Creating an immersive learning experience for integration of academic programs into a community food network

Authors: John-Andrew Ballantine*, University of Connecticut
Topics: Geography Education, Geography and Urban Health, Agricultural Geography
Keywords: Service learning, food network, immersive learning, community
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Galerie 2, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The Windham-Area Community Food Network (WCFN) is made up of several non-profit organizations serving the needs of the small city of Willimantic, CT and its surrounding rural areas in the broader “town” of Windham. Willimantic is a former mill town with a diverse population in which food insecurity is an issue and the WCFN seeks to alleviate these issues. The University of Connecticut (UCONN) and Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU) both have significant academic and public engagement ties to various food-related non-profits in Windham through service learning coursework and other public engagement activities. The short-term nature of student engagement in the food system can provide benefits, but also pose problems such as lack of cultural sensitivity, short-term commitment, underperformance due to busy student schedules, mis-matching of skills to tasks, etc. UCONN is developing an immersive, “rural semester” program where students live at UCONN’s organic farm for a full year while immersing themselves in the WCFN. Students do an intensive internship over the summer and fall, write a thesis, and take classes at the farm so they can remain focused on their small class, internship-driven work with the food system. This approach allows students dedicated to food justice to learn about how non-profit networks, local food systems, and a specific food-related non-profit (their internship site), work, developing the community leaders of the future. The community benefits because Rural Semester students are trained in cultural sensitivity and work in the community on a well-designed project for an extended period.

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