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Seeding A New Future For Arizona’s Incarcerated

Two students prune a desert willow in the Whetstone garden.

Two students prune a desert willow in the Whetstone garden.

The speed limit on south Wilmot road is 50 miles per hour. Both sides of the road are lined by a mix of open Sonoran Desert, housing developments, and prisons. Occasionally, you will see guys in orange clothing picking up trash and filling potholes along the road. This drive will take you to many units in the Tucson Prison Complex, including the Whetstone Unit where an unconventional class takes place.

The Whetstone unit holds about 1,500 incarcerated men, most of whom are nearing the end of their sentence. Whetstone is a minimum-security prison, usually housing people with drug offenses or reduced charges for good behavior. All of these men will be going home in the next five years, some of them after being in prison most of their adult life.

The first time I entered the Whetstone Unit, I was going to sit in on a sustainability class and maybe share some gardening tips. I had no idea what to expect. Television gives us a very specific image of what prisons look and feel like. I assumed what I saw on TV wasn’t the whole truth, 

One of the ten plots in the Whetstone garden.

One of the ten plots in the Whetstone garden.

but I did not have any information otherwise. What I experienced that day was some of the most attentive and respectful students I have ever met. A class of twenty men were excited to hear what I, a twenty-year-old college student, had to say, and wanted nothing more than to plant and tend to a garden. I left with the immediate feeling of needing to return. These men were students in a class, but they were also fathers, brothers, sons, and people who had way more life experience than me. I had much to learn from them, and they wanted to hear more from me.

Fast forward three years and I am now the Program Coordinator for the Whetstone Prison Project (WPP). The WPP teaches a 12-week sustainability workshop at the Whetstone Unit twice a year. The workshop frames issues of climate change, environmental justice, and green infrastructure skills through garden-based learning. Ten University of Arizona interns create and teach educational content for the incarcerated students, and work on verifying and connections with housing resources to aid our students in a smooth transition back into society. The project aims at lowering Arizona’s recidivism rates by interrupting the prison industrial complex with environmental education. 

A student admires a passive water harvesting system that was created by classmates.

A student admires a passive water harvesting system that was created by classmates.

The WPP was born out of the knowledge that education can break cycles of poverty, that we are in a critical moment in combating the climate crisis, and that the United States of America has the highest incarceration rate per capita in the world. This information has shaped a project that allows incarcerated and university students to come together to discuss what safety and sustainability truly mean, and learn from life stories of each other. The importance of showing up for your community is the center of our work, and we are making strides to a safer and more sustainable world along the way.

Whose story do we tell?

Today’s conversation is with Melanie Rawlins from Interpretive Services at Tumacacori National Historical Park. She was interviewed by Kathe Sudano on May 8, 2020.

What are the ways the world is changing regarding environmental and natural history?  Why are we hearing so much about diversity and inclusion?  Why is that conversation necessary in the history of a century old mission in an area that sheltered and supported the Southwest’s Native people such as O’odham, Apache and Yaqui/Yoeme?

Tumacacori National Historical Park has a multitude of cultural influences that span centuries covering the colonial period of American history. The park is in the Santa Cruz River Valley in the region of what is now southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico.  Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino (a Jesuit missionary from Italy) arrived in 1691 to set up a system of missions and smaller communities.

When interviewed for a survey as part of an AZ Master Naturalist /Arizona Association for Environmental Education research project to better understand underrepresented audiences in natural and cultural history programs earlier this year, Melanie Rawlins, NPS Park Interpreter, stated that the park’s most meaningful success in improving their diversity and inclusivity efforts came out of a very informal network that was in the works for several years.  Several agencies were asked to fulfill the commitment to send home Native remains and artifacts discovered accidentally in the building of a Tucson roadway.

 

Rawlins and other NPS team members developed respectful and even affectionate relationships with tribal leaders through the process.

A bond was formed born of respect and the joint effort to honor the deceased.  “If you make friends, they will show up,”  Rawlins stated. The park nurtured and fed the relationship and, as any decent interpreter would, asked how are we doing telling the story? What was missing?  

The NPS park staff had over two hundred webpages with about one third devoted to individual priests.  It felt a bit ‘lopsided’ per Rawlins as there were clearly stories not being told.  Using a searchable database containing individual, handwritten mission records and diaries that are still being translated called Mission 2000, more of the contributions to the community from underrepresented individuals are being revealed.   People who might not have been educated or able to write themselves are still part of the story thanks to the efforts of staff and volunteers that link families and events together using baptismal, burial or marriage ceremony records. Efforts are still underway to recruit volunteer translators to comb through the collection.  

The park website also has activities to encourage students to think in a critical way about how the early residents may have been portrayed.  The relationship between the Native Americans of the area and the Spanish, Christianized natives, and mestizos was a relatively peaceful one. Native Americans were encouraged to learn a trade, worship in the church, and become baptized.  The balance of power had shifted and per the Tumacacori records, discontent among some of the native people led to a well-organized revolt in 1751. 

Tumacacori has been working to make all aspects of their interpretation more inclusive of the indigenous story. They created an event to celebrate the O’odham culture, and one to celebrate the Yaqui/Yoeme culture.  There is a recently completed park video, in which the O’odham are the base of the story, rather than the Spanish. The park has revised the self-guided tour, working to keep the O’odham residents in view at all times. Piece by piece, Tumacacori NPS is trying to place the indigenous residents in the forefront.

Lesson plans available on the Tumacacori website for teachers ask students,  “how can a word choice influence perspective?  How do the reports and letters of the Pima Uprising of 1751 use connotative and denotative meanings to portray the events?”  By “providing various answers to questions, students have an opportunity to investigate some of the possible causes of the rebellion.”

Are you interested in journeying into the past?  Tumacacori National Historical Park is always interested in volunteers that help to connect the pieces of each person’s history.  In this way, the park is striving to tell everyone’s story.   

 

  

 

 

Who Let the Kids Out?

Today’s conversation is with Blue Baldwin, Ecology Program Coordinator for Manzo Elementary School. Blue was interviewed by Kathe Sudano on May 11, 2020. 

Manzo Elementary in Barrio Hollywood has a reputation.  First, they not only increased the amount of time students spend outside (which in 2015 was listed as* thirty minutes) but the staff started a small garden in 2003 that turned into the title of one of the ‘greenest schools in America’ by the Center for Green Schools in 2012.  What initially started as a counseling tool, the Reconciliation Ecology Program to transform ‘lives and communities through the promotion of stewardship, healthy choices and innovation in learning and educational facilities,’ has morphed into the curriculum of every classroom.  Students and teachers collaborate with scientists and UofA students to care for research gardens, a Sonoran Desert Biome, desert tortoise habitat, vegetable gardens, a small heritage fruit tree orchard, school wide composting program, aquaponics system, and active and passive rainwater harvesting systems.  It’s all part of daily life for Manzo students, and it grew organically, little by little, with the help of parents, volunteers and partners from the community, like the University of Arizona Community and School Garden Program (UACSGP) which has worked with Manzo Elementary since the fall of 2010.

Folks think verdant places like Vermont rank high as green centers but that is inaccurate.  They set a poor environmental example as the population is spread thinly but there is little mass transit.  That makes Vermont one of the most heavily automobile-dependent states in the country.  Urban areas that are more compact may be greener, though denser.  Cities tend to consolidate and preserve landscapes and resources.  So, Manzo students may be ahead of the curve on the environmental learning spectrum.  

https://e360.yale.edu/features/greenest_place_in_the_us_its_not_where_you_think

Manzo students, kindergarten through fifth grade, have daily “farm chores” that–among other things–contribute to a harvest of over one hundred pounds of produce every year.  As Manzo is situated in what could be considered a food desert, (where healthy and affordable foods are not easy to come by) one of the goals is to introduce students to a variety of crops at a young age as well as provide the community with fresh produce.  The skills learned here influence the kind of adults they will become while getting them interested in the natural world.  That can have a lasting effect.  You remember the first time you grew a plant from an avocado pit or a potato?

“Subsequently the whole school has good vibes,” Baldwin said. “You really get the sense that the kids here are happy, and they love coming to school. I really believe that, in large part, is because the natural environment is so beautiful and stimulating, and they are involved with all of it. Nothing is off limits to them. They plant the gardens, they harvest, they weed, they water, they hangout in the greenhouse with the fish and aquaponics.”

Students help with planting seeds, watering crops, feeding fish and desert tortoises all while maintaining a butterfly garden.  That teaches responsibility; living things die if mistreated or not taken care of properly, and entrusting a child to take care of the living parts of their environment means they’ll learn what happens when they forget to water a plant, or pull a flower out by its roots.  “It’s a modeling thing,” says Andy Lenartz, a children’s health advocate and psychology professor at Gateway Community College in Phoenix. “I spend a lot of time in nature with my children, and other parents always tell me, ‘I wish my kids liked going outside and doing things.’ Well, it starts with us, the parents. If we want our kids to behave differently, we need to put our own phones down and be role models.”

Exposing elementary students to college and graduate students can enhance the “can-do” attitude that younger students absorb from their older role models.   Many of these elementary students become interested in ecology or cultivating plants and the school garden program makes math exciting (planning out crops and rows) and science plausible (how does that chicken lay an egg?).  In exchange, UofA interns develop gardening and permaculture skills, work hands-on with K-12 students and cultivate relationships in a community only a stone’s throw but sometimes a world away from the UofA. 

Manzo has consistent support from a wide variety of partners and is always looking at increasing opportunities for learning.  Keeping all the wheels turning is a challenge and consistent support for programs such as Nature’s Notebook, which tracks observable changes in plants for students to record, is a great way for volunteer naturalists or gardeners to get involved.

What can other environmental and youth centered programs learn from this?  That it takes a village, even if your task is to clean the chicken coop, it matters.  If you cannot be there, someone else must- so toss in a healthy dose of responsibility.  

Imagine your child in the grocery store asking you to purchase the kohlrabi he tasted  this week in his  school garden?  What part of the garden program do you think would have the most lasting impact on children?   Do you think there is anything we can learn from the students in their commitment to work?    

What does it mean for kids to be able to take ownership/leadership roles to work in the garden?  What else might the kids/neighborhood be getting from the garden?  

( *A study completed by market researcher Childwise in 2015 and later promoted by the National Wildlife Foundation shows that a modern child spends less than 30 minutes per day outside.)

 

The University of Arizona Garden Kitchen

Today’s conversation is with Jennifer Parlin, Assistant in Extension, for The Garden Kitchen. The Garden Kitchen, located in South Tucson, is a University of Arizona Cooperative Extension program established in partnership with the City of South Tucson, Pima County, and the University of Arizona. The Garden Kitchen’s mission is to empower Pima County residents to build community wellness and make healthier choices through food, fitness, and gardening education.

According to Making Action Possible in Southern Arizona, in 2017, 137,450 individuals in Tucson had limited access to food.

Broader food security on the other hand, proved an issue for nearly one million people in Arizona. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization defines food security as a circumstance that “exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Food insecurity, and particularly the inability to access food, can be heightened by many factors, including household composition, race/ethnicity, income-to-poverty ratio, area of residence and even census region. With stay-at-home orders, overwhelmed pantries, school closings, and unemployment rates rising due to COVID-19, vulnerable households are being impacted even more by food insecurity and access.

Many organizations within Tucson work with communities to increase access to affordable and nutritious foods in areas where they are needed. One such organization is The Garden Kitchen, which itself is located in the middle of a food desert. A food desert refers to a geographic area with where people have low access to food. These areas are often the result of food apartheid, a term coined by food justice activist Karen Washington that roots the disparities of food access and systems in discrimination, racism, and other systemic issues. Indeed, food insecurity and the lack of nutritious resources affect many families in the 1.2 square mile city of South Tucson, with many minority groups such as Hispanic and Native American communities, single mothers, grandparents, the indigent, and LGTBQ+ individuals experiencing homelessness being disproportionately affected. As an organization, The Garden Kitchen aims to increase food security and the availability of healthy foods for everyone, including these underrepresented communities. They partner with organizations in Pima County to change policies, systems, and environments to address health issues by making healthy lifestyle choices equitably accessible to all community members.

The Garden Kitchen is funded by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) program, an evidence-based program that teaches qualified individuals how to shop for and cook healthy meals, and stretch their food dollars. By nature of their partnerships, they reach out to a variety of audiences, including those who access SNAP benefits and those who are involved with community gardens and classes through other community organizations.  Building trust is a top priority when working with communities within Tucson — not just with state and university partners, but also with local and grassroots communities. Trust is a component that can be difficult to establish, particularly when dominant systems and actors have participated in marginalization, but it is essential to the evolution of work and exchange of knowledge in the Tucson community.

Tackling food access is not just about education or having geographic proximity to food. The Garden Kitchen is also involved in suggesting changes at the policy level in many communities within Pima County, such as initiatives to serve healthy food options at events, change vending machine choices, and empower families to select healthier foods. Policies around food make some food items harder to get based on location, price, quality and availability. This can include organic, cultural, and non-fast food choices. The fewer resources (e.g. time, money, transportation) someone has, the more likely they are to be in a position where they consume the food they can access. By partnering with different community organizations at the policy level, The Garden Kitchen is able to have longer lasting effects with their efforts. The Garden Kitchen advocates for policies that make nutritious foods convenient, affordable and appealing, as these factors contribute to people changing their consumer habits.

While providing their own support to the Tucson community is an important part of The Garden Kitchen’s mission, so too is empowerment. The Garden Kitchen works with community members to be in charge of their own health. Before COVID-19 changes, The Garden Kitchen would hold free weekly and monthly events, such as “First Fit Saturdays,” which welcomes all community members monthly to get involved with gardening, cooking, and physical activity. They would also host a “Gardening Hour” each week to provide a space for locals to learn about home gardening and to allow them to harvest produce.

Although they aren’t currently hosting any in person events, they have provided online resources regarding food security, employment, sanitation, wellness and community gardens. More than ever, the conversation around food security, access and the systems which shape them must be addressed. How is health and wellness being advocated for in your community?

#HowWeNature is a series of posts dedicated to conversations about justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in Tucson’s natural history programming. This post was written by AAEE intern, Phoebe Warren. Phoebe is a student at Appalachian State University who is majoring in communication studies with a minor in sociology.

Questions to ponder: How can you advocate for the health and wellness of everyone in your community? Are you reaching out to and welcoming underserved communities to your spaces? Are you including accurate cultural history in your teachings?

The Garden Kitchen is always in need of volunteers who are knowledgeable about gardens, food sources, and culture. Check out their ‘Get Involved’ page at https://thegardenkitchen.org/get-involved/ to learn more.

Interview with an Environmental Educator: Joining Together

As a community, we can do better by joining forces. Collectively we can empower larger audiences and, I believe, shift the trajectory of our planet’s future.”

Elise Dillingham: Program Coordinator, Desert Research Learning Center

What is your professional role and how does Environmental Education help you do that work? 

My professional role is the Program Coordinator of the National Park Service’s Desert Research Learning Center (DRLC). The DRLC is home to a diverse team of scientists that oversee the inventory and monitoring of natural resources at Sonoran Desert national parks (11 total). In addition to conducting research, DRLC staff utilize environmental education to promote the scientific understanding, protection, and conservation of Sonoran Desert national parks. Environmental education enables us to share the marvel of the Sonoran Desert, facilitate science communication, and inspire the next generation of environmental stewards. 

Who is your primary audience in your work and what outreach do you offer that audience? 

The DRLC’s primary audience is high school and college students ranging in age from 14-22.  We provide internships, citizen science and volunteer opportunities, and programs for student groups.

Why is Environmental Education important to the work that you do?

Environmental education is important to our work because it enables engagement of diverse audiences outside traditional land management realms. It elevates the visibility of science in the National Park Service and increases awareness of conservation issues facing national parks. At the DRLC, environmental education enables scientists to reach broad audiences beyond our peers, which builds support for science and reinforces its relevance.

What are your entry points for engaging your audiences in Environmental Education, Environmental Studies, science, etc.?

Sonoran Desert flora and fauna that exist in urban settings are an entry point for environmental education. We often use these familiar and seemingly mundane species to open doors into the wondrous natural history and ecology of the Sonoran Desert.

 

Who do you consider underrepresented audiences and what are the challenges you face in reaching them?

Students with disabilities are one underrepresented audience that we have actively been trying to reach. Accessibility in outdoor settings is one challenge that we must overcome when engaging with this audience. To help overcome this, we offer programs designed for people with disabilities and have increased wheelchair-accessible activities and amenities at the DRLC. 

How can we all do better?

I believe the strength of the EE community lies in the knowledge of educators, the curiosity of students, and the passion of both. These attributes foster critical thinking and innovation, which are desperately needed to combat our planet’s climate emergency. As a community, we can do better by joining forces. Collectively we can empower larger audiences and, I believe, shift the trajectory of our planet’s future. The more we collaborate and play off each other’s strengths, the better.

Towards Inclusive & Equitable Environmental Education

Environmental Education organizations across America are coming to terms with a history of practice that has often been, and continues to be, exclusionary of many groups. This was a central topic at our 2019 #WEareEE Conference, and we want to keep the conversation going. We’re also writing this short piece 1) to clarify some of the key terms, 2) to take a deeper look at reality of inequity in ‘green’ organizations, and 3) to share some valuable resources that we love that can help programs better serve the diverse communities here in Arizona. Down the road, we’re going to continue with blogs diving deeper into these topics and will be featuring some model inclusive EE organizations & efforts here in Arizona.

At AAEE we have been working hard on our organization’s mission,  culture, strategic planning, and practices to make sure that we center justice, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of our work. Diversity is strength, and we want our association to welcome the variety of beliefs, identities, languages, interpersonal styles, and values of all individuals in our state. Our goal is to create an association that is inclusive, respectful, and equitable, and to engage the talents of people with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives to collectively create a sustainable future for Arizona that prioritizes social & environmental well-being. We recognize that we have a long way to go, that this is work that is never done, and we are looking forward to continuing to dig deeper & commit ourselves to positive change.

Have you heard of “DEI”? Maybe your organization wants to build a “DEI” strategy, or perhaps build a “JEDI” committee — But what does that really mean? What is meant by all these acronyms being tossed around in corporate, non-profit, and institutional circles? First of all, as we engage in this work, it’s important to remember that these words are representative concepts & actions surrounding serious issues, and to casually turn them into acronyms or just ‘another committee’ or just ‘another strategy’ can not only be ineffective, but harmful.

In the various environmental sectors: the government, non-profits, research areas, businesses, science/education/outdoor programs, and more, there is a pattern of this work being predominantly facilitated by middle to upper-class, white, and older populations. This imbalance becomes more prevalent the further up in leadership one looks. Yet, in many studies, Americans of color consistently demonstrate more concern for environmental issues that white Americans. This paradox points to a phenomena many refer to as the Green Ceiling, which Green 2.0 describes briefly as, “Despite increasing racial diversity in the United States, the racial composition in environmental organizations and agencies has not broken the 12% to 16% “green ceiling” that has been in place for decades.”

Even knowing that moving towards a more sustainable and just world takes all of us, “The leadership, boards, staff, and memberships of mainstream environmental groups continue to be largely white, upper middle-class, and older. This failure to include other segments of society is a serious limitation. It reduces the reach and impact of all groups working in conservation—from non-profit organizations to foundations to government agencies. All too often, it also means that the support of nature and conservation by people from diverse backgrounds—and the toll of environmental problems on less wealthy communities—is neglected or ignored.” (Dorceta Taylor, Green 2.0)

In order for all of us to achieve our goals we need to prioritize inclusive & equitable practices that address social & environmental injustices as the interdependent systems that they are. One of the places we can start is by building personal and organizational cultural competence. For those of us in EE who aren’t familiar with the term “cultural competence”, if you check out this great chart, you may see something surprising. (Martin & Vaughn, Cultural Competence: The Nuts & Bolts of Diversity & Inclusion) The components of cultural competence, are almost identical to the components of the objectives of EE as documented in one of the EE field’s founding documents: The Tbilisi Declaration! The same familiar elements of the EE “Awareness to Action” continuum from Tbilisi can be applied to understanding and developing cultural competence. 

With this in mind, we’re excited to share a list of resources that our colleagues and various members of our organization have shared with us. We’re looking forward to building this list and making a permanent set of resources on our page. If you see we’re missing some important resources–Let us know by commenting or messaging us on our blog, Facebook page, or Instagram

Resources:

Preparing to Build Capacity – AAEE Board Members at the 2019 ee360 NAAEE Leadership Clinic

AAEE Board of Directors at Asilomar State Beach

This June, AAEE’s Board of Directors was honored to be selected as one of ten NAAEE Affiliates to participate in the second ee360 Affiliate Leadership Clinic. Our five board members traveled to beautiful Asilomar State Park Conference Center for five days of workshops, discussions and planning sessions (plus some beach time!) all focused on helping us create an action plan for capacity building.

Together with other first-time Affiliate attendees and team members from the first ten Affiliates that participated in the 2017 Leadership Clinic, we explored transformative leadership, diversity, equity and inclusion, fundraising best practices and action planning, while networking with board members, staff and community members of the19 other Affiliates and NAAEE staff and colleagues.

ee360 Leadership Clinic participants

 

 

 

A highlight of our time with the other Affiliates was the Share Fair, an evening where each team shared their strengths and conundrums so we could all learn from and support each other. Inspired by this event, we plan to host a similar opportunity at our Conference in September.

AAEE’s booth at the Share Fair

The AAEE team was proud to share our successes with EE Certification, the re-launching our membership program, our new website and resource section, our strategic plan, strong collaborations with other organizations and the upcoming state conference. Our conundrums were very similar to other states in that we are missing a lot of voices from communities throughout our state in our conversations, and funding and people power are continually limited.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the clinic for the AAEE Board Members was to have such a concentrated amount of time to be together in the same space, getting to know each other better and most importantly, thinking deeply about EE in Arizona. For an all-volunteer organization, opportunities like these are rare and we tried to savor every moment – including the beach time.

AAEE Board bonds at the beach

Ultimately we recognized as a team that an important key to our capacity building is to make sure we are deeply listening to all EE voices in Arizona, so that everyone is included and can help shape AAEE to be what is most needed for the diversity of practitioners and audience members in our state. That includes persons of color, people of different-ability, and folks who do not necessarily consider themselves environmental educators but are doing work to educate community members about our world’s natural systems and environmental challenges. 

The more people that feel valued and can see the value of AAEE, the stronger our capacity will be. We were already on this path with our focus for the September state conference, Arizona We are EE, and have started working to strengthen our focus on inclusion at the conference and beyond.

We recieved great feedback for our conference planning

We’re so grateful for NAAEE, the US EPA and the seven other partner organizations for providing the resources to strengthen what we do in the field via the ee360 Program, with goals designed to drive excellence, be more inclusive, cultivating collective impact, and mobilizing access to high-quality resources and networks. We are also thankful for the time the NAAEE staff puts into creating these opportunities for and for doing so much to help strengthen Affiliates across the network. Keep an eye out for future updates and ongoing evidence that your AAEE Leadership Team is listening! Have a question for us or a suggestion on how we can do better? Contact LoriAnne at president@arizonaee.org