What factors support and promote home-based food-growing in four neighbourhoods in SW Sheffield?

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Chapter 4 - Analysis of Method

There are improvements that could have been made to the questionnaire.

• Based on numbers from the questionnaire indicating the levels of concern about peak oil and climate change relate to levels of education I have made an assumption that having a university degree increases the likelihood of understanding the threats they present. This is not certain.
• I should have included more specific questions regarding ownership of residence so I could relate that to food-growing and activism. In question #5 I queried household composition but did not phrase the question so as to isolate tenants from owner-occupiers even though one of the responses was roommates/tenants. Thus I was limited to interviews for this data. Additionally, as there is student housing in the neighbourhoods I surveyed, it became apparent in the data analysis stage that a better understanding of numbers of students in my cohort and their involvement in growing and activism would have been useful. In question #6, I queried income and indicated retired/student as a response. This was insufficient.

I was only able to identify 28% of my interviewed cohort as tenants. This was far too small a percentage of the overall cohort to draw any accurate conclusions that would relate to the whole group. A large population of the city is tenants or students; their rights and willingness to grow food at their residence should be more thoroughly investigated.

• 28% of households surveyed have children resident. I looked at having children as it impacts perception of time constraints but this is insufficient. Taking care of children involves large time commitments and is likely to influence food choices relating to expense, ease of preparation, the satisfaction of the juvenile palate, and health. These effects and how they impact food-growing behaviour were not fully accounted for in my research. As children are not as likely to be the chief growers this did not significantly affect my results but the effects of having children on food-growing behaviour deserves a study all it’s own.
• By framing the second half of question 26 as such, “I don’t grow because….” I attempted to limit the responses to those who do not grow. This was to be contrasted to question #27, “I would be more likely to grow my own food if…”, particularly where the responses were related, as in “if I could get an allotment” and “if I had a bigger garden” or “if I had better sunlight” for #27 which relates to “ ...don’t have enough land or sun” in question 26.
This proved only partially successful as all of those who checked none of those boxes in question 26 do grow at least 1 type of food. However, of those who checked at least one of the responses 7 through 11 on question 26, 9 are actually growing while 23 are not. Of those 9, 7 are growing only 1 type of food and 2 are growing 2 types. It seems that all 9 interpreted the question as “I don’t grow MORE because….”.

Though this problem did not significantly affect the results, questions #26 and #27, being at the heart of the purpose of this research, should have been better thought out and designed.

• Question #13 on meal planning should have defined meal planning. Deciding what breakfast cereal to buy is not really relevant but may constitute planning for some. What I was really interested in was the degree of care the household took with the food they consumed. The way I phrased the question was not clear enough to determine that. It ended up being more about time and as an indication of money saving behaviour. This proved useful, as I was quite interested in the degree to which financial need motivates growing.
• It is quite possible that the houses most likely to return the questionnaire were those most interested in the topic, though I know of at least one household that was completely uninterested in growing food and yet returned the questionnaire. I tried to never leave a questionnaire without getting a verbal agreement to fill it out and return it. I had carefully chosen my words upon initial contact not to say I was specifically researching food-growing, but rather gardening.

The introduction letter was clearer about my purpose. In this way I hoped to get agreement to complete the questionnaire regardless of whether they were interested in growing food. If this study were to be expanded, more focus should be placed on those who don’t grow, as they are likely the larger segment of society. The most useful result would be to discover what would motivate them to grow.

• The time to do a trial survey and analyse that data before distributing my questionnaire would have been of great benefit. In retrospect it is apparent that I would have also had a better interview design if I had completely analysed and starting writing up the questionnaire results first. It is also clear that had I done so, it would have jeopardised the completion of the thesis, as it would have pushed the interviews so late in the schedule that I might not have completed them in time. Additionally due to the rapidly worsening financial situation in the UK, I would likely have been looking at two different sets of household circumstances from the time of the questionnaire to the interview. This would have compromised conclusions, as the two would not have related as tightly. The solution would have been to more rigorously plan the analysis procedure for the questionnaire to allow me to draw out conclusions more rapidly. Having a software package available and being comfortable with it would have been invaluable. This option should be made available in both Mac and PC formats through tutorial and/or workshop at AEES modules.

Several who did not do any gardening allowed an interview, but most of the interviewees had some reason to connect to the topic. Some expressed an interest in participating in research; others valued having a forum for their opinions. Some of those I interviewed in my own neighbourhood, N#2, probably allowed it because we were neighbours. Most of those were or had been growers so I do not believe that my being a neighbor had any effect on the results. In fact, my own neighborhood had the highest number of cancellations after an interview had been scheduled, one of whom was my next door neighbor.

Many, particularly in N#1 and N#4, were keen gardeners and or activists and were very interested in the topic. While this limits the results and focus of the research to growers predominately I do not perceive this as a problem as long as it is kept in mind when drawing conclusions. The point of the study was to determine the factors that promote and support home-based food-growing so focusing on the most successful growers makes sense. Focusing on those who do not grow would take a different approach, both in identifying the sample group and gaining access for interviews. That work needs to be done but falls outside the realm of the possible within the personal, financial, and time constraints of this study.

In general the interviews were the most successful portion of the study, the design, recording process, and transcription all worked well. I perhaps could have been more on task in the interviews at times. I tended to let the subjects elaborate quite a lot which made the transcription a more lengthy process.

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