Urban agriculture gets schooled

MES in the Community, Katera Moore

One Penn alumna tackles food justice with urban farming

“The environment is the gateway to full civic participation,” shares Katera Moore (Master of Environmental Studies ’06), “Studying at Penn allowed me to merge my passion for cities, the environment and people.”

While earning her Master of Environmental Studies (MES) degree, Katera focused her research on environmental education, city planning and using neighborhoods as learning laboratories. Today, she is the Director of the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative (AUNI) at the Netter Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania. The organization’s operations range from teaching young people about hydration and healthy cooking to growing indoor hydroponic gardens and tasting fresh produce. Recently, AUNI purchased 9,000 water bottles for Philadelphia school students and began implementing “brain boosts” (stretching exercise and smoothies) during standardized testing.

According to Katera, “We are looking to change the food landscape in the neighborhoods we service. Everything we teach is hands-on, and that empowers our kids to own their work.” Students in the after-school programs join specialized learning groups—gardening crews and cooking crews. Once they’ve mastered the lessons, the students go on to teach their skills to K-8 students, peers and seniors at local community centers and care facilities.

Katera’s big picture goal for the schoolyard and indoor gardens is to become “food hubs” for the communities they service. Several years ago, the Sayre school garden project was so successful that the students were able to start a CSA and provide “Good Food Bags”—filled with fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs—to patients from the Sayre Health Center.  AUNI is launching a new school garden with the aim of bringing Good Food Bags to another West Philadelphia community.

mes community

With the resources of an anchor institution like Penn and support from SNAP-ed and other foundation grants, Katera and her team want to bring urban agriculture to a higher profile. “Our students aren’t just learning to grow vegetables; they’re also becoming entrepreneurs and learning about the business side of food production.”

An eternal student herself, Katera’s career with young people and communities is an extension of her scholarly pursuits. She has a PhD in Earth and Environmental Studies from the Graduate Center, City University of New York, which she earned as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. Of all of Katera’s many academic experiences, her time as a student in the Master of Environmental Studies program was for her, “the most fulfilling and nurturing.”

As Penn alumna, Katera finds that “the doors are always open with the MES team. I encourage anyone joining this program to seize all that is Penn and make the most of being part of a vibrant intellectual community.”