By Merrill Eisenberg
University of Arizona
It’s been a busy summer for the SfAA, and I’d like to let the membership know what’s been happening in your Society:
SfAA is a participatory organization, with many opportunities for members to engage in the workings of the Society through participation in committee work. You name it, and it seems that we have a committee for it!
We currently have 10 awards committees, including Mead, Malinowski, Medicine, PK New, Sol Tax, Del Jones, Hackenberg, Spicer, Valene Smith, and the newly convened Gil Kushner Award Committee (see p. 26 in this issue for detailed information). In addition, we have committees that are responsible for SfAA business, including Executive, Finance, Publications, Nominations and Elections, Students, Information Technology, and Friends of SfAA. We also have committees that focus on particular topics or projects, including Oral History, Human Rights and Social Justice, Public Policy, and the Annual Program Committee.
The only Committee that is elected by the membership is the Nominations and Election Committee. All other committees are appointed by the Board and carry out the Board’s directives. Of course, the Board has an open ear to ideas coming from the Committees and also encourages all members to provide advice and ideas.
This Spring all Board Committee assignments were reviewed, vacancies were filled and terms were clarified so that all committee terms are staggered. This took a great deal of work on the part of the Committee Chairs and the Board. Thanks to all who helped make this happen!
If you have an interest in serving on a particular committee, please don’t hesitate to let me know. We are always looking to broaden participation, and now that committee assignments are staggered, there will be new people appointed to each committee every year. If you would like to nominate someone to serve as the next Board President, as a Board member, or as a member of the Nominations and Elections Committee, now is the time to do so. See p.25 in this issue for more information.
Website and IT Planning
We have been very fortunate that Neil Hann, a trusty and committed SfAA staff member, has created and maintains our website and set up our social networking capability. But with new technologies and changing needs, it is time to take stock of where we are and how we can best use information technology and social networking to serve both our membership and our Society. This task will require us to do some serious thinking about strategic direction for the Society because we want to develop our electronic resources to support our growth and development. Personally, I would like to see SfAA support a website that provides resources for practitioners who are not university affiliated, including links to webinars, training materials, research resources, and documents. Conversation is beginning on this topic, and it will be an important focus during the Board’s fall meeting. If you have ideas or suggestions, please let me or any other Board member know.
PMA Contract Renewal
SfAA contracts with Tom May’s organization, PMA, to provide administrative services to the Society. For many of you, the PMA staff, Tom, Neil, Melissa, and Trish, are familiar because they are always available at our annual meetings to assist with registration and other organizational activities that make our meetings run smoothly. Many more of you know the tremendous work they do behind the scenes to keep SfAA going. Our contract will expire this summer, so we are in the process of evaluating PMA’s performance and re-negotiating our contract with them. I have asked Past President Allan Burns to spearhead this process and anticipate that it will be completed, with a recommendation to the Board for the Fall Board meeting.
I don’t want to say too much about activities related to planning our upcoming meeting in Baltimore because Bill Roberts, our Program Chair, has provided a detailed account (see p. 20 of this issue). I do want to encourage you to submit an abstract and attend this meeting, which promises to be one of the best. Bill and his committee are planning several activities in keeping with my pledge to preside of a “Reign of Music and Dance,” in conjunction with a strong program showcasing the work of applied social scientists around the world.
And on a personal note
I don’t think I’m alone in anticipating summer as a respite from the hectic months of the other seasons, and being dismayed when it turns out that summer means ramping up instead of down!
This summer I’ve been engaged in some rather traditional anthropological work, though in a completely non-traditional setting. I’ve been working on translating and interpreting an important cultural code that drives how a community environment is structured, and therefore, how people live, their access to food, and their daily activity patterns, all of which are closely related to population health. I’ve become somewhat of a participant-observer/insider in what could reasonably be referred to as a secret society of urban planners and zoning officials. These folks are the developers and enforcers of zoning codes and municipal ordinances that create the boundaries of acceptable community development, but that are written in an obscure language and format of their own. Another aspect of my work is to serve as a culture broker, creating some transparency so that everyday folk can access the rules in everyday English or Spanish, through the development of a series of fact sheets. All of this is being done as part of a large implementation project, funded with stimulus money from the CDC, to address obesity prevention by stimulating policy, environment, and systems change. The Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant has made me an expert on chicken and ratite laws (among other things)!
I share this experience with you—and hope to be presenting on these activities in Baltimore—because this work has demonstrated the tremendous opportunity for applied social scientists to change the rules that govern how we live, to create new social norms that promote health, and to legitimize existing cultural practices that are technically not sanctioned (like keeping chickens!). Although I have worked in many public policy environments in the past, this experience, which involves six different governmental jurisdictions, has been the most immediately fruitful and has a great potential for promoting a healthy community.
Zoning codes and municipal ordinances are not generally constructed around the concept of food security, although many of the provisions are directly related to food production issues. For example, while growing a vegetable garden is a permitted use in residential zones, selling food grown in the garden is not, because “farm stands” are only permitted in rural areas. So, while it is permissible to sell your old junk in a yard sale on your front lawn, you may not sell a carrot that you grew. There are many examples of how the rules create barriers to community agriculture and the availability of affordable fresh fruits and vegetables at the community level.
After laying out these rules in fact sheets for each jurisdiction (“Now That I Grew It, What Can I Do With it?” and “The Birds, The Bees and The Beasts”), we have found that zoning officials and planners are first of all very appreciative of the resource we can provide them to help community members understand the rules, and also very open to changing the rules to accommodate our concerns about food availability.
Many US communities are currently conducting zoning code reviews to update their codes to address issues of sustainability. As a result of creating fact sheets for the City of Tucson, we were invited to provide input to the City’s national sustainable zoning code consultant regarding urban food production, and our issues were all included in the consultant’s recommendations. The Planning Department then identified zoning code changes that could be done immediately, those that require more research, and those that should be tabled. All of our recommendations were categorized as either ready for action or needing more research. Recommendations that are ready for action will be proposed to Mayor and Council this fall, but those requiring research won’t be ready to go before our grant ends in March 2012. However, we have been asked to conduct the research needed to place the second batch of food-related changes on the agenda for the fall. Hence, I am currently becoming an expert in chicken laws!
I know that just coming off the national the debt ceiling debate and other national and international problems that are in the news, this may seem like a very minor accomplishment. However, it is one that will directly impact the communities in Pima County, Arizona, and in conjunction with other policy, environment and systems changes that are occurring under our grant, it is work that will make it easier for people to choose a healthy lifestyle, changing how we live and improving population health. Applied social science is at work in southern Arizona!