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Unit 2: Community-Based Participatory Solutions


The introduction and examination of the food, energy, and water connection—as a system in Unit 1—established the dictates of human dependency on and human modification of the environment. We continue a logical progression of what this means in Unit 2, with a focus on how people see, confront, and solve their resource challenges in the light of their need for affordable, accessible, healthy, sustainably-grown food. This unit introduces and explores the concepts, themes, and practices of: urban agriculture, urban farming, local food, food insecurity, food deserts, health & wellness education, community food gardens, community food dialogue, public policy, civic engagement, volunteerism, expert technical assistance, land reclamation, grants and incentives, entrepreneurship, and community economic development.

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Learning Goals

Unit 2 Learning Goal: Introduce students to the realities of food insecurity and poor access to healthy food choices for urban populations. It will also show how community participation in food production can successfully address these unfavorable conditions.

Objectives to accomplish unit learning goal:

  • Students will investigate the potential for local access to healthier foods in their home city or neighborhood.
  • Students will identify two major challenges/obstacles and two major opportunities/benefits people are presented with in their efforts to establish better food options on the local level.
  • Students will contrast the challenges and opportunities in strengthening community through urban agriculture.

Context for Use

Unit 2 requires four class periods of instruction. The lectures can be customized for different teaching needs, and the activities can be done in class, completed in groups, or completed as homework, depending on time and topical needs. As a stand-alone unit, the materials demonstrate the relationship between food systems, environmental conditions, and health outcomes. This module unit connects the previous discussions regarding the relevance of human activities and decisions about water and energy with 1) the need to build strong participatory food networks, and 2) the sharing of resources, in order to produce and distribute healthier food options in a more affordable and sustainable manner in urban areas. The concept of environmental justice as worthy practice is introduced in this unit.

Description and Teaching Materials

The network of stakeholders, including local farmers, urban residents, community leaders, university researchers, technical experts, educators, and government officials, forms a powerful collective of voices for community-based research and innovative practices that address food system imbalances in urban areas. The videos in this unit provide students with a look at how community stakeholders address food insecurity conditions and create viable solutions. Through multiple methods, including grants, incentives, land reclamation, infrastructure, and collaborative partnerships, we see how people work to make sustainably-grown food available to those with limited healthy food options.

The Detroit Voices (Fair Food Network) video introduces issues of food deserts, logistical barriers, unproductive land, weak public policy, and growing health vulnerabilities in a major American city, and the networking being done to tackle these huge problems. A coalition of leaders speaks of viable solutions, funding options, and policy development and implementation, required to eliminate these problems. The Fair Food Network video—Cleveland Urban Agriculture Project—addresses some of the same challenges but focuses mainly on the solutions being implemented to meet community needs. Year-round farming with hoop houses, grants for farmers, land conversion for farming, and economic employment gains are featured here. Additional instructions are provided in the Unit 2 teaching guide: Unit 2 Instructors' Teaching Guide (Microsoft Word 152kB Oct23 17).

Note: The student version of the Unit 2 Student Page (see link in the blue box at the top of the page for an isolated student version) can be provided to students. The page contains the basic lesson layout, readings, videos, and assignments. It also provides students with an overview of [link link 'concept maps'] and how to make them.

Activity 2.1: Overview of Unit 2, Discussion of Concepts and Themes, and Viewing of Slide Presentation and Introductory Videos (approximate time: 60-75 min)

Students are introduced to the basic unit structure of the module and why module participation is a worthwhile learning experience. Next, key concepts and themes of Unit 2 are presented. The concept and themes list can be shown from the PowerPoint slide presentation Unit 2 Module Presentation Slides (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 3.7MB Oct27 17) or as printed handouts, or both. Either way, it is important that the students keep these concepts and themes in mind as they go through the unit. The instructor is reinforcing comprehension and understanding of the concepts and themes through solid explanations and the offering of examples of these concepts and themes in action.

Audiovisual Perspectives on Community Building through Urban Agriculture

For this activity, engage the students in class discussion about their responses to the viewing of the following videos:

  1. Detroit Voices: A Community Calls Out For Change. Fair Food Network. (time - 5:06 seconds)
  2. Fair Food Network: Cleveland Urban Agriculture Project. Fair Food Network. ( time - 5:20 seconds)

Before the end of class, strongly encourage, or assign as homework, the re-watching of the videos. Revisit the discussion of the Unit 2 videos in the following class if there are any muddled or unclear issues and relationships. Encourage students to come with questions for the urban farmer next class. If you have not been able to locate one, see the link provided.

Activity 2.2: An Interview with an Urban Farmer (approximately 30–45 min)

Students will have a session with a practicing urban farmer in order to hear, and possibly see (through videos and pictures), the challenges, obstacles, benefits, and advantages of being a food producer. Students can learn how to get started, what types of support are available, what kind of food is grown, and what happens with the food once it is harvested. Students are required to take notes, considering this session will help them with their summary essays in this unit and Unit 3. If an urban farmer is not available for interview, the following link can be used for this activity: Urban Farmer Interview (Acrobat (PDF) 6.8MB Oct23 17). As homework, students are to look at the Food Environment Atlas online, as preparation for the next class.

Activity 2.3: Exploring and Using Maps/Online Session with Interactive Mapping Tool (approximately 60 min)

The instructor will guide students through the online Food Environment Atlas and point out the features of the main menu, with special focus on its maps. A brief discussion of some of the factors displayed in the maps helps the students identify the relevant issues present when they answer the navigation exercise questions. Students can compare and contrast the spatial relationships between locations identified as food deserts on the maps. Food Environment Atlas; Reference 10 is an interactive food desert mapping tool from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Food Environment Atlas

    The objectives of the atlas are twofold: 1) to assemble statistics on food environment indicators to stimulate research on the determinants of food choices and diet quality; and 2) to provide a spatial overview of a community's ability to access healthy food and its success in doing so. Food environment factors—such as store/restaurant proximity, food prices, food and nutrition assistance programs, and community characteristics—interact to influence food choices and diet quality.

    Navigation Exercise Instructions:
  1. Within their designated groups, students will find the food desert closest to their school and/or campus. It may be in the city or town where the class meets, or in a nearby county or state. The following question should then be answered: What are the factors that make that area a food desert according to the data displayed in the map? List the steps you used in navigating the pages and menus within the atlas to find the information. (Remind students that they can retrace their steps using their "history" tab on the toolbar.)
  2. Individually, students will find their hometown on the food desert maps. (If their hometown is the one they used in the first stage of the exercise, they will select another city or town of personal interest instead.) Students will answer the following questions: Is my neighborhood or any area in my home city considered a food desert? If so, why? If not, why not? Use the data of the relevant factors as evidence to support your findings. Next list your navigation steps. This too may be a group exercise if a number of the students share the same hometown. If done as an in-class activity, be available for assistance. You can let them work together, but all students should do their write-ups separately.
  3. The instructor will guide students into an interfacing exercise using the US EPA EJSCREEN: Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool. This screen gives environmental and demographic indicators that tend to overlap in food deserts. Explain the relationships displayed.

Activity 2.4: Discussion on the Topic — Growing Community by Growing Food (part 1) (approximate time: 40 min)

Referencing video #2; the PowerPoint slides; and primary reference #10: Valuing all knowledges through an expanded definition of access; the instructor will facilitate a conversation about the community benefits of affordable, accessible, and sustainablelocally-grown food.

Activity 2.5: Summative Assessment — Concept Mapping (homework assignment)

Using concept mapping, students will illustrate the community benefits of affordable, accessible, and sustainable locally-grown food. Students can design their maps in small groups or individually. Students can choose from the concept map templates found in the link Unit2 Concept Map Templates (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 246kB Feb3 17) or create their own to complete the assignment. Students can also view in following video for guidance:

What is a Concept Map? A concept map is a type of graphic organizer used to help organize and represent knowledge of a subject. Concept maps begin with a main idea (or construct) and then branch out to show how that main idea or construct can be broken down into specific topics, issues, or parts.

How Do I Build A Concept Map?

1) Start with a main idea, topic, issue, or construct to focus on: community benefits of affordable, accessible, and sustainablelocally-grown food. Think about your focus question or directions carefully and fully. (The area for main idea or central focus is generally at the top or in the center of most map templates. This is your starting point on the map.)

2) Determine the key concepts. In this activity, list and categorize the individual and community benefits. Reflect upon how the concepts (benefits) connect, relate them to your central focus, and then rank them. Usually inclusive benefits come first (closest to the main idea located on the map). Next, link to the smaller, more specific benefits (further away from the main idea/central focus on the paper).

3) Finish by connecting benefits through the creation of linking phrases and words that explain the connections. Once the basic links between the benefits are created, add cross links (where they apply), which connect benefits in different areas of the map. This level of linkage further shows the relationships and strengthens your understanding and knowledge of the broader subject.

Learn more about Concept Maps

Learn more about Concept Mapping from the Starting Point Project

Teaching Notes and Tips

Professors and instructors should utilize the reference materials to familiarize themselves with the spectrum of human activities in the context of food security, community building, health and wellness. The primary references share a public policy perspective on the intersection between marginalized environmental conditions and poor health status on the one hand, and the availability of fresh, healthy, affordable food and improved health/neighborhood conditions on the other. The primary presentation/online mapping tools provide an opportunity to visually display and assess the relationship between food deserts, environmental justice risk factors and demographics, and health outcomes.


Summative: By creating concept maps, students will present multiple community benefits of affordable, accessible, and sustainable locally-grown food. Students can design their maps in smalls group and/or individually Unit 2 Assessment (Acrobat (PDF) 240kB May1 17). Unit 2: Concept Map Assessment Rubric (Acrobat (PDF) 216kB Apr27 17)

References and Resources

Resources Used in the Unit

10. Valuing all knowledges through an expanded definition of access. Kareem M. Usher. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. 2015. 5(4), 109-114.

Reference 10 defines and explains the relationship between food deserts and health outcomes through the five dimensions food access.

11. Food Environment Atlas from the United States Department of Agriculture

Reference 11 is an interactive food desert mapping tool.

12. EJSCREEN: Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool from the US EPA

Unit 2 Videos

13. Detroit Voices: A Community Calls Out For Change. Fair Food Network. (time – 5:06 seconds)

14. Fair Food Network: Cleveland Urban Agriculture Project. Fair Food Network. (time – 5:20 seconds)

References 13 and 14 present the call for, and application of, food security solutions in marginalized urban communities.

Additional References and Resources

15. Environmental Injustices: Research and Action to Reduce Obesity Disparities from the American Public Health Association.

16. Fully Integrated Food Systems: Regaining Connections Between Farmers and Consumers. Rebecca Spector. International Forum on Globalization: The Center for Food Safety

17. "Realizing Justice in Local Food Systems." Patricia Allen. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society. 2010. 3: 295–308. doi:10.1093/cjres/rsq015

18. The Food and Water System: Impacts on Obesity (2013) Courtney A. Pinard, Sonia A. Kim, Mary Story, and Amy L. Yaroch. Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics. 2013 Winter; 41(02):52-60.

References 15, 16, 17 and 18 give additional information and perspectives and are sources for some of the slides in the PowerPoint presentation.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »