Lettuce learn: Student reflections on building and sustaining a community donation garden

  • Hannah Dankbar (CREST)
  • Emily K Zimmerman (Iowa State University)
  • Carrie Chennault (Iowa State University)
  • Andrea Basche (Union for Concerned Scientists)
  • Jacqueline Ann Nester (Monroe County Planning)
  • Maritza Pierre (Iowa State University)
  • Gabrielle Roesch-McNally (Northwest Climate Hub)


This article emerged from conversations that we and fellow graduate students have had in building a community donation garden, which was initiated in partnership with a local food distribution nonprofit and a community church. As graduate students, we created the garden with a vision of enacting food justice in our community, but over the past four years we have experienced complexities with our vision. We found ourselves positioned between an emergency food system dependent on an industrial agrifood system and the ideals of food justice. In this article, we share the complexities with which we have wrestled, how we have encouraged thoughtful dialogue among fellow scholars about these shortcomings and the intricate workings of the agrifood system, and the lessons we have learned through these experiences as early-career scholar-activists. This article represents our collective and individual voices as graduate student garden leaders reflecting on: (1) the ways in which we strived to integrate social justice into our local emergency food system; (2) the paradox of industrial commodity-oriented production agriculture designed to ‘feed the world’, which neglects the production of healthy food that is locally produced and locally accessible; and (3) the holistic learning approach of combining academic studies with praxis. As students cycle through the graduate program, the garden and partnerships continue, and students take the lessons that they learn through this engagement into their careers and other activities.

Keywords: community garden, scholar-activist, food justice, emergency food

How to Cite:

Dankbar, H., Zimmerman, E. K., Chennault, C., Basche, A., Nester, J. A., Pierre, M. & Roesch-McNally, G., (2017) “Lettuce learn: Student reflections on building and sustaining a community donation garden”, Journal of Critical Thought and Praxis 6(3).

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Published on
09 May 2017
Peer Reviewed