The Learning Gardens Laboratory: Teaching Sustainability and Developing Sustainable Food Systems Through Unique Partnerships


  • Heather Burns Portland State University
  • Weston Miller Oregon State University



Garden-based Education, Middle School Garden-based Education, Sustainability Education, Sustainability Pedagogy, Sustainable Food Systems, University Partnerships, Urban Farming Apprenticeship


Garden-based education programs at the Learning Gardens Laboratory (LGL) in Portland, Oregon, have been developed in a partnership between Portland State University and Oregon State University in order to advance the development of sustainable food systems and sustainability education. Learning gardens serve as rich sustainability learning sites due to their ecological and sociocultural benefits, and provide a hands-on way for students to engage in interconnected issues and begin to participate in solving complex problems. At LGL there is an understanding that developing sustainable food systems also requires teaching and learning practices that reflect the goals of sustainability education. Our primary pedagogical influences are drawn from permaculture, deep ecology, ecological design, and sustainability pedagogy. A number of pedagogical principles serve as a framework for teaching sustainability holistically at LGL, including: (1) Interdisciplinary learning; (2) place-based learning; (3) active and engaged learning; (4) relationship-building; (5) multiple perspectives; and (6) systems thinking and interconnectedness. These pedagogical principles are discussed in relationship to the educational programs taking place at the Learning Gardens Lab, and we highlight two successful programs developed by our universities: the Beginning Urban Farming Apprenticeship program, and the Lane Middle School Garden-Based Education program. We also address learning that has arisen from key challenges that we face at LGL.


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Author Biographies

Heather Burns, Portland State University

Assistant Professor and Coordinator–Leadership for Sustainability Education; Faculty Coordinator, Learning Gardens Laboratory; Educational Leadership & Policy, Graduate School of Education, Portland State University.

Weston Miller, Oregon State University

Community and Urban Horticulturist; Coordinator, Learning Gardens Laboratory; Oregon State University Extension Service, Oregon State University.



How to Cite

Burns, H., & Miller, W. (2012). The Learning Gardens Laboratory: Teaching Sustainability and Developing Sustainable Food Systems Through Unique Partnerships. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 2(3), 69–78.



Food Systems and Higher Education Call Papers