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  • GROW Observatory

Citizen Science: Living Soils, Growing Food

Learn about approaches to food growing that can help regenerate soil and solve environmental issues.

5,407 enrolled on this course

Citizen Science: Living Soils, Growing Food
  • Duration

    3 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours
  • Digital upgrade


Use regenerative growing practices in your own garden

Soil loss and degradation are serious issues all over the world.

We need to find effective regenerative practices to solve many local and global environmental challenges.

On this course, you’ll discover interesting things about your own soil and become part of the new GROW Citizen Observatory European-wide community.

You’ll explore key approaches to food growing that can help improve soil degradation and regenerate soils and ecosystems.

You’ll identify regenerative practices that you could use in your own growing site, and design a robust research experiment to evaluate them.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds SPEAKER: We’re facing serious environmental challenges and the increasing impacts of a change in climate. GROW offers you the opportunity to join a global observatory in which those kinds of people will collaborate to observe and care for the environment. Two of the key challenges GROW focuses on are soil degradation and the impact of a changing climate, both impacted by unsustainable food growing methods. GROW is creating a community of growers, small scale farmers, scientists, and policymakers all working together to help address these challenges and learn from each other. This community of citizen scientists will help space science by providing vital ground data to validate the research undertaken by satellites.

Skip to 0 minutes and 47 seconds The shared vision is to support and build sustainable custodianship of the land and soil across Europe. Soil underpins life. And healthy soils are essential to healthy and productive ecosystems. Soil is vital to our future, but it is a threatened resource. There is an urgent need to adopt more sustainable agricultural practices. This data can also inform international policy decisions on land use, soil management, and climate change, as well as supporting growers in different countries to share, discover, and taste sustainable soil stewardship and growing practices. We invite you to take part in the GROW observatory through this MOOC, and if you can, through our other activities.

Skip to 1 minute and 30 seconds Whether you are a new or a more experienced grower or a citizen scientist, you can learn to gather and make sense of data for yourself. Together, we will have opportunities to take part in more complex observations and experiments in the coming weeks and months. We know that soil loss and degradation are serious issues across the world. What can we do about it? Some ways of growing food can help to reduce the rate of soil degradation and even reverser to rebuild healthy soils and robust ecosystems. Finding effective regenerative practices is critical to solving many local and global challenges.

Skip to 2 minutes and 7 seconds In this course, we explore some of these practices in more detail we look at the existing scientific knowledge and invite you to share your own experiences and learn from other growers around the world. Importantly, this course will also help you learn how to design and conduct rigorous investigations in your own growing spaces and communities so you can discover what works well for you and your local area. We invite you to continue collaborating with the GROW Observatory after the course. You will be able to continue with this collective experiment and participate in other GROW citizen science activities. Sign up for this GROW citizen science online course. And join a community of soil champions.

What topics will you cover?

  • Citizen Science and Fieldwork
  • The GROW Observatory
  • Regenerative practices for food growers - exploring the effectiveness of approaches like mulching, no dig, cover crops, creating wildlife friendly areas and more
  • Designing a robust research experiment to investigate the effectiveness of regenerative practices
  • Finding a three-sisters crop combination (polycultures) to improve the productivity of your plot and the health of your soil

Learning on this course

You can take this self-guided course and learn at your own pace. On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explore key approaches to food growing that can ameliorate soil degradation and regenerate soils and ecosystems
  • Identify regenerative practices that you could implement in your growing site, and learn how to evaluate them to improve your growing.
  • Describe key research principles and their importance in designing robust growing experiments for your garden and your community
  • Carry out key measurements to assess soils and soil nutrients
  • Gain direct experience of the research process by carrying out a growing experiment

Who is the course for?

This course has been designed for anyone interested in the environment. You don’t need any special experience, but it might be of interest to small farmers, community and urban growers, gardeners, land managers, allotment growers, and teachers in environment-related subjects.

What software or tools do you need?

As part of the course you will have the opportunity to join the new GROW Citizen Observatory and take part in a collective food growing experiment. If you do not have access to a garden or growing site, you are encouraged to identify a plot of land (it does not have to be big) in which you can carry out the activities. This could be your local community garden or farm, or maybe a neighbour’s garden who might be interested in learning more about soil and food growing with you.

For the experiment, the space needed is ideally about 1 metre x 5 metre strip or 2 metre by 3 metre block. You will also need 3 packs of seeds, one for each of these three seed varieties which are widely available:

  • climbing green beans - Phaseolus vulgaris “Cobra”
  • spinach - Spinacia oleacea “matador”
  • radish - Raphanus sativus “cherry belle”

You won’t require any special equipment for this course. For some of the activities you will need easily available tools such as a shovel or a measuring tape. All the tools required will be detailed in the relevant sections of the course.

Who will you learn with?

I’m a research scholar at IIASA, interested in participatory approaches to science and understanding systems, currently playing serious games and working on several EU citizen science projects.

I am a plant ecologist with a passion for plant communities, which I enjoy applying to food growing. I work as a Senior Researcher in Agroecology at the Permaculture Association (Britain).

I am a Researcher at University of Dundee working on the H2020 WeObserve Project. My research interests include food policy, sustainable food systems, food & farming cooperatives and agroecology.

I work as a citizen science researcher at the James Hutton Institute. I enjoy growing and carrying out experiments on my small allotment plot. My future ambition is to research environmental hazards.

Who developed the course?

University of Dundee

The University of Dundee is one of the world’s Top 200 universities and was named Scottish University of the Year for both 2016 and 2017. Dundee offers one of the UK’s best student experiences.

GROW Observatory

GROW engages thousands of growers, scientists and others passionate about the land to learn about soils and growing food, while contributing to vital scientific environmental monitoring.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps, but you can complete them as quickly or slowly as you like
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

Want to know more about learning on FutureLearn? Using FutureLearn

What's included?

University of Dundee are offering everyone who joins this course a free digital upgrade, so that you can experience the full benefits of studying online for free. This means that you get:

  • Unlimited access to this course
  • Includes any articles, videos, peer reviews and quizzes
  • A PDF Certificate of Achievement to prove your success when you’re eligible
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    You can use the hashtag #GROWSoil2Food to talk about this course on social media.