AQM 2014 – Advances in Qualitative Methods Conference: Micro Keynote Speaker Kimberly McKercher – Gardening for Life

Written By: Christina Grant

Editor’s note: Throughout the TQ Workshop June 16-20, U of A writing studies instructor, longtime journalist, and Education PhD student Christina Grant blogged about her experiences in “The Lived Experience: A PhD student’s journey through the TQ Workshop.”  See:

The following is a final feature story on the 13th Annual Advances in Qualitative Methods (AQM) Conference June 23-25 in which she incorporates information and observations from several conference events and speakers—including keynote presenter Dr. Rosaline Barbour.

Micro Keynote Speaker in Participatory Research by Kimberly McKercher: Gardening for Life

(Kimberly is the winner of the 2014 ATLAS.ti IIQM Masters Dissertation Award)

Interested in healthy aging, Kimberly McKercher of the Department of Gerontology at Simon Fraser University set out to gain “a rich understanding of the community garden experience for older adults” through a qualitative research study involving 11 members of the Cottonwood Community Garden in Vancouver. She explained her study’s design and results in her micro keynote talk called “The Role Of Community Gardens In Supporting Quality Of Life In Urban Dwelling Older Adults.” While other research has demonstrated the value of gardening in reducing chronic disease and improving balance, cognitive functioning, and psychological well-being, in seniors,“very few studies have looked at the social aspects of community gardening participation in later life,” Kimberley said.

Since older adults in urban settings “are at a greater risk of social exclusion,” she wanted to explore in-depth these research questions: “How does participation in community gardening influence the quality of life in older adults?” and “In what ways does participation in community gardening projects facilitate social engagement among older adults?” She conducted a series of 45-minute semi-structured interviews with each study participant who ranged in age from 61 to 70, and she carried out both active participant and non-participant ethnographic observations.

Displaying a slide that showed her Themes and Codes, Kimberly identified dominant elements to discuss, including staying active, connecting with nature, continual learning, awareness of limitations, real work, quality of social relationships, sense of community and engaging with the community.

“One of my most favourite things was that I really got to see their sense of pride in their garden plots,” Kimberly said. “Also, connecting with nature was a profoundly positive experience for all the participants; their gardens were an oasis, an escape from the urban environment.” She found that the gardeners were “very invested. Not being able to participate would be detrimental to them.” Recalling her own connections to nature growing up on an acreage, Kimberly mused, “there’s a human draw to getting your hands dirty.”

“I’ve always been drawn to qualitative research,” Kimberly said, “because of the interaction with the participants. It’s a way to get a deep understanding of an experience as opposed to surveys that don’t have open-ended questions.”

Like other qualitative researchers, Kimberly wants her study to have meaningful impact. “I would like to play a role in saving this garden,” she said, noting that due to urban expansion the 4-acre Cottonwood site is in danger of being radically altered by a roadway. “I’ve shared my research and written a letter to the local government.” On a wider scale, she says her study could encourage city planners here and elsewhere to incorporate accessible community gardeners into their guidelines, foster partnerships between communities and health programs to engage more older gardeners, and forge relationships between community gardens and farmer’s markets and food co-ops to create employment and encourage people to eat locally. “The garden is a lot about community building, not just about the garden… it’s about quality of life.”


About IIQM

The International Institute for Qualitative Methodology (IIQM) is an interdisciplinary institute based at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, but serves qualitative researchers around the world. IIQM was founded in 1998, with the primary goal of facilitating the development of qualitative research methods across a wide variety of academic disciplines. Today IIQM offers a wide variety of training and networking opportunities through our annual conferences, courses, workshops, and programs. We have provided this YouTube Channel and video clips as a resource for the qualitative research community at large in order to advance qualitative inquiry. Email: Twitter: @theIIQM Facebook: @IIQMUofA LinkedIn: International Institute of Qualitative Methodology Youtube: International Institute of Qualitative Methodology (IIQM)
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