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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