Award-winning research communicates the impact of community gardens

Bliss Graetz, a 4th year Master of Landscape Architecture student at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, used her Summer Research scholarship to research the impacts of community gardens.

Segment of Bliss Graetz's summer gold award-winning poster about the impact of community gardens

She has won Best Poster at this year’s Summer Gold Awards for a poster summarising her research. The awards acknowledge the research achievements of students who take part in the Summer Research scholarship programme. Students are invited to design a poster or create a video about their research in collaboration with their supervisor.

Bliss’s research explored the best ways to measure and communicate the impacts of community gardens. “I have always been interested in how growing, cooking, and eating food can bring people together,” says Bliss.

“I found out about community gardens when I arrived in Wellington. Instantly I viewed them as a powerful tool to help strengthen social resilience through building or enhancing communities of diverse demographics in a productive and wholesome way.

“I think they are an exceptional example of ‘place-making’. I knew I wanted to take my Master’s in this direction but first I needed to improve my research skills, something the Summer Research scholarship programme has really helped me with.”

First, Bliss conducted a literature review which identified and analysed multiple international and local studies and reports on the social, health, and environmental impacts of community gardens.

“There were three significant findings from the literature review. Firstly, the importance of understanding the social, economic or environmental context of each garden before measuring specific impacts, secondly the importance of distinguishing between direct and indirect environmental impacts of the garden, and thirdly it was evident that there is an extreme lack of quantitative data out there to support their growth.”

She then conducted interviews and composed surveys to collect data on the social and environmental impacts of the gardens.

The final part of the research was the formation of an impact measuring framework for community gardens based on the findings from her previous research.

“The framework consists of 19 key performance indicators (KPIs) with 100 measures all organised by six different impacts: social, health, environmental, local food production, civil service, and economic. It is organised by impact so a garden member can easily identify which measures are most important to take for their garden depending on their purpose or context.”

The summer scholarship experience provided Bliss with networking opportunities and the chance to upskill in data collection.

“I found it to be a very positive and inspiring experience. It really helped me develop my research skills. I realised early on in my project that visual communication was going to be an essential aspect of this research, so to be awarded for my poster feels like a great achievement,” Bliss says.

Bliss was supervised by Dr Fabricio Chicca from the Wellington School of Architecture.

“I was very happy to be paired with Dr Chicca as he is a very constructive critic of sustainable design. Weekly discussions with him inspired me to research and critique a wide variety of sources for my literature review. He was also extremely helpful with data collection techniques. And a special mention to my Wellington City Council supervisor, Brittany Rymer, for devoting a lot of her time to assisting me too, along with Tim Packer the coordinator from Innermost community gardens.”

For Tim Packer, Bliss’s work added real value to their ongoing project.

“It was a real pleasure working with Bliss,” he says. “She came into the project with a strong interest in community gardens and hit the ground running. The resulting literature review and quality research adds substantial value to the project and will help us to convey strong evidence-based stories about the value of community gardens."

“Wellington City Council (WCC) Community Services was very lucky to be able to host Bliss over the summer as a Summer Research Scholar,” says Brittany Rymer. “Bliss is a talented scholar and did an incredible job conducting research in the field. The Summer Research Scholar program also allowed WCC Community Services to build stronger ties with Victoria University of Wellington.”

Dr Chicca has been collaborating with Wellington City Council since 2013, when they developed a Summer Scholarship with the University to investigate the role of urban agriculture in Wellington.

“Last year, the city council decided to investigate the social benefits of urban/community gardens, using a garden in Mount Victoria as a case study,” says Dr Chicca. “Bliss was selected as the summer scholar after a process which included an interview and assessment of previous academic work. Bliss was a self-driven and confident researcher and her graphic skills and research abilities allowed her to put together a very comprehensive and appealing poster, it’s great to see her hard work recognised with this award.”

This award isn’t the end for Bliss’ research in this area.

“I plan to continue to research the relationship between Landscape Architecture and place-making,” says Bliss. “I see urban agriculture as a very exciting avenue to go down in that respect, though I am also keen to keep my mind open to other social and environmental resilience research ideas for the time being.”