Utuado, Puerto Rico, is a region that has witnessed many natural hazards, most notably Hurricane Maria that struck the island in 2017 and irrevocably altered its landscape to this day (Holladay et al., 2019; Ortiz, 2020; Benach et al., 2019). In combination with layers of pre-existing vulnerability, such as socio-economic vulnerability and food insecurity, this has made for a disaster situation (Klein, 2018; Benach et al., 2019; Garriga-López, 2019). However, this disaster has also opened up a window for citizens to rise up and self-organize for the revitalization of their shared communities and spaces; in the agricultural sector, this has manifested as a drive towards a stronger regional economy and the building of food sovereignty through agritourism (Holladay et al., 2019).
In contribution to a larger Southern SARE project, my Master of Sustainability Solutions (MSUS) Culminating Experience (CE) project aims to support this local movement through a collaboration with key local farmers to identify local farm assets through the reconstruction of solution strategies (Forrest & Wiek, 2014) and the designing of an educational program for the adaptation and scaling of identified sustainability solutions to other regional farms (Fraser & Galinsky, 2010). The intended outcomes for this project include (1) the building of community resilience and livelihood opportunity; (2) the increasing of awareness and knowledge of agritourism best practices; (3) the dissemination of knowledge on practices to increase farm- and visitor-readiness; (4) and the strengthening and interconnection of the regional economy. Based on the array of exemplary farms and enterprises that I have conducted research on and engaged with through this project, I have witnessed the potential that the widespread dissemination of agritourism best practices offers for the progressive building up of the regional economy in Utuado, Puerto Rico.
The City of Peoria, AZ approached Project Cities and the 2021 MSUS cohort for research on the feasibility, and challenges, of adopting a Community Forestry Program (CFP). The team was asked to evaluate Peoria’s potential for canopy growth and plan adoption by researching forestry or shade programs in cities with similar climates, as well as by conducting citizen outreach to determine the community mandate for a CFP. This process includes identifying the specific barriers and opportunities regarding implementation. Research is being conducted through peer reviewed articles and interviews with shade or forestry program officials; citizen outreach is being conducted through surveys and focus groups. These results will be compiled and presented to the City of Peoria to provide recommendations moving forward. Peoria will likely benefit from a comprehensive CFP, and this program will help reduce inequalities within the city, enhance urban form, promote walkability, and increase biodiversity within the urban area. This will also highlight that Peoria is dedicated to becoming a forerunner in the arena of urban planning, the intersection of social and environmental sustainability, and human health. Through their efforts in this sphere, Peoria can emerge as an example, and provide motivation, for other cities that are interested in pursuing a similar program. If implemented, the CFP will influence the development of Peoria for years to come.
Energy insecurity has become increasingly common in Maricopa County, Arizona. Households are not able to meet energy demands, resulting in vulnerability and the sacrifice of basic needs. Various root causes and pathway dependencies have exacerbated this issue, creating detrimental health, societal and environmental outcomes.
The project, Energy Insecurity and Public Health: Going Further through Cross-Sector Collaboration, aims to improve the health of communities by promoting projects that are community-engaged, action-oriented, and equity-focused (Interdisciplinary Research Leaders, 2020). Eventually, the final deliverable of this project will be an energy insecurity toolkit that can be leveraged by stakeholders to make a change in their local communities. To achieve this deliverable, a stakeholder workgroup was created to assess all aspects of energy insecurity in Maricopa County. To avoid typical pitfalls of stakeholder workgroups, the Learning and Action Alliance (LAA) Framework was chosen to be applied to the workgroup. The LAA Framework leverages social learning and promotes knowledge sharing between stakeholders (O’Donnell et al, 2018). The framework is implemented in five phases and can be customized to fit any wicked problem. The accompanying guidebook, "Applying the Learning and Action Alliance Framework: Energy Insecurity in Maricopa County’, was created to simplify the framework’s implementation phases and provide ‘real-world’ examples of how the framework was implemented into the energy insecurity stakeholder workgroup. The guidebook will be used by the Maricopa County Department of Public Health to facilitate other sustainability workgroups. Thus far, the Maricopa County Department of Public Health has approved the guidebook and is looking forward to integrating the guidebook into workgroup standard practices.
Human behavior is driving many sustainability problems, which means that resolving these issues will require far more people to participate in solutions and act in sustainable ways. However, there is a recognized gap between knowledge and action that remains a significant barrier in achieving transformative sustainability solutions. One way to overcome the knowledge-action gap is to engage more people in place-based experiential learning centered around sustainability. In partnership with Hawai‘i Tropical Bioreserve & Garden (HTBG), we set out to learn about utilizing place-based experiential learning to engage a wider audience to actively participate in sustainability solutions. We researched place-based learning, experiential learning, sustainability education, and behavior change theory. We also conducted several informational interviews with experts in environmental education, STEM, and sustainability science to better understand what is needed for designing meaningful educational experiences that inspire action. We used this research to develop an easily understandable and scalable place-based experiential learning framework that can teach learners about any sustainability challenge or solution. Overall, we found that when grounded in behavior change theory and sustainability principles, place-based experiential learning has the potential to mobilize large groups of people to actively participate in sustainability solutions.
Food insecurity among university students in the U.S. is a pressing sustainability problem due to its prevalence, complex socio-economic drivers, and adverse effects. A national survey from the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice found that 45% of university students (n=86,000) had experienced some form of food insecurity in the past 30 days (Goldrick-Rab et al., 2019). Students at Arizona State University (ASU) are similarly impacted by this sustainability problem—a recent study found that approximately 35% of ASU students have experienced food insecurity (Bruening et al., 2016). Food insecurity has a variety of detrimental effects on university students’ physical health, psychological well-being, and academic achievement (El Zien et al., 2019; Payne-Sturges et al., 2018; Meza et al., 2019), and these resulting issues have complex inter-regional, intrageneration, and intergenerational implications.
To mitigate food insecurity among university students, the project proposes the development of a sustainable, student-run food cooperative business at Arizona State University (ASU). Food cooperative businesses have long been utilized by communities to advance food access, economic self-determination, and food justice (DePasquale, Sarang, & Vena, 2017), so the project aims to lay the foundation for the establishment of such an enterprise at ASU. Through the development of an enterprise start-up plan and the execution of preliminary coalition-building efforts, the project seeks to demonstrate the plausibility of this solution while empowering stakeholders with the strategies needed to enact it.
Islands are some of the smallest contributors to global carbon emissions, yet are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change (e.g. rising sea levels, extreme storms, and declining fish populations due to warming seas). At the same time, due to their smaller scale and local limitations on resources, island communities have been driving adaptation efforts for responding to the impacts of climate change based on their lived experiences and indigenous knowledge. Recognizing that local community members are in the best position to advance sustainability solutions in their respective island communities, our project sought to uncover best practices of islands that are collaboratively working with their communities to promote sustainable development and adapt to climate change, while leading the way in measuring progress on the SDGs. To this end, we interviewed island leaders from Hawaii, Guam, and Tasmania, who have already launched strategies for achieving these goals, and combined their experiences into a framework requested by other island leaders to encourage locally-driven, culturally-relevant green growth initiatives in partnership with our project partner, the Local2030 Islands Network (Local2030IN). Through designing the framework, we learned 17 possible actions islands can take when developing their own green growth initiative, key insights for implementing the SDGs on islands, and how to work alongside a project partner to create a final deliverable.