1.1. Civil Engagement, Education, and Lifelong Learning in Urban Agriculture (UA)
In recent years, the rise of community gardens has been observed as a worldwide trend [1
]. Urban gardens are spreading in cities all over Europe, accompanied by an increasing interest in policy, media, and research. According to Adler et al. [4
], the conventional food distribution system is perceived as unsustainable by consumers owing to its transport and distribution infrastructure, which relies on the use of non-renewable resources. As an alternative, urban agriculture is perceived as an activity towards sustainability [5
], providing benefits and ecosystem services [6
]. Furthermore, from a social perspective, a lack of communication and trust in the system has led to the emergence of new practices, within a more local context. In fact, urban agriculture is broadly accepted in European cities [6
], where community gardens are increasingly established as micro to small scale agriculture and are fulfilling a diversity of functions [8
]. They vary in terms of actors, location of production, products, the scale of production and technology, types of economic activities, or market orientation [10
Comparing community gardens to other urban agriculture activities, the goal of community gardens is typically not based on the establishment of urban agriculture as a commercial business, but on improvements in the community’s food security and health, education, consumer awareness, or empowerment [11
]. A study conducted by Bendt et al. [12
] on the effects of public-access community gardens indicated that those gardens did not only contribute to learning about local ecological conditions, but also about urban politics and social entrepreneurship. Even though examples of entrepreneurship exist, the major aim and motivation still lies on the social improvements at the individual and community level. Aside from the improvements in food security, which has again increased as a result of economic crisis [13
], urban gardens are a powerful means to establish contacts and overcome loneliness, as well as to increase knowledge, skills, and positive attitudes towards nature and environment [14
The literature reveals the essential role that community gardens can play in terms of learning and education [16
]. The educational role of horticulture for children is recognized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO-UN) School Garden concept note [17
], which has described the importance of school gardens to increase “the relevance and quality of education (…) through active learning”. Past research has shown that school gardens can be a good setting for integrating and delivering many aspects of the school curriculum [16
]. Exposure to hands-on gardening in any type of situation seemed to influence children in a positive way when considering the environmental variables of interest [18
]. Furthermore, children were able to discover, grow and eat fresh food, make informed healthier food choices, and understand how food can start as a seed and end up on the table [16
However, urban gardening, and particularly community activities, can also encourage lifelong learning among adults, especially low-skilled unemployed or jobless individuals, who risk being marginalized by society. According to the Lisbon Strategy, education and training are critical factors for increasing the economic growth, competitiveness, and social inclusion of Europe [20
]. Lifelong learning is a priority for the European Union, and together with mobility, it is one of the long-term strategic objectives of EU education and training policy, as it is considered a key aspect for enhancing employment and economic success while allowing individuals to fully participate in society [21
]. Lifelong learning refers to “all general education, vocational education and training, non-formal education and informal learning undertaken throughout life, resulting in an improvement in knowledge, skills and competences within a personal, civic, social and/or employment-related perspective” [21
]. Usually, it is a learner-oriented process, which is possible in different methods, settings, or everyday life in interaction with other people. Lifelong learning of adults covers formal, non-formal, and informal learning for improving basics skills, obtaining new qualifications, and up-skilling or re-skilling for employment, as well as participating in social, cultural, artistic, and societal learning for personal development and fulfilment. Lifelong learning thus encompasses the whole spectrum of formal, non-formal, and informal learning:
Formal learning usually takes place in schools, universities, or training institutions and leads to a diploma or certificate.
Non-formal learning includes free adult education within study circles, projects, or discussion groups advancing at their own place, with no examination at the end.
Informal learning can be found everywhere, for example, in families, in the workplace, in non governmental organizations (NGOs), in theatre groups, or can also refer to individual activities at home like reading a book.
A study by Waliczek et al. [22
] revealed how community gardens were especially important to marginalized groups, which, in this case, were composed by African-American and Hispanic gardeners. As stated by Ghose and Pettygrove [23
], community gardens demonstrate that citizen participation in the context of neoliberalization can simultaneously empower and challenge citizens. Following Krasny and Tidball [14
], from the perspective of learning, community gardening presents unique opportunities for multiple types of learning.
In conclusion, the literature has shown that gardening can foster the acquisition of key competences that are fundamental for individuals in a knowledge-based society, and are particularly necessary for personal development, social inclusion, active citizenship, and employment. However, no studies have investigated which are the training needs of managers and users of community gardens to ensure the successful development of sustainable community gardens.