Community Farm Is UA Anthropology in Action

Anthropology interns maintain a farm plot where they grow their own food while researching the impact of community gardening.

It's 9 a.m. and the temperature is already steadily creeping toward 100 degrees. But that doesn't deter University of Arizona intern Morgan Lundy and her fellow volunteers from kneeling in the sunbaked soil and plucking tomatoes from the vine.

"I love working out here," says Lundy, a post-baccalaureate intern in the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, or BARA, in the UA School of Anthropology.

Lundy and her team are working on their plot at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona's Las Milpitas de Cottonwood community farm. Hidden away in west Tucson, the farm was established in 2012 as a place for neighbors to grow their own nutritious food.

The farm has four main purposes, says Robert Ojeda, chief program officer for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona: It provides access to healthy food options in an area of high need; it fosters community participation and leadership; it promotes environmentally sustainable growing practices; and it creates economic opportunities, as people may see lower grocery bills as the result of growing their own food or they may choose to sell what they grow at local farmers' markets.

The School of Anthropology got involved with Las Milpitas when BARA interns began maintaining their own plot on the farm, which has up to 100 plots available to the community.

In addition to growing their own food, the interns set out to do ethnographic research — to gather information about who uses the farm and how the space affects the surrounding community. The goal was to help the food bank better understand the farm's local impact.

"One of our core methodologies as anthropologists is ethnography. We embed ourselves in the community to do studies, interviews, observations and focus groups," says Diane Austin, director of the School of Anthropology in the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. "Having our students at the farm allows them to observe and interact with the farmers and understand the issues they're facing and the value of the farm."

The students captured their observations and interviews with community members and farm staff on camera. They then created a 30-minute film about the farm, produced in the School of Anthropology's Diebold Linguistic Anthropology Research and Teaching Laboratory, funded by a donation from the late Richard Diebold, UA anthropology professor emeritus.

A preview of the film, "Growing Together," is available on the food bank's website. The full version is available on YouTube.

"The video is a tool that informs the community and helps us understand the impact of our work," Ojeda says. "It's something we can share with the different groups who come to the farm."

Lundy, who did her senior thesis project on Las Milpitas and the household impact of participation at the farm, earned her bachelor's degree in anthropology from the UA in 2014 and is one of 15 interns with BARA, whose mission is to put students into the community to do applied anthropology. Interns in the program include undergraduates, graduate students and recent graduates.

Lundy and three other interns make weekly visits to the farm, where, in addition to collecting ethnographic information, they also gather data about the weight and nutritional value of the food they grow.

Lundy says working at the farm has illuminated for her, as an anthropologist, the strong tie between food and community.

"Food impacts everybody's lives. We all eat and have meals together ... so it's a very human thing to be involved with food," she says. "Working out here in the garden has given me more insight on the cultural importance of the food and the empowerment growing your own food gives people and the kind of community … it can create."

The School of Anthropology has partnered with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona on a variety of projects since the mid-1990s, focused largely on food security, or reliable access to healthy, affordable food.

In addition to its work at Las Milpitas, the school also is involved, along with the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, in a research project to assess and map food insecurity in the southeastern Arizona. That project is supported in part by a $13,752 Engagement Grant from the UA's Office of Student Engagement.

Ojeda says the ongoing partnership with the UA has helped the food bank more deeply understand the impact of its programs.

"The partnership has helped us systemically look at planning and our growth," he says. "It helps us as an organization to assess and evaluate the work that we're doing. And it's helping us to have a more nuanced understanding of our service area and the needs of our partners."

Story by Alexis Blue, University Relations - Communications

September 4, 2011

Original story here.

Published Date: 

09/10/2015 - 10:52am