June 8, 2006

Garden Mosaics takes root in South Africa to spread education and understanding through gardening

Garden Mosaics, a science education and outreach program based at Cornell University that has been thriving in more than two dozen cities around the country for several years, now has taken root internationally, most notably in South Africa.

The program, which combines science learning, multicultural understanding, intergenerational mentoring and community action through gardening, was adapted by Cornell graduate students Jamila Simon and Kendra Liddicoat for use in South African township schools last summer.

Now, Garden Mosaics has teamed up with Rhodes University in South Africa and the World Agroforestry Centre in Malawi to develop and evaluate youth education programs that integrate local knowledge of farmers and gardeners with scientific research-based knowledge. The collaboration will also study the impact of school and community gardens on science learning in communities in Malawi, South Africa and the United States.

Nicolette Kohly, a Rhodes master's degree student who has been studying agroforestry education in Malawi, will spend the fall semester at Cornell using her U.S. Department of Agriculture Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Program fellowship to collaborate with Marianne Krasny, professor of natural resources at Cornell and the principal investigator for Garden Mosaics.

"Our experience working in diverse immigrant and minority communities in the U.S. has led to this international work in which we are integrating local and scientific knowledge into youth education programs and also focusing on how community green spaces can be used to promote science education, global understanding and civic participation," said Krasny. In the past three years, she has traveled to South Africa, Zambia, India, Cambodia and France to learn about environmental and agricultural education programs, and along the way she has been learning about unusual plants that people grow for food.

Most recently, Krasny spent two weeks in May in South Africa and Malawi to meet with Kohly and her advisers to investigate how school gardens, which provide food for school lunches in poor communities, might also be used to help the students learn about plants, soils, water and other science subjects. These gardens also serve as demonstration sites for farmers in the community to learn about new agroforestry practices.

Another new Garden Mosaics offshoot, which is unrelated to the international reach of the program, is based on the success of Garden Mosaics' new interactive digital learning tool about agricultural biodiversity that offers users "free-choice learning" by allowing them to decide where to explore next on the screen, rather than following a linear educational experience. Garden Mosaics and PhotoSynthesis Productions in Ithaca have been awarded a New York state Grant for Growth of $44,000. Leveraged with other money, the grant will be used to study which design principles and software technologies would be most appropriate to develop an interactive digital learning tool to promote classroom learning, as well as interpretation at visitors' centers in upstate New York.

Garden Mosaics has received support from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Metropolitan District Association of Syracuse and Central NY Inc.