From Oil to Soil: Learning for Sustainability and Transitions within the School Garden: a project of cultural and social re-learning

Donald Gray* (Corresponding Author), Laura Colucci-Gray, Robert Donald, Aristea Kyriakou, Daniel Wodah

*Corresponding author for this work

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Profound socio-environmental changes taking place at a planetary scale are threatening food security (Godfray et al., 2011), with food production located at a critical nexus between land-use, reduced availability of fossil fuels and the urgent need to reduce emissions (Harvey & Pilgrim, 2011). While debates on food security and energy transitions proliferate in the scientific literature, policy discussions continue to focus on technical solutions, “without seriously engaging with the content and social practices of education for sustainable transitions” (Bangay & Blum, 2010, p. 335). In this context, school gardens are receiving renovated attention. Drawing on current drivers in Scottish policy seeking to tackle economic disadvantage and ‘close the attainment gap’, this project developed as a partnership between a teacher education institution, a non-governmental organisation, a city council planning and infrastructure department, and three primary schools in three regeneration areas of a city. Data were collected through a semi-ethnographic approach incorporating qualitative data obtained through observation schedules; visual data and interviews with teachers and pupils over the course of the project. By adopting a socio-material approach to the analysis, findings articulate the significant changes in both discourses and practices of learning associated with school gardening. Beyond the use of gardens as a context for delivering curricular outcomes and/or acquiring practical skills, tending to the gardens and growing food showed to contribute to the formulation of a learning aesthetics which foregrounds the centrality of the body in learning; acknowledges the living state of materials and positions children’s actions as a way of being and becoming into the world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-70
Number of pages14
JournalScottish Educational Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2019
EventXVIII IOSTE Symposium - Sweden, Malmo, SWEDEN
Duration: 13 Aug 201817 Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

The authors wish to thank all teachers and children who took part in the work of the gardens and Aberdeen City Council Sustainability department for supporting the project. We also thank Dr Ramsey Affifi and Dr Deborah Dutta and two anonymous reviewers for their precious comments on an earlier version of this paper.


  • relational-materiality
  • food gardens
  • intra-action
  • embodied cognition


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