Students & the Science Shop: Iris Barten on organic gardens as health promoters

There is a vegetable garden in Amsterdam-Noord that is managed by the Salvation Army. Here they offer daytime activities to clients. What does the garden mean to them? What is the added value for society as a whole? And how can the business model of the garden be strengthened? A Science Shop project focused on these questions. Master’s student Iris Barten participated in a sub-study of this project.

Social themes like these should receive more attention
Iris Barten
Iris Barten.jpg

Iris Barten is currently following two Master's degrees at Wageningen University: Management, Economics & Consumer Studies and Health Communication & Life Sciences. “My interests are nicely bundled through this combination,” she explains. “After my Bachelor's degree in Facility Management at the Diedenoort Academy, I chose to follow a Master's degree in Wageningen. In addition to regular courses, I filled in the remaining gaps with subjects that all had to do with health care. My side jobs have always been in health care.”

Meaning for participants

The project in Amsterdam-North fitted in nicely with Iris's interests. Within the context of the Science Shop project and together with five other students, she conducted research into the significance of the vegetable garden for participants. Since it was impossible for the group to gain the trust of the participants within the short time frame, they focused their research on the Salvation Army’s employees who work in the garden as facilitators. In a Master's thesis that was carried out by another student, the participants themselves were questioned.

Suitable for many participants

The research clearly shows that the vegetable garden is suitable for many participants. Iris: “There are smaller and larger tasks with more and less responsibility. No work pressure is imposed; participants can work on their own goals in peace. The goal is often moving on to a regular job, such as a gardener. At the same time, it must be recognized that moving on to a paid job is not possible for everyone. It is more difficult for the Salvation Army to deploy participants who can handle little responsibility. They need a lot of guidance and the Salvation Army does not have enough people for that for budgetary reasons.”

The vegetable garden is a nice place for participants to work, because most of them are used to being outside a lot. The garden is also a place where they make social contact. According to Iris, the vegetable garden is a good example of how important greenery can be for people's health and wellbeing. “This makes the subject a very good fit for our university,” she says. “It's about social sustainability and the relationship with a green environment. The link with 'Wageningen' is quickly established. There are all kinds of interfaces with themes within which Wageningen works.”

From box thinking to connecting thinking

As far as Iris is concerned, social themes such as these should be given more priority within the university: “When supervising people such as the participants in the vegetable garden, it often quickly becomes about the costs. Much less often it is about the revenues, or the costs that are avoided by participating in the vegetable garden. The future benefits for society if someone moves on to a regular job are usually not included either. I think we have to break through that pigeonholing. You have to look more broadly at the yield in the entire chain and society.

Fortunately, policymakers are also increasingly recognizing that one thing is not separate from the other.” According to her, Lijm de Zorg is a good example of cooperation in the chain to break through thinking and working in boxes. This initiative focuses, among other things, on appropriate care for people with complex care needs who therefore do not receive the care they need. This connection thinking is clearly reflected in her study, according to Iris: “We are always learning to see things in greater context. This is also clearly apparent in the case study in the vegetable garden.”

Collaborate online

The research project took place from January to April 2021, during COVID. This meant that all the group work was done online. This didn't bother Iris much: “Just before the project, I had taken the Academic Consultancy Training course. This was already online so what I learned about online collaboration I could use during our group work. For example, we started every morning with a joint check-in, after which we started working in alternating duos. This worked well.

She looks back on the project with a good feeling: “I certainly see the social value of these types of projects on social sustainability. It is good that this subject is brought to the attention of the Science Shop, also within the university. And the commissioner was happy with our work.”