The Ecotonal Nature of Community Food Work: A Case Study of Trauma-Informed Care and Agential Change Space

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Virginia Tech


Communities of color in particular have experienced a traumatic history of structural violence, interpersonal racism, segregation, and oppression. The unjust history of structural violence and the deleterious treatment of people and cultures in the U.S., that in part stems from neoliberal policies and rationality, continues to plague communities and people within the food system. Many people and communities are working to actualize the social-ethical ideal of a non-violent 'beloved community' to counter this unjust history and expand the boundaries of what is possible for individuals and society. Historical and systemic injustices ramify the adverse experiences and trauma affecting vulnerable people's lives. The effects and pervasiveness of individual and collective trauma at a global scale has highlighted a serious need for broader-scale awareness and adoption of a trauma-informed care approach by community food work organizations, practitioners, and social change leaders. A trauma-informed care approach was developed as a health care framework based on the importance of adverse childhood events to poor distal health and mental health outcomes. Without a deeper understanding of how extensive the collective impact of such trauma and injustice is on people and the food system; community food work researchers and practitioners may reify uninformed responses that result in continued trauma and injustice. However, there are few examples of community food work organizations using a trauma-informed care approach as an organizational change process to promote community transformation and resilience. This research examined and specifically analyzed how a community food work organization that is engaged in mutual aid and social-ecological activism embodies trauma-informed care; engenders an agential change space; and grapples with the aspirations and tensions of being an organization seeking to ameliorate the effects of anthropogenic trauma and expand the boundaries of what is possible individually and collectively. A narrative inquiry methodology was used to critically explore and study the perceptions and thoughts of 17 study participants of how a trauma-informed approach to care is embodied and agential change space provided as mutual aid and community food work. The seventeen study participants' narratives were coded and analyzed using the Principles of a Trauma-Informed Care Framework defined by SAMHSA (2014), Bowen and Murshid (2016), and Hecht et al (2018). The narrative inquiry of seventeen narratives demonstrated that an integrated trauma-informed care approach as an organizational change process is essential to the formation of agential change space and has wide-reaching applicability to mutual aid efforts and community food work pedagogy and praxis, especially as organizations and practitioners confront ongoing systemic trauma and injustices that have resulted from structural violence and continue to persist due to the dominant hegemonic neoliberal framing that exists in relation to race, gender, and socioeconomic class.



community food work, agency, ecotone, trauma-informed care, ontological politics