Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper

Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Environmental Studies

Department or School/College

Environmental Studies Program

Committee Chair

Neva Hassanein

Commitee Members

Dan Spencer, Peter M. Rosset


agroecology education, zapatistas, solidarity, peasant pedagogy


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Environmental Studies | Food Studies | Latin American Studies


Keller, Kate, M.S., December 2019 Environmental Studies

Walking While Asking: Lessons from Agroecology Education in Chiapas, Mexico

Committee Chairperson: Dr. Neva Hassanein

This professional paper presents an assessment of the most recent project of Schools for Chiapas (SfC), a U.S.-based solidarity organization working in collaboration with the Zapatista autonomous communities in Chiapas, Mexico. It examines the challenges and potentials of SfC’s efforts to implement food forests at 16 autonomous secondary schools. I contextualize this work within a larger conversation amongst food sovereignty activists and scholars around efforts to scale-out the use of agroecology through education. As the organization looks to continue its efforts in a similar vein, this paper analyzes potential for advancement in this area.

The Zapatistas, an insurgent movement of indigenous Mayan peasant communities, have spent the last 26 years establishing autonomous systems of governance, health, education and agroecological production. For the Zapatistas, as for rural movements throughout Latin America, agroecology plays an essential role in the cultural continuity and autonomy of rural communities, drawing on traditional local knowledge to sustain healthful food systems within the capacity of the land. Movements within the global alliance of La Via Campesina see agroecology as the tool by which they enact their demand for food sovereignty and “social relations free of oppression and inequality.” As such, efforts to extend critical theory and practices of agroecology through education are vital to strengthening their movements and defending indigenous and rural livelihoods and cultures. Scholars and activists within these movements document and analyze the pedagogical practices of these efforts.

My analysis draws on in-depth interviews with founders, staff and volunteers of Schools for Chiapas, as well as two other examples in Chiapas of efforts to “scale-out” agroecology through education. My own observations of the food forest initiative (FFI) during a 6-week internship and subsequent employment with SfC also offer personal experiences through which I interpret the execution of the FFI. This paper describes and analyses these experiences and conversations in order to glean lessons that might inform SfC’s future efforts. Though Schools for Chiapas’ relationship with Zapatista autonomy is unique, my conclusions are concurrent with themes in agroecological education in other movements.



© Copyright 2019 Katherine E. Keller