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Participatory Research Roundup- Spring 2024

The Participatory Research Roundup is a brief set of field notes from the work of the CRC in the past three months

January - March 2024

Creative Economies, Inclusive Communities - Our team has been hard at work continuing a three year participatory research project with RiffRaff Arts Collective. In the past three months we have hosted RiffRaff Arts Collective members at WVU where they hosted a community conversation with 40 participants and screening of several music videos in their new We Need to Talk initiative. The research team, led by SDI interns, is currently finalizing a comprehensive report on RiffRaff’s approach to arts-based development and a participatory evaluation of their We Need to Talk program that will also result in the creation of new curricular materials for the project. The report “Creative Solidarities” will highlight over 30 interviews with residents, artists, policy-makers, entrepreneurs, community development professionals on the distinctive impact of arts-based development in Appalachia and the leadership and transformative work of RiffRaff Arts Collective in Princeton and beyond. - Kylie, Ben and Bradley

                                   RiffRaff Music Event with CRC

   Photo:(from left to right) our CEIC team Ben Heinlein (SDI’24), Kyle Blackburn (SDI’24), Lori McKinney   (RRAC), Je’dah Madison (RRAC), Gabby Frazier (SDI’23), Ethan Harner (SDI’22), Kimia Izadinia (SDI’23)

The Solidarity, Cooperation, and Entrepreneurship (SCE) - Our team set out to study the role of solidarity and cooperation in independently-owned, minority-owned and operated grocers in Morgantown. Thus far we have done field visits with four grocers and conducted an initial interview. We are also reviewing research by past CRC teams on grocery stores, retail change and food access in WV, particularly using the Foodlink database. We are also arranging an on campus to invite independent minority-owned grocers to promote their businesses (three of the four grocers also operate restaurants or cook food for sale) as well as engage in conversation about the project findings and their experiences as entrepreneurs in Morgantown. We are working on a paper (to be shared with research participants and community partners) to report on the findings and foster a wider dialogue on the role of independent minority-owned grocers in promoting community and economy in rural areas.  - Rissell, Bane and Cameron

The Community-Driven Affordable Housing Solutions team has been studying the diverse ways communities impacted by capital disinvestment have sought to address their housing needs. We began the semester examining dominant modes of alternative and non-market housing with special attention paid to the role of limited equity cooperatives and community land trusts as agents of housing commoning. After taking inventory of community organizations engaged in community-based affordable housing in Appalachia and the Rustbelt, we began developing new partnerships and research relationships with community organizers and housing thinkers in NC, WV, and OH. We have conducted interviews with three housing organizations, a cooperative incubator, a leading scholar in cooperative housing, and have plans for several more interviews with diverse organizations and housing models. In April we are traveling to Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio to continue our research and build relationships with burgeoning research partners. By the end of the semester, this project will result in a paper detailing our findings and to be shared with community partners interested in or currently working in community-based and affordable housing. - Gabriel and Ethan

The Water Security and Justice  team has been working alongside Friends of Deckers Creek (FODC) and WV Rivers Association to assess the impacts of chemical exposure in our local waterways. Working closely with FODC, our team has analyzed datasets spanning two decades to better understand acid mine drainage (AMD) and its impact on water quality along Deckers Creek. The watershed has been affected by AMD from West Virginia's many abandoned coal mines and other pollutants, leading to the destruction of natural habitats.  FODC has been actively responding to and addressing AMD with the establishment of nine treatment sites over the last 20 years. Our team is currently developing a map that highlights the positive impacts of FODC’s efforts on water quality and community well-being in water quality that FODC has been able to advance and document the benefits of AMD treatment sites to community members' well-being along Deckers Creek. The map will serve as a way for FODC to track water quality changes over time, communicate their progress to a broader audience, and help assess community members' exposure to toxic chemicals.  

Our team has also partnered with WV Rivers to gather and review datasets related to PFAS, or Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are a group of chemicals that are not naturally occurring in the environment. PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals," do not break down under natural conditions and are commonly found in contaminated water or food. We have examined different datasets to gauge water quality, including the occurrence of PFAS at water facilities, impaired streams, toxic release discharge by facilities, and Safe Drinking Water Act violations. Through this process, we have gained insight into who is responding to PFAS in West Virginia and where they obtain their data to support their research. Currently, we are developing a map that consolidates various datasets to assess water quality impacts. This map will inform the PFAS Action Plan in collaboration with community members in Monongalia County. It will also support the advocacy work of WV Rivers in protecting and restoring our waterways. - B rooke, Lennon, Selena, Ilan and Grace

The  Flood Resiliency team has been making great strides in understanding the various factors that contribute to West Virginians’ vulnerability to flooding events while advancing efforts to collaborate with youth, non-profits, and other community members in flood planning efforts in the state. In order to gain deeper understandings of vulnerability, we have been building a database of historical flooding events through archival material available through the West Virginia and Regional History Center and other resources. Additionally, we have met with university and community partners to learn more about existing efforts that consider flood vulnerability and planning. Another element of our team’s progress has been connecting with high school faculty and existing extracurriculars to invite youth living in Monongalia county to our Resilience Ambassador Program in August to bring more young people into conversations about how they can contribute to resiliency planning. These efforts provide insight that contribute to a better understanding of flood risk, preparation, and responses to future disasters. - Josie, Jack, and Kennedy

                                         EJ team at WV Capitol

   Photo:(from left to right) our EJ team Jack Van Dusen (SDI '24), Josie Kemp-Rye (SDI '24), Grace Dever (CRC), Kennedy Lawson (CRC), Ilan Rice (SDI '24), Selena Melendez (SDI '24), Lennon Auvil (SDI '24), and                    Brooke Watters (SDI '24) visiting the Capitol for Environmental and Flood Resiliency Day

The Food Policy Council Development  project team has been working to plan and facilitate the CRC’s Nourishing Networks food access planning curriculum in three counties in West Virginia: Raleigh County, Marshall County and Nicholas County. Our participatory research team has performed outreach initiatives to bring together community stakeholders in each county. The process of outreach included finding relevant organizations in the area, contacting them, and formally inviting them to the event, as well as encouraging anyone they knew who may be interested in attending as well. During the workshop, interns conducted meaningful conversations between community members surrounding the topic of food access barriers and strategies. After the conclusion of the workshop, interns developed a report representing the findings of each county’s workshop. This report summarizes the barriers and strategies identified and provides participants with knowledge needed to begin a food policy council within their community. - Shelby, Kirsten, Alex and Josh

              Nourishing Network Event 

                                Photo: Nourishing Network in Raleigh County

The Healthy Food Access  team continues to collaborate with the WV Family Nutrition program in support of SNAP-Ed outreach across the state. The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Education Program (SNAP-Ed) is an evidence-based program that helps people make their food assistance dollars stretch, works with folks to shop for and cook affordable healthy meals, and lead physically active lifestyles. In addition to providing nutrition education, the program also expands SNAP access by involving populations who are not aware of or struggle to access the program. In January 2024, a new structure was introduced to report SNAP-Ed progress. This reporting framework is titled National PEARS, and provides facilitators with specific measures to track progress being made in their communities. The food justice team is seeking to develop a process that streamlines the reporting process through the use of ArcOnline applications such as Survey123. Once data has been collected and reported to National PEARS, the food justice team seeks to develop a variety of visualizations to assist educators in developing and growing their outreach and impact across the state. - Alex  

The Farmland Access  project team embarked on an action research project with New Roots Community Farm to explore how farmland protection boards in WV are organized. Eighteen West Virginia counties have an active farmland protection board, whose mandate is to protect and preserve land for future agrarian viability. We have started by studying a variety of public and private stakeholders at the local, state and national level who have an interest in working to apply agricultural easements on farm properties. We seek to understand how this farmland protection governance model might be leveraged at the intersection of local economic and regional food system development with an emphasis on pathways toward securing access to land for socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers. Our team will generate a report on the state of farmland protection in WV. - Sam and Josh

The Farm to School team in conjunction with community partner organizations New Roots Community Farm, have created a farmer survey to gauge overall interest in producing for local schools through the Farm to School program in the Greenbrier Valley & New River Gorge region. This survey is intended specifically to determine farmer capacity to produce for the Farm to School program and to understand the potential barriers farmers may face in the process. Also, work is currently being done to understand the challenges and opportunities in expanding the Farm to School programming in the public school system in West Virginia through interviews, conversations, and data analysis with local representatives from WVDA and WVDE. This project is designed to begin the process of developing a county-level database for school boards, farmers, and advocates throughout the state to assist in expanding the Farm to School program in West Virginia in the future. - Cameron and Dylan

The Food Hub Development team is excited to share our latest strides in advancing food access and regional food system development with the Eastern Food Hub Collaborative (EFC). Our team, alongside interns and staff, have been diligently researching federally and state funded food access programs across 13 food hubs along the east coast. Working hand in hand with EFC, we're delving into the impact of government and philanthropic funds on enhancing food hub capacity, supporting producers, and bolstering food security across the region. Recently, Bradley Wilson and Fritz Boettner attended the annual EFC gathering in Airle, Virginia. We facilitated a lively discussion on food access, inviting members and stakeholders to share their post-COVID experiences and insights on various food access funding mechanisms. Through this collaborative effort, we're gaining a deeper understanding of best practices and challenges faced by participants. Our aim is to distill these findings into a comprehensive document, offering insights to the EFC network, the USDA, and beyond.  - Devin and Fritz

               EFC Network meeting

            Photo: EFC Annual gathering and planning meeting, 1-25-2024 -  EFC                                               network;  Bradley Wilson and Fritz Boettner

The Right to Food - Voices of Hunger team participated in the process of engaging with 11 candidates for the Voices of Hunger fellowship, an organizing initiative toward the Right to Food the CRC is engaging with in partnership with the American Friends Service Committee and Rattle the Windows. The goal is to “Seed Sparks for the Right to Food” by engaging and resourcing people whose lives have been directly impacted by hunger and are eager to build relationships at the intersection of community organizing and community food security in ways that cultivate solidarity economies that go beyond charitable food assistance logics to confront the problem of hunger in our communities. - Heaven, Kirsten, Shelby and Josh

                                  SDI team visiting New River Gorge 

Photo: Our FJ team (from left to right): Alex Winn, Shelby Davis, Heaven Smith, Alex Elhers, and Kirsten Jaquish visiting New River Gorge after Nourishing Network                                          meeting in Raleigh County