The first round of competitive grants awarded by the UA’s Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice recognizes projects that answer specific problems with inspiring solutions.
Four teams of University of Arizona researchers and community partners have received seed grants to help people marginalized in society adapt to environmental threats, including climate change and food insecurity.
In addition to announcing its seed grant awards, the UA’s Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environmental and Social Justice also named three finalists for its challenge grant, which calls on interdisciplinary teams of researchers and community members to create systemic and transformational changes for society and the environment. The challenge grant will fund one project at $200,000 per year for three years. The selected team will be announced during a presentation of the three proposals on April 19.
"We are very excited about the quality of the UA-community team projects the Haury program is funding this year," said Anna Spitz, who directs the program. "The four seed projects will contribute to solutions in areas of food security, resilience to climate change and increasing the voice of underrepresented communities. The challenge grant finalists focus on programs that tackle 'wicked' problems facing underserved communities in the Southwest."
Seed Grants Germinate New Solutions
The grant applications underwent a rigorous review process; each proposal was evaluated for evidence of a relevant, applicable and socially just solution to environmental problems. The proposal teams needed to demonstrate authentic UA-community partnerships and the potential positive impact for the community. The seed grants range from $25,000 to $30,000 per year for up to two years.
Stephanie Buechler and Daoquin Tong, both faculty members in the School of Geography and Development, were awarded nearly $50,000 for their two-year project, "Greening the Food Deserts of Tucson, Arizona."
Buechler describes a food desert as an area located more than a mile from the nearest grocery store. With food-stamp beneficiaries at their highest level in history, and Tucson ranked as the sixth-poorest U.S. metro area, the city is especially vulnerable to health and well-being issues associated with food, she said.
"Our project will examine how community gardens can address these food access and security problems," Buechler said.
The team plans to work with local organizations to provide necessary technologies for a new community garden for the low-income disabled, bolster resources for existing community gardens and create a network among these organizations in support of the gardens.
The project also seeks to "green" Tucson in the face of climate change. The gardens will work to combat the urban heat island effect, in which areas with dense concentrations of asphalt and buildings are warmer than surrounding areas with more natural landscapes.
"For us, a greened food desert is multidimensional. It will include the planting of native plants, installation of rainwater harvesting systems and the organization of gardens and gardeners around the sharing of labor, knowledge and produce so that no food goes to waste," Buechler said.
Supporting Health and Heritage
The Sonora Environmental Research Institute Inc. was awarded $25,000 to increase community resilience and raise awareness about climate change and sustainability in underserved neighborhoods. The project, led by Ann Marie Wolf, will develop a certificate program on climate change for promotoras, trained Hispanic or Latino community members who visit homes, schools and businesses to provide health and environmental education.
“We have been working in southern metropolitan Tucson for over 10 years and have conducted over 4,000 home visits," she said. "Unfortunately, many of the families we visit lack knowledge regarding climate change and have pre-existing vulnerabilities, including poor housing, environmental conditions and economic instability."
The seed grant funding will help the promotora program expand to fill these needs and also will fund the installation of a community rainwater harvesting demonstration site.
Other seed grant awardees include Maribel Alvarez, an associate researcher in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences and director of the Southwest Folk Alliance. Her Yaqui Ancestral Wheat and Foodways Project will build cultural, economic and environmental strength around Yaqui heritage foods such as white Sonora wheat, provide cooking workshops and help build an artisanal market around traditional Yaqui food.
The UA Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center, working with the Ak-Chin Indian community, Tohono O’odham Nation and Baboquivari High School, also has been awarded $60,000 over two years to develop Engaging Indigenous Voices, a program that publishes an educational magazine on environment challenges and solutions faced by indigenous communities. The magazine is distributed to tribes around the country and includes articles from tribal high schools.
"These first competitive grant awards are a milestone for the Agnese Nelms Haury Program," Spitz said. "They launch our annual process of grant making with an emphasis on university-community partnership as the best investment we can make to create a just and sustainable society."
The finalists for the Haury challenge grant are Karletta Chief, Soil, Water and Environmental Science, and Paloma Beamer, Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, for their project, "K’é bee da’ahiiniita: Strength Through the Navajo Clan System to Respond to the Gold King Mine Spill"; Sallie Marston, School of Geography and Development, for "Sowing Social and Environmental Justice Through School Gardens"; and Ann Marie Wolf for "Promoting Social Equity Through Community Energy Projects."
The grant will fund one project at $200,000 per year for three years. The recipient will be announced during a presentation of the three proposals on April 19.