Ecological Learning Collaboratory

Group in field with farmer and sheep
Collaboratory participants from Canada, India, Japan, Malawi, Tanzania, and the United States meet with farmer Steve Gabriel at Wellspring Forest Farm outside Ithaca. Photo by Jonathan Miller. 

ELC in Cornell Chronicle

"'Collaboratory shares ideas on food, healing, justice" includes photos from the kickoff meeting in Ithaca as well as quotes from several participants.

The Ecological Learning Collaboratory (ELC) explores the learning, dissemination, and innovation of ecological strategies in the development of just and sustainable food and healing systems rooted in place.

The ELC formed as three Cornell faculty, from diverse disciplines and deeply committed to different places, recognized that their long-term partners in India, Malawi, and Tanzania

  1. share many concerns, such as sustainability of vital, resilient communities, toxicity of food and medicines, control over means of production, and fair relations in value creation; 
  2. are drawn to some of the same environmental efforts, such as Slow Food International, permaculture, recycling, and ecological water management; and
  3. are invigorated by learning how others are incorporating ecological solutions into their work.

Rachel Bezner Kerr with Malawi collaborators
Rachel Bezner Kerr (right) with Lizzie Shumba and Esther Lupafya from Soils, Food and Healthy Communities. Photo by Carmen Bezner Kerr.

The collective plans to grow through a series of workshops with experienced practioners at innovative organizations in each of the partner countries (India, Malawi, and Tanzania). This initiative is also part of an emerging collaboration on issues of food and healing justice with Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, and the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy.

Food and healing justice are transnational issues that demand collective assessment and action. The ELC starts from the fact that both ecologies and knowledges have been remade through colonialism, nationalism, industrialization, and international development. The work takes the making of space and place through these over time – and the labors of humans and plants in these processes – as a critical site of exploration. It does not seek to develop another discrete model of development, but rather to establish the kinds of relationships that open up place making as the site of inquiry.

Presentation at Nilgiris Field Learning Center
CU students and faculty share observations at the Nilgiris Field Learning Center. Photo by Neema Kudva.

The initiative is supported by a special gift from San Giacomo Foundation through the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, as well as by Cornell's South Asia Program, Institute for the Social Sciences, and Office of Engagement Initiatives.

Lead Cornell faculty

Neema Kudva (City and Regional Planning), Rachel Bezner Kerr (Development Sociology), Stacey Langwick (Anthropology)

International partners


Woman and man in garden
Helen Nguya, founder of TRMEGA, advises a member who is establishing a community garden of therapeutic foods and herbal medicines. Photo by Stacey Langwick.



  • Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center
  • Training, Research, Monitoring and Evaluation on Gender and AIDS (TRMEGA)
  • Women Development for Science and Technology (WODSTA)
  • Dorkia Enterprises

Future plans

The Ecological Learning Collaboratory launched with a meeting at Cornell's Ithaca campus from May 29–June 2, 2018. Follow-up exchanges are being planned in India, Malawi, and Tanzania. Watch this space for details.