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SS Forum: Action research for agroecological literacy: examples from food system education in Chiapas

Event Type
Guest Lecture
Helda Morales and Bruce Ferguson
Center for Sustainable Systems
School for Environment and Sustainability
April 5, 20192:00pm - 3:30pm
Room 1040 Dana Building

Participatory action research (PAR) is a powerful methodology for generating collective knowledge and change. We will describe PAR, its particular relevance to agroecology and food system work, and its application in our educator training program Laboratorios para la Vida (LabVida). LabVida has been working for eight years to train educators to use school gardens and food systems as venues for inquiry-based learning linking local and academic knowledge. We applied PAR to development and analysis of our training program, and invited participating educators to use PAR with their groups to explore and improve their food environments. PAR has proven to be an effective tool for generating small but significant changes in participants' narratives and practices.


Helda Morales is from Guatemala City and went to college there. She did graduate work in Costa Rica and then at U of M. Her research has documented the importance of traditional knowledge in constructing sustainable agriculture systems that avoid using harmful pesticides. Recently, she has focused on education and food systems, working with local urban and rural growers and farmers markets as well as international organizations. She is a founder and active member of AMA-AWA, the Alliance of Women in Agroecology.


Bruce Ferguson grew up in Kalamazoo, studied at Kalamazoo College. He did graduate work at the University of Michigan with John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto focusing on ecological succession and restoration. He currently does research and teaching in agroecology, food systems, and pedagogy. He is in Ann Arbor, spending part of his sabbatical year at U of M.

Their current research involves school gardens and food system education. They are both members of the Department of Agriculture, Society, and the Environment at El Colegio de la Frontera Sur in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, where they are part of a group working on scaling out agroecology to achieve more just and sustainable food systems. Together, Bruce and Helda coordinate Laboratorios para la Vida, a program that trains teachers to use gardens and food systems as educational tools.