Weaving Community- University Research and Action Partnerships for Environmental Justice
Authors: Jonathan K. London, Kirsten Schwartz, Mary L. Cadenasso, Bethany B. Cutts, Charles Mason Jr., Jeanette Lim, Katie Valenzuela-Garcia, and Heather Smith.
The email from Ubuntu Green’s home gardening coordinator came in late Friday afternoon. It was addressed to the partners in a community-university research
project on soil lead, home gardens, and environmental justice in Sacramento, California’s capital city. In it, the garden coordinator announced that she was
leaving Ubuntu Green, a leading community-based organization and the core community partner in the project. Henceforth, the program would be transferred to the
organization’s director and one remaining employee. But just a few weeks later, the director informed the team that because of funding and staff losses, Ubuntu Green would need to close its home gardening program. For the university team this looked like the end of the project. The team depended on Ubuntu Green for access to its key research sites and participants in the form of the home gardens and gardeners. Meanwhile, residents with new home gardens risked seeing support for their efforts disappear, including the lead testing provided by university researchers. In short, the sudden change threatened to overturn project plans, disrupting the valuable environmental and scholarly work jointly carried out by community and university partners. In the end, however, these severe predictions were not borne out. Thanks to a newly configured research design and the cooperation of new community partners, the project was able to go forward. This unexpected turnaround prompted various questions that we seek to address in this paper. How can we account for this project’s capacity to bounce back after
this shock? What can this experience of community-university partnership offer scholars and practitioners of action research?