The Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice Announces its First Competitive Grant Selections

The Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice Announces its First Competitive Grant Selections

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice has awarded grants to four teams of University of Arizona and community partners. The goal of these grants is to seed projects which work toward solutions to social and environmental issues, such as environmental threats and food insecurity, which disproportionately impact underrepresented and often marginalized members of society.

In addition to announcing its seed grant awards, the University of Arizona’s (UA) 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, 2016.

"We are very excited about the quality of the UA-community team projects the Haury program is funding this year," said Anna H. 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 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, lead a team awarded nearly $50,000 for the two-year project, "Greening the Food Deserts of Tucson, Arizona." Other team members include the Community Food Bank, Compass Affordable Housing, Community Gardens of Tucson and e-network Backyard Gardeners of Tucson.

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. (SERI) 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, President of SERI, 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.

SERI’s is partnering with Monica Ramirez-Andreotti of UA Soil and Water Science Department and Eric Betterton of UA Atmospheric Sciences and Hydrology Department.

This work complements other training such as the rainwater workshop funded by the Arizona State Forestry Division.  For more information, visit

Other seed grant awardees include the Southwest Folklife Alliance (SFA) led by Maribel Alvarez, an associate researcher in the UA School of Social and Behavioral Sciences and director of SFA. The SFA 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 through partnerships with Yaqui agronomist Comelio Molina and oral historian Felipe Molina and traditional authorities of Pueblo Vicam in Sonora, Mexico and Yoem Pueblo in Arizona.

The UA Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center, partnering 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. Marti Lindsey leads the project.

"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."