Community residents from all over San Diego County are leading a grassroots movement to improve access to healthful foods and economic opportunity through community gardens, farmers’ markets and backyard growing certification.  [See the People’s Produce Project for a great example of residents organizing for food system change in Southeastern San Diego!]  As more and more San Diegans get excited and involved in working together to create key food system changes, they are discovering the need for new data and policy analysis to show how problems like blight and food deserts and crime and obesity and public transportation are inter-connected.  Meanwhile, local colleges and universities, including UC San Diego, are developing new service-learning practicum courses, field school projects, and other outreach programs that seek to build stronger relationships between students and faculty and the communities around them. These converging interests provide unique opportunities for community leaders, students, parents, teachers, public health workers, and others to collaborate.

Together, we can confront policy obstacles to urban agriculture, and we can also create novel research partnerships that have several long-term benefits.  As long as they are strong and mutually respectful, these new relationships can bolster local efforts, support real solutions that come from communities themselves, and improve public health and social science research to better serve society.


Community-based participatory research (or CBPR) means research that involves both participants and researchers in the design, implementation and evaluation stages of research.  Successful CBPR projects create the conditions where “participant-researchers” share power equally, including the information that is produced and the credit for producing new knowledge.  For residents seeking improved outcomes in their communities, the value of CBPR includes a chance to point out problems that need solutions, the opportunity to back up these observations with numbers, and a process for working on solutions until we get it right.  For researchers, this means more reliable data, as well as feedback on what works and what doesn’t.

CBPR EXAMPLES:  Several recent studies have demonstrated the power of researchers and others working together to address our most complex community issues.  One great example for San Diego is when promotoras (“lay health educators”) from Environmental Health Coalition teamed up with researchers to learn how to conduct community health surveys, so they could figure out why more people in Barrio Logan were getting respiratory illnesses, asthma, lead poisoning and cancer than in other parts of town (see reference 1 and other examples in references below).  While the survey results failed to create the large, random sample necessary for a scientific paper, community members used the results to educate themselves about already existing research that proves connections between toxins from metal-plating plants and respiratory illness, and they successfully organized to change the policies that allowed these businesses to operate near residences and schools.  For the researchers who set out to support policy change that would improve health outcomes, this was a win as well.  The research process produced positive change and showed that research tools like surveys can have practical, everyday uses in addition to creating hard and fast data.

We are currently developing a series of workshops that will be co-taught by members of community organizations and academic researchers to introduce community research teams focusing on food system change to employ CBPR that connects with the Community Food System Stories project to be launched in 2011.  These workshops will introduce participants to the key principles of CBPR, including reciprocity, power-sharing, community capacity-building, and integrating multiple knowledge systems, and will involve co-learning tools for conducting and communicating research.  (See the Research Process and Learning Together pages for more information on building your own research toolkit.)


Often when people hear the word “story,” they think about fanciful narratives told to children before bedtime, but there are many ways to tell a story, and many things we can learn from people’s stories about farming, gardening, grocery-shopping, cooking and regulating diet and nutrition for better health.  When we expand our definition of stories to include oral histories, testimonies and personal health narratives, we realize that food stories are told in clinics and courthouses as often as they are told in schools, libraries, kitchens and gardens.  Just as the participant-researchers from EHC found that there were many uses for a survey, San Diego needs storytellers, historians, researchers and experts from all walks of life to consider how food affects our community health, economy, and environment and to envision a healthy food future for our region.


Foodways and Foodscapes is collaborative community food system stories project, which invites residents, community leaders, students, academics and others to learn, teach, research and work together to promote a county-wide understanding of food system-related issues as well as to build enduring partnerships and relationships of respectful reciprocity among residents, communities throughout the county, higher education institutions of various levels, nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies, and other sectors.

Please explore the pages throughout this website to learn more about how you can contribute an important food story, map, film, dance or other “document” to this community-wide project.  Then check back soon as new collaborations and resources are emerging everyday!

Also, please use the “CONTACT US” form, if you seek more information or wish to contribute to co-creating workshops related to using CBPR tools.  All levels of expertise are welcome and encouraged.  (Current topics under consideration include collecting oral histories, creating asset maps, tools for evaluation, and community needs assessments, incorporating film and sound recordings, and producing collaborative publications.)

References & Links:

1.  See “San Diego Environmental Health Coalition, Health Surveys in San Diego Communities.”  Community Monitoring Case Study at:  http://www.chemicalbodyburden.org/.

2.  For another great example of collaborative research in our area, see “Hunger and the Safety Net in San Diego County:  A Participatory Action Research Project.”  Produced by nearly twenty collaborative reseachers (and coauthors) from Supportive Parents Information Network and the Caring Council, this document helped to raise awareness about why San Diego has the lowest participation rates in the country among people who need and qualify for food stamps (SNAP).

3.  Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s book, Decolonizing Methodologies, provides a great resource for those seeking to understand how indigenous peoples have helped social science researchers and others to understand the problems with top-down research models.  This book explains why truly ethical, respectful research must change powerful relationships at all stages of research.

4.  To put these questions about methods in a public health perspective, check out:

Atienza, Audie A. and Abby C. King.  Community-based Health Intervention Trials: An Overview of Methodological Issues.  Epedimiologic Reviews.  Vol. 24, No. 1  2002

Available online:  http://epirev.oxfordjournals.org/content/24/1/72.full.pdf

For more examples of social science research that successfully involves participants see: 

5. “Research, Activism and Knowledge Production” by Dani Wadada Nabudere in the book, Engaging Contradictions.  pp. 62-87.  (Edited by C.R. Hale, 2008.)

Available online: http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/7z63n6xr#page-90

6. “Breaking the Chains, and Steering the Ship–How Activism Can Help Change Teaching and Scholarship” by George Lipsitz in the book, Engaging Contradictions.  pp. 88-111.  (Edited by C.R. Hale, 2008.)

Available online: http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/7z63n6xr#page-116

7.  Ann E. Kingsolver provides an instructive example of how researchers can collaborate with participants, include students, and co-produce knowledge available to multiple cultural and institutional ends.   She has published writing about this collaborative research, both independently and in partnership with others:

Kingsolver, AE.  “Like a Frog in a Well:  Young People’s Views of the Future Expressed in Two Collaborative Research Projects in Sri Lanka” in Human Organization, Vol. 69(1) Spring 2010.  pp. 1-9.

Ann Kingsolver, Sasikumar Balasundaram, Vijayakumar Sugumaran, Jennifer Engel, Timothy Gerber, Craig Spurrier, Colin Townsend, Kristen Wolf.  “Collaborative Research on Food Security in the U.S. and Sri Lanka” in Practicing Anthropology.  Vol. 32 (4/Fall 2010).  Pp.24-28.

8.  For a paper co-authored by a local San Diego community organizer discussing the challenges and opportunities of the kinds of research partnerships we seek to build:  Woods, Imani, et al.  “Conference Report: Community Based Health Promotion-State of the Art and Recommendations for the Future.”  Pgs 240-243. American Journal of Preventive Medicine,  Volume 13, Number 4, 1997.



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