Longtime community food systems and social justice activist Jeanette Abi-Nader will join Virginia Tech associate professor of agriculture, leadership, and community education Kim Niewolny for two Community Voices events on Feb. 22.

Abi-Nader, the executive director of the City Schoolyard Garden project, will discuss community building, food security, and inclusivity with Niewolny, whose scholarship centers on the roles of power in community education, with a focus on social justice and food systems.

They will participate in an interactive roundtable discussion at noon on Feb. 22 in Room B of the Graduate Life Center at Donaldson-Brown, 155 Otey St. A light lunch is available for $5, or attendees may bring their own.

At 7 p.m., Abi-Nader and Niewolny will present “Exploring Whole Measures in Community Food Systems” in Room F of the Graduate Life Center.

Both events are free and open to university students, faculty, staff, and administrators, and to the general public.

Abi-Nader has worked with the national food justice nonprofit, the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC), which co-founded the National Farm to School Network and was instrumental in passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. As CFSC’s evaluation and training and capacity building director, she used a variety of learning strategies to support the work of hundreds of organizations and funders.

She wrote publications on strategic evaluation design, including Whole Measures for Community Food Systems, Community Food Project Indicators of Success, and Growing Communities Curriculum.  She is the former board treasurer for the American Community Gardening Association, vice president of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Board of Directors, and a founding member of the Growing Food and Justice for All initiative (GFJI), a national network focused on dismantling racism in the food system.

Abi-Nader is an experienced farmer and holds a master’s degree in sustainable systems/agroecology and is a certified permaculture designer and instructor.

Niewolny’s work is grounded in asset-based community development, critical pedagogy, action research, and narrative inquiry. Her current research emphasizes the political praxis of community food work, Appalachian community food security, new farmer sustainability, and farmworker care/dignity. She launched the Stories of Community Food Work in Appalachia project to create and share stories that illustrate the experiences of activists, educators, farmers, and practitioners who are connected to the broader issues of food system change in the Appalachian region. 

Community Voices is an interdisciplinary group of Virginia Tech graduate students and faculty, as well as citizens interested in exploring innovative approaches to community building and engagement. The program, an initiative of the School of Public and International Affairs' Institute for Policy and Governance, organizes a series of public talks and roundtable discussions by leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors who share their insights into and experiences helping communities shape their futures.

Graduate students also interview the speakers for Trustees Without Borders, a podcast produced by Institute Senior Fellow Andy Morikawa. The public presentations and interview recordings are archived on the Community Voices website.

If you are interested in purchasing lunch ($5) for the noon Feb. 22 roundtable, please RSVP to Regina Naff by noon on Feb. 17 by email at regina50@vt.edu or phone at (540) 231-6775.

For more information, interview requests, or if you need accommodations for the public presentation, please contact Morikawa at andymorikawa@vt.edu or (540) 230-1492.

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