Environmental Justice Learning and Action Project

Intergenerational Weekend 2014, Chicago: Group discussion on social justice issues related to health, 2014 Encampers and EFC alums.

The EFC’s Environmental Justice Learning and Action Project (EJLAP) focuses on ways young people can learn about environmental justice, not only through focused workshops and research but by participating directly in community events to address social justice issues.

In 2019, the Ventura County Pesticide-Free Soil Project (PFSP) evolved from a collaboration with EFC alums, local schools and community-based organizations shining a light on the issue of pesticide-use at school sites and its impact on people in the surrounding neighborhoods. Based on the PFSP’s successes, we are focusing on building leadership among youth in Ventura County, including some from farmworker families, to address pesticide use and other issues, using the six-month action plan program to support their efforts.

A core of local EFC alums plus 2020 Encampers are engaged in more training and organizing experience in conjunction with our organizational partners: Pesticide Action Network (PAN), Californians for Pesticide Reform, the Abundant Table, El Rio School District, Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), the Public Health Institute, and the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE).

PFSP’s “Compost Tea Parties” started the process of creating the first – and second – pesticide-free schools on the Oxnard Plain, which immediately helped improve soil and air quality for the surrounding community. That area has one of the highest pollution levels in the state, due to pesticide use. Several off-shoots, including an online nature-based climate solutions curriculum project and the “Heal the Earth” initiative, launched by third graders, are also the result of the PFSP initiative.


The Compost Tea Parties led to a broad-based coalition of the El Rio School District, teachers, parents, students and local community organizations that are now engaged in addressing the issues of pesticides, carbon sequestration and health conditions of farm workers.

Our Year-round Pesticide-Free Soil Project Responds to COVID-19

Due to COVID-19, the EFC pivoted to make the summer intensive virtual and activities in Ventura County safe for the young people and the other community members.

Under the leadership of Florencia Ramirez, our Environmental Justice Learning and Action Project (EJLAP) director, the Pesticide-Free Soil Project (PFSP) continued during the spring and summer of 2020. PFSP responded particularly to COVID-19 by working with projects and initiatives addressing food insecurity, pesticides, farmworker health and policy work on the use of pesticides in Ventura County and throughout the state of California.

For instance, two EFC alums have been volunteering with Adam Vega of Californians for Pesticide Reform, and he includes them in local trainings and conferences aimed at pesticide reduction and working for farmworker health. They have also taken part in developing and implementing a survey in the form of informal focus groups with farmworkers conducted by Achieving Resilient Communities (ARC)–Ventura County, a project of the Public Health Institute.

We have set up a year-round internship program with a stipend for recent Encampers to work on this project. We are working with 2020 Encampers and recent EFC alums from Ventura County to provide them with hands-on experience in organizing, engaging other youth, and deepening and expanding their leadership skills. These young people are often working two to three jobs, in addition to attending high school or college, and COVID-19 means layoffs for even those low-paying positions. Being able to offer stipends ensures that the young people have the support to work on the issues that affect their lives.

This fall/winter, with new PFSP Internship director Juna Rosales Muller facilitating the intern training, the interns are:

  • Training in regenerative agriculture and organic farming at the Abundant Table. Specifics include carrying out farm-based activities, such as working with plants, produce, tools, soil, seeds and irrigation; participating in training sessions onsite, such as lectures, demonstrations and workshops; and interacting with Abundant Table members and partner organizations, such as the Rodale Institute (socially distant, outdoors, masks on
  • Planning to start a sustainable garden at Rio Real Elementary School, in a community with many farmworker families, as part of a school district-led process.

  • As part of these projects, photographing, documenting and interviewing people for use in developing and executing a ONE HEALTH social media environmental justice campaign with the two farms as the setting, and using that material as a springboard to discuss concepts such as climate change, carbon sequestration, soil health, human health, farmworker health, pesticide use and water scarcity, as well as illuminating a path forward.

  • Developing curriculum- and action-based activities using the videos from the pumpkin patch and larger farm to bring the content into virtual classrooms.

  • Collaborating with educators through El Rio School District and Upstream Schools to bring this content to classroom settings.

  • Organizing young people at their respective schools and/or community organizations.

Yesenia video

Click to watch interview in Instagram.

Yesenia, one of our Pesticide-Free Soil Project interns, explains why she cares about pesticide-free soil in this Instagram post. She’s coming to you from the Rodale Institute no-till pumpkin patch at the Abundant Table in Camarillo, CA.

EFC’s Pesticide-Free Soil Project intern Moncerrat (with Sarahi) tells us about what they are observing in one pumpkin, part of a larger experiment in regenerative agriculture at the Abundant Table, an organic farm in Camarillo.

Lilia speaks about the connection between soil health, individual health, and community health.  Lilia participated in the 2020 EFC virtual summer program and now is an intern with PFSP.

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Yesenia

“It’s been great to be able to get hands-on experience and meet with the other interns. It’s also been great to be able to talk with the members of the farm and hear the stories about what they’ve been doing on the farm.” — Yesenia G., 2020 EFC alum and PFSP intern

Lilia

“Both the Encampment program and working at the farm have been such unique experiences. Not only have these programs inspired me to be better for my community but they have shown me ways that I can. Through Zoom and hands-on learning, they give me tools that I didn’t realize I needed, to make an impact larger than myself.” — Lilia, 2020 Encamper and PFSP intern

Moncerrat

“Being able to be outside and connect with nature has been a fun and amazing thing to be able to do especially during current circumstances. Typically during the week, I am inside, so the Abundant Table farm has given me the opportunity to spend time outside and learn new things along the way.” — Moncerrat H., 2020 EFC alum and PFSP intern

Sarahi

“During the first month, I learned about different food systems and regenerative agriculture, as well as the negative health and environmental impacts of conventional farming as opposed to organic farming. I’ve learned a lot about the negative impact that COVID-19 has made on farmworker communities and the health inequities that these communities have to endure.” — Sarahi N. 2019 EFC alum and 2019-20 PFSP intern

Leti Gutierrez

“The interns helped shape the survey indicators, basically the topics being discussed, with the ARC interns, as well as shape the first drafts of the survey that was distributed to farmworkers. The focus group featured farmworkers who can provide a first-hand account of their experience and needs, as well as community advocacy organizations that may understand workers’ rights in different policies.”— Leti Gutierrez, 2019 EFC alum and 2019-20 PFSP intern

Adriana

“It’s been really fun helping students learn why they are doing the compost tea around plants and on the grass at their school … we are planting seeds with the kids for the future generations,” – Adriana Diaz, 2019 EFC alum and PFSP intern

Juna Rosales Muller

"The Pesticide-Free Soil Project interns are an inspired, committed and powerful group of young people who are making change in their own communities while learning about the connections between human health, ecology and justice. As we face the real-time impacts of climate crisis in California, they are leading the way in being part of timely and hopeful solutions that center communities on the frontlines."— Juna Rosales Muller, PFSP Internship Director