USDA grant funds initiative to build edible landscape on campus, grow food studies research

November 7, 2023
The Milpa Agricultural Placemaking Project at the University of North Texas
Photo of an okra plant in the UNT Community Garden
An okra plant blooms in the UNT Community Garden.


  • Michael Wise, principal investigator and associate professor in the UNT Department of History

  • Sandra Mendiola Garcia, co-PI and associate professor in the UNT Department of History

  • Nathan Hutson, co-PI and assistant professor in the UNT Department of Public Administration

Sponsor: Hispanic-Serving Institutions Education Grants Program through the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture

Award Total: $400,000 over four years

About the Research: UNT food studies faculty and students across disciplines are collaborating on The Milpa Agricultural Placemaking Project (MAPP), funded as part of the USDA’s efforts to foster career development for future food and agricultural professionals. For the project, faculty will draw upon their research expertise to design and create an edible landscape on the UNT campus that supports new project-based and experiential learning opportunities for students in food studies and allied fields.

The project will include developing a multilingual oral history archive on food and agriculture in North Texas and a new UNT seed library, which will produce and distribute free vegetable plant seedlings to the public. Faculty and students also will turn underutilized green spaces on campus into micro gardens, growing historically relevant food crops to the North Texas area following the ancient Mesoamerican concept called milpa. Project collaborators will lead a four-year public planning process to identify campus sites for use as formal and informal agricultural spaces.

Designed to be student-led, these activities are supported by 16 undergraduate food studies scholarships as well as a four-year doctoral research assistantship funded by the USDA. Additional project collaborators include the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in Denton County, the Shiloh Field Community Garden in Denton and the Texas A&M AgriLife Dallas Urban Agriculture Lab.

Impact Goal: “From ancient history through the present, there have been many alternative forms of agriculture that communities have used that don’t require mono-cropping of a cleared field,” Wise says. “Using the milpa system on campus will serve as a bedrock for understanding different ways of seeing our landscape as well as fuel inquiry about the intersection of food, identity, community and environment.”

Read more about UNT food studies research across disciplines.