La Mesa Verde

Elizabeth Hillstrom and Elise Miller were paired with La Mesa Verde (LMV), an organization that’s part of Sacred Heart Community Service. LMV provides gardening classes and supplies to underresourced communities. They also provide community gardens to neighborhoods that welcome mixed income housing. Elizabeth and Elise were tasked with re-branding LMV from a direct aid organization to an organization that facilitates and supports home grown community leaders. In addition, Elizabeth and Elise were charged with crafting documents that amplified a recent LMV win: the passing of the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone (UAIZ), which offers landowners in possession of empty lots to receive a substantial tax credit by turning their parcel(s) into a community garden.

Elizabeth and Elise created multiple documents, including but not limited to: an infograph highlighting the relationship between housing and poverty; short films that feature community leaders; an informative letter to landowners regarding UAIZ; and a timeline of the organization. Many of these documents were created in both English and Spanish. Their reflection on the course can be found in italics embedded within the documents they created.

“Working with La Mesa Verde expanded my understanding of food injustice and why it exists. The food injustice story does not exist alone, but rather is coupled with the broader context of other issues in the city, state, and beyond. It is impossible to talk about unaffordable food in San Jose without also talking about unaffordable housing. It is impossible to talk about unaffordable food in California without also talking about imbalanced farm subsidies.” – Elise Miller

“In getting to know La Mesa Verde, I found an incredibly refreshing philosophy backing the work that they do – one that agreed with my sense of food justice and effective service – and this became a strong motivator for me in working on the project to recast their narrative through the media of multimodal web materials.  It has been incredibly satisfying to work on a project with specific actionable goals in service of giving voice to little-heard perspectives on our food system.” – Elizabeth HIllstrom

Below you will find their documents created for LMV, starting with the informational handout, then the leader profile page for LMV’s new website, four leader profile videos, their final presentation to LMV, their UAIZ letter, and a compilation of all documents at the end. Each of these documents went through multiple revisions, with careful consideration paid to media, mode, audience, purpose.

Leader Profile page for LMV website:

“Rhetorically, we chose to preserve as much of the original voice of our sources as possible.  The reasons for this were a) we recognized that, as outsiders, we needed to guard against adding too much of our own academic frame to the issues and stories, and b) in seeking to create a narrative that will uniquely connect with its audience, we wanted to preserve as much of the humanity of the story as possible.  We accomplished this by including original, recorded audio clips and video interviews in our web materials, and by providing every source in the speaker’s native language, with translation for speakers of the other language.  I believe this was a hugely effective strategy, as it made the story substantially more compelling and empathetically relatable.” – Elizabeth Hillstrom

“My schema of what it means to be a community leader, the causes of food injustice, project planning, and responsibility as a team member have each grown through this project. It was inspiring to meet community leaders who had just recently become involved in food justice. My implicit assumption of a community leader was someone who joined an organization, participated for many years while gradually taking on more responsibilities, and eventually became one of the official or recognized leaders. It was a new idea for me that someone who had only been gardening for one or two years could quickly come to have such a large footprint. I realize that leaders are not only the staff of an organization, but also passionate members who extend the mission of the organization in their own spheres.” – Elise MIller

“Ultimately, I think the element that made this project most exciting for me and compelling for the audience was the praxis that our interviewees brought to the table.  They demonstrated incredible wisdom and consciousness of both the nature of food production and the systemic issues that are rampant, and time and time again expressed very focused and powerful thoughts on how to change our food system for the better.  What makes this knowledge unique, however, is that our interviewees are also culturally situated in positions that society typically ignores or writes off as uninformed.  This cultural positioning makes them better able to connect with other potential new members of LMV in similar situations, but also in a useful position to incite cognitive dissonance for an audience not expecting wisdom, strength, and surety from them.” – Elizabeth HIllstrom

“I also learned that activism has many faces. Activism is not limited to high-profile, high-turnout resistances – it can also happen every day in our own backyards, powered by our passion for growth, creativity, healing, and justice.  It can happen through storytelling or being a facilitator for someone else to tell their great story.” – Elise MIller

“Because many of our interviewees are older, disabled, women, minorities, or of small economic means, all groups which mainstream American culture tends to alternately discriminate against or pity, we were able to leverage the editorial choices we made in order to enhance this cognitive dissonance for our audience.  By framing the videos in the same way that a video of a Stanford professor might be (multiple camera angles, shot from slightly below eye level), we added gravitas where the viewer is not expecting it.  By forcing English speakers to read a translation, rather than asking that of Spanish speakers as is typical in the United States, we gave our Spanish-speaking interviewee a position of greater power.  Finally, by asking our viewers to discuss not only their story and situation, but also their philosophy on food justice and leadership, we cast them as thinkers with ideas worth listening to.” – Elizabeth Hillstrom

Final presentation to community partner:


“The UAIZ letter was an especially difficult task – we had so many layers of authorship to consider, as well as tone, effect, and readership. We were Stanford students trying not to write as Stanford students, but rather as the City of San Jose. All of this was to be written from the perspective of the values and mission of La Mesa Verde. We struggled to not come off as a gimmick…[w]e also wanted to make our message clear in the first sentence to intrigue landowners, and really explain both the benefits and the next steps to applying, including potential partners who could help them with installation. We felt that by doing these things, we would maximize the probability that the letter recipient would follow up on creating a UAIZ.” – Elise MIller

UAIZ letter for landowners


Final compilation of documents

“This quarter I began to learn to access praxis, to treat my writing not as belonging in a box of the “technical” sort or the “professional” sort, but instead as of the sort that responds to a task by creating community (Miller 69). The community of gardener-citizen-activists in LMV and the community of the readership remained the forefront of this project, defined it, sculpted it. I didn’t see our written materials as simply a professional document package, a filled fast food customer order with a receipt of each of the ingredients cooked up predictably and impersonally. Instead, I thought of the give and take we had had with each of the gardeners we had gotten to know. Our four leaders. Our UAIZ activists. Our staff partners.” -Elise Miller



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