Thesis Summary: Food Systems Education in Public Gardens

A plant tag from an heirloom apple tree at Tower Hill Botanic Garden. Fellow Erin Kinley visited Tower Hill last November to investigate how their heirloom apple orchard, featuring 119 pre-20th century apple varieties, teaches visitors about food systems.

“Do you know where your food comes from?”

Erin Kinley despises this question. After eighteen years of living on a farm, four years of studying horticulture and plant biology, and two years of researching food education, she recognizes that today’s food system is a complicated beast. Between farm and fork, almost all food is influenced by many combinations of processors, distributors, government policies, and marketing gimmicks; simply teaching people that their tomatoes come from plants that grow on farms isn’t enough to help them make informed choices about their food.

Her thesis, Evaluating Food Systems Education and Interpretation in Public Gardens, explores how gardens are educating their visitors about the complexity of today’s food supply. Public gardens, already trusted resources for plant education, have incredible potential to teach people about the plants that form the base of every food chain. Erin’s research utilized a survey, phone interviews, and on-site observations to evaluate gardens’ current food systems education programs and identify opportunities for program growth. Based on her findings, Erin believes that with the right resources and partnerships, public gardens can become leaders in food systems education.

Want to learn more? Contact her at, or join all the Fellows as they present their theses on May 26 at 10:00 AM at the University of Delaware. RSVP at our Eventbrite link!

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