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Understanding and Fostering Food Access and Community Resiliency through Experiential Learning and Civic Engagement

This project invites participants from ACM schools to two workshops at Macalester College, scheduled for September 2020 and September 2021. This project brings attention to social, economic and environmental dimensions of limited food access in a way that builds community resilience in the face of increasingly regular climatic and economic shocks. The workshops aim to explore a) effective experiential-learning approaches in food access education; b) ways of integrating experiential learning into formal educational programs; and c) learners’ motivations for participation in food-related community projects. The workshops will generate presentations with information regarding campus-based, classroom-based, community-based, and study-away based experiential learning around food access. Participants will also be invited to contribute to an edited volume showcasing the work of ACM scholars on the topic.

Exploring issues related to food access and resilient communities will help participants develop eective and ethical practices in experiential learning. These issues encompass and link together campus-based activities (campus gardens and pantries, food recovery), academic civic engagement (community-based research, public scholarship), and other forms of high impact practices (internships, global learning, facultystudent collaborative research). This project builds on the growing interest in food-related programs and initiatives, and concerns about broader issues of equity, sustainability, and climate change.


The goals of the project are to enhance and expand instructors’ use of experiential learning pedagogies explicitly related to the challenge of promoting food access and resilient communities. By convening a learning community from different ACM colleges and disciplinary backgrounds, we hope to help participants develop effective and ethical practices in experiential learning by exploring issues related to food access and community resiliency.

This project will address a key challenge facing liberal arts institutions: how to anchor sustainability studies in the academic curriculum. While many higher education institutions have adopted sustainability goals, programming often focuses on optimizing institutional operations and privileges environmental dimensions of sustainability even where it has been incorporated into the academic curriculum. Academic programming on food access provides an opportunity to address these limitations in transformative ways. A broader conception of sustainability pushes us to consider the social, economic and environmental dimensions of nettlesome problems such as limited food access, and to do this in a way that builds community resilience in the face of increasingly regular climatic and economic shocks. Food access is at once deeply personal and shaped by wider systems, which can be drawn out and explored through experiential learning pedagogies. In short, problem-based study of food access and community resiliency has exceptional potential to demonstrate the critical importance of the liberal arts for engaging with one of the enduring challenges of our time. Our proposal aims to support instructors’ ability to use experiential learning to tap into this potential.

Beyond Macalester, this project’s goal of broadening conceptions of sustainability is relevant to the aims of small liberal arts colleges. A focus on food access and community resilience invites interdisciplinary engagement and provides a way to relate a broader conception of sustainability to problem-based learning. This project also builds on a current FaCE grant spear-headed by Carleton and St Olaf that was more narrowly focused on agriculture (Integrating Agricultural Field Sites into the Curriculum and Student-Faculty Research at ACM Colleges).


Project leaders will convene two workshops at Macalester College. The rst will gather faculty and sta from dierent departments and institutions who are committed to using experiential learning techniques to develop curriculum on food access and community resiliency. Participants will share how they have utilized experiential learning to engage these issues and how they hope to grow through participation in the workshop, including an initiative they wish to develop.

Participants will provide feedback to each other and further reect on their own initiative through participation in a series of activities designed to stimulate critical thought about experiential learning as it relates to food access and community resilience in diverse contexts. Participants will visit and interact with a selection of organizations in the Twin Cities region working on issues of food access and systems change as a way to foster social justice and support community resilience. Rural, urban, and suburban initiatives are easily accessible from the Twin Cities, making this region relevant for ACM participants from a variety of contexts, We will draw on small neighborhood organizations, working farms, and our region’s thriving food cooperatives. Workshop activities will explore dierent facets of food and community resilience including challenges and opportunities for intervention. The rst workshop will conclude with participants developing a plan to revise and implement their initiative. Participants will reconvene a year later in a second workshop to share scholarly essays that reect on their initiatives and generate broader insights for promoting academic programming on this topic through experiential learning

Dissemination Strategies

  1. All information in the rst workshop will be shared on a dedicated website. This will include conference presentations with information regarding campus-based, classroom-based, community-based, and study-away based experiential learning.
  2. Edited book: In the second workshop, participants will be invited to submit draft or working papers reecting on their use of experiential learning around the topic of food and resiliency. These papers will be workshopped by the group, generated extensive feedback for each author. The end goal is to produce two products. First, a set of draft papers that will be available on a stable website maintained by Macalester College. Second, an edited volume, with an introduction by the workshop organizers, tentatively entitled Engaging with Food, Climate Change and Resiliency in the Liberal Arts Context: Experiments in Experiential Learning. The volume will showcase the ACM faculty as leading voices on this topic. We are inspired by another group of ACM authors who recently published an edited volume on study abroad in Lever Press Faculty as Global Learners: O Campus Study at Liberal Arts Colleges. Lever Press was established by liberal arts faculty (including some from the ACM) and oers high quality, open access publications. Publishing formally is important as it will help cement the leadership role of ACM colleges in the realm of sustainability and food studies education.
  3. Conference presentations: We will identify promising disciplinary and civic engagement conferences for cross-institutional panels, workshops, or presentations based on themes or issues that have emerged from the initiative.

Resources & Materials

Our project requests funding to support activities associated with bringing individuals together to participate in two workshops. Both workshops are meant to draw together individuals from a range of ACM institutions. We thus request funding to support both air and ground transportation to the Twin Cities as well as food and lodging for 15 participants. We anticipate attrition among participants in the rst workshop and so we have requested support for a fewer number of participants in the second workshop.

We also plan to engage in experiential learning activities through a day-long eld trip, meeting with several community partners in the greater Twin Cities region whose work highlights distinct aspects of food access and community resiliency and that can provide perspective on engaging with experiential learning practices. We have thus requested funds to cover transportation costs for the eld trip and to provide honoraria for the community partners with which we will meet.

We plan to distribute hardcopy programming materials in both workshops. The field trip during the first workshop presents an additional demand for handouts, which our funding request reflects.

We have also requested contingency funds to cover costs that emerge in running both workshops. We have requested a greater amount of contingency funding for the rst workshop owing to the field trip activities and a greater number of participants.

Finally, we request funding for the three organizers of the project to honor the work that this leadership role requires.

Outcomes and Significance

There is a history of sustainability and food and agriculture initiatives being more inward looking, focusing, for example, on campus facilities and college gardens. This project pushes participants to be more outward looking. While food insecurity and limited food access are a growing problem on American college campuses, this is a real and pressing problem in urban and rural communities of middle America. Now more than ever, our students and faculty need the tools to think creatively about these problems, problems that large public universities, with more focused and less interdisciplinary educational approaches, have been unable to resolve.

We expect that each participant or campus-based team in the September 2020 workshop will identify one promising curricular initiative to create, revise or deepen on their own campuses over the next year. Informed by the background and goals of participants, the workshop leaders will select shared readings and site visits to create a common base of knowledge and a shared understanding of ethical and eective practices. Participants will form a community of practice that will give feedback and share resources over the next academic year. For less experienced participants or those who are creating new initiatives, the second workshop will serve as a check-in and participants will create reections on how their initiatives will be integrated into the on-going programming of their own institutions. We will also encourage participants to identify common themes for possible presentations at disciplinary conferences or in meetings of civic engagement consortia such as Imagining America, Project Pericles, or Campus Compact. We will ensure that learnings and reections are also shared with community partners. More experienced practitioners or those with long-standing projects will use the opportunity to workshop contributions to a volume on food access, higher education, and experiential learning. Case studies of initiatives that connect food access to experiential learning in higher education is largely missing from the literature on civic engagement and higher education partnerships. Macalester’s support for Lever Press, a publisher of digital scholarship, is one possible opportunity for this volume, which could be broadly accessible to higher education and community stakeholders.

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