups from their lands. Scholars now understand, however, that Northwest Coast peoples were actively cultivating plants well before their first contact with Europeans. This book is the first comprehensive overview of how Northwest Coast Native Americans managed the landscape and cared for the plant communities on which they depended. Bringing together some of the world's most prominent specialists on Northwest Coast cultures, Keeping It Living tells the story of traditional plant cultivation practices found from the Oregon coast to Southeast Alaska. It explores tobacco gardens among the Haida and Tlingit, managed camas plots among the Coast Salish of Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia, estuarine root gardens along the central coast of British Columbia, wapato maintenance on the Columbia and Fraser Rivers, and tended berry plots up and down the entire coast. With contributions from ethnobotanists, archaeologists, anthropologists, geographers, ecologists, and Native American scholars and elders, Keeping It Living documents practices, many unknown to European peoples, that involve manipulating plants as well as their environments in ways that enhanced culturally preferred plants and plant communities. It describes how indigenous peoples of this region used and cared for over 300 different species of plants, from the lofty red cedar to diminutive plants of backwater bogs.
“Authentic hope is the gift Rebecca Martusewicz, Jeff Edmundson, and John Lupinacci offer readers of EcoJustice Education …. We learn what it means to recover the ancient arts and skills of cultivating commons, common sense, and community collaborations in our hard times.” STRONG Madhu Suri Prakash, Pennsylvania State University/STRONG EcoJustice Education/EM> should become a core part of teacher education programs across the country as it provides both the theory and examples of classroom practices essential for making the transition to a sustainable future. STRONG C. A. Bowers, author, international speaker, and retired professor/STRONG> Designed for introductory social foundations or multicultural education courses, this text offers a powerful model for cultural ecological analysis and pedagogy of responsibility, providing teachers and teacher educators with the information and classroom practices they need to help develop citizens who are prepared to support and achieve diverse, democratic, and sustainable societies in an increasingly globalized world. The Companion Website for this book (STRONG <>) offers a wealth of resources linked to each chapter.
Offering a fresh approach to bringing life to schools and schools to life, this book goes beyond touting the benefits of learning gardens to survey them as a whole-systems design solution with potential to address myriad interrelated social, ecological, and educational issues. The theoretical and conceptual framework presented creatively places soil at the center of the discourse on sustainability education and learning garden design and pedagogy. Seven elements and attributes of living soil and learning gardens are presented as a guide for sustainability education: cultivating a sense of place; fostering curiosity and wonder; discovering rhythm and scale; valuing biocultural diversity; embracing practical experience ; nurturing interconnectedness. The living soil of learning gardens forms the basis of a new metaphoric language serving to contest dominant mechanistic metaphors presently influencing educational discourse. Student voices and examples from urban schools provide practical understanding of how bringing life to schools can indeed bring schools to life.