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Scientific community/Science communication

Essential lessons learned by a 5th year graduate student as she goes back to basics.

The University of Florida (UF) is a land grant university with a large cooperative extension service – which often finds itself in the middle of shifting cultural and economic trends and differences between the state’s rural and urban populations. Roger Kjelgren is director of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Mid-Florida Research and Education Center. Bridging the gap between rural and urban communities is one of his long-term public engagement goals. He wants to create interest in agriculture among the growing urban population, to help support it as an ongoing, viable industry. One way he is approaching this is through the local food movement, which is making people in urban areas “stakeholders in what they eat, how it is grown, and the impact on the environment. [Locally grown food] is a social amenity,” says Kjelgren.

The next #SciEngage discussion will take place on FRIDAY OCTOBER 11 at 12 PM EDT.

Even when very busy, community engagement never really takes a backseat for Alexis Racelis. Working with farmers along the border of Texas and Mexico, Racelis helps develop and evaluate conservation agriculture practices to improve soil health, and thus increase both crop productivity and climate change benefits (through better carbon storage). “[Community engagement is] how I was trained. I do participatory action research. And in food and water security, these are issues we have to address now,” he says. “Engagement is key. It’s not necessarily something we can just do on the side… We can’t get it done unless the farmers and other stakeholders participate.”

For communities that are seeking to make decisions that integrate community knowledge and scientific evidence, community participatory modeling can be a way forward. This method entails gathering information from people involved in an issue and using computer models to build understanding of the situation and play out a variety of scenarios. In August, Laura Schmitt Olabisi from Michigan State University, Renee Wallace of FoodPlus Detroit, and others led a three-day field school for community participatory modeling in Detroit.