Is Google Our New Granny? An investigation into the growing practices of Edinburgh’s community gardeners
As the world around us has increased in technological complexity, the internet has revolutionised the way in which we access information and connect to each other, while an increased reliance on industrialised agriculture and industrial food processing to shape our foodways has obscured the understanding and experience of where food comes from. In the midst of these issues, statistics show a growing interest in community gardening in Scotland. This research set out to explore what sources are used by community gardeners in Edinburgh to acquire knowledge about gardening practices within urban spaces, investigate the role the Internet plays in that, and to gain an insight into the perceived value and significance that these sources have in shaping these practices and the gardener’s relationship to their environments. The background of this research was derived from an interdisciplinary review of the literature, through which a lack of published research into the topic was identified that considers and investigates the importance of difference sources utilised by community gardeners and whether or not knowledge accessed on a geographically decontextualized digital platform can sufficiently enable an environmentally responsive focus that is required to generate locally situated knowledge about food cultivation. A qualitative methodology was adopted to guide the study, with seven in depth semi structured interviews with community gardeners in two case study sites in East Edinburgh, coupled with ethnographic participant observation to collect data that was then thematically coded and analysed. The four emergent themes surfaced during analysis: time and the desire for wizardry; anxieties and the digital cacophony; experience and place, and the cultural value of place. Overall, the gardeners placed greater value on interpersonal knowledge transmission of food cultivation and highlighted participatory social learning as more significant in shaping growing practises. The gardens were considered to be both the reclamation of the physical Commons within an urban setting and the establishing of Knowledge Commons. While the internet proved to be a valuable resource for the diversification of the collective skill set of the gardens, navigating the overwhelming volume of information proved problematic for the less experienced; concerns were voiced as to the integrity and salience of the knowledge sources, with a particular focus on the ambiguity of the geographical context. Largely these spaces and the knowledge amassed within them have the potential to re-establish the connections between people, both on an individual level and to food and place, mitigating the larger environmental and cultural impacts of the globalized food system.