Jess Jones holding the carved-wood Kroon Cup trophy

Finding the Roots of Transformative Justice

From a young age, Kroon Cup winner Jess Jones realized that sustainable land stewardship could help heal what ails the environment and humanity. 

When she wasn’t in class, or working in Yale Forests, you could find Jess Jones ’23 MEM at Kroon Courtyard — in the garden.

Jones spent countless hours there planting, weeding, and taking care of vegetables and flowers as Kroon Forest Garden Steward. She also organized workshops, guided tours, bird walks, teas, and even a mushroom inoculation event.

Her contributions to the YSE community earned her this year’s Kroon Cup, which is presented annually to individuals and groups who embody stewardship and implement projects that engage and inspire the YSE community. The winner is voted on by students, staff, and faculty.

Jess Jones and others digging in the dirt
Jess Jones working in Kroon garden.

“Jess brought such authenticity to the role of Forest Garden Steward. Her willingness to take on challenges, think systematically, and involve the community made her a big success. Jess worked hard to make the garden a place that was welcoming to everyone, and the community responded by utilizing it as a gathering place, especially as we emerged from more restrictive pandemic conditions. We will be benefiting from her planting efforts for years to come and are so grateful for her contributions,” says Sara Smiley Smith, associate dean of academic affairs, research, and sustainability at YSE.

Jones’ interest in the environment has deep roots; she grew up near a protected section of the Chattahoochee River in Georgia. She says her time spent at the river gave her a sense of responsibility to protect nature.

“I really felt at peace and calm in this space. I felt like I could play and explore all the time. Sometimes I’d surprise my family because I’d feel very comfortable and safe in the woods, something that hasn’t always been afforded to Black Americans,” Jones says.

As an undergraduate, Jones studied anthropology and environmental science at Georgia State University and began to focus on farming, ecology, and community conservation. She volunteered at the Truly Living Well Center for Urban Agriculture in Atlanta, Georgia and worked as a farm and horticultural apprentice at the Wylde Center, which provides one of the largest youth environmental and science education programs in metro-Atlanta. She studied in several Latin American countries, including Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Peru, and then integrated these experiences into her work as a salesperson and project consultant at Xocolatl Small Batch Chocolate in Atlanta, promoting agroforestry and other sustainable practices. She also was a garden intern at the Escuela De Cerro Plano in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

“I had the chance to meet different farmers and see how they were working with the land. I learned a lot more about the struggle of the Q'eqchí Mayan Indigenous people in Guatemala and saw the eco-social impacts of colonialism and lack of land tenure. I was able to make a connection between things that I saw happening there and experiences that I've seen and been a part of in Atlanta,” Jones says.

At YSE, her focus has been on integrating transformative justice models into community conservation. There is a fundamental connection, she says, between our health and the health of the environment.

“When I think of a community conservation that is informed by transformative justice, what I imagine — and what I've sought to learn about and better understand here — is the ways in which people's collective health and community ties are connected with the functioning of the environment and the general health of an ecosystem, particularly the ways in which people can heal as the environment heals,” Jones says.

Relationship with the landscapes we live on is crucial to developing our land ethics and solving the climate crises. We are lucky that Jess helped so many form relationships with the local  landscape of YSE during their time here.”

Marlyse Duguid Thomas J. Siccama Senior Lecturer in Field Ecology

While working at Kroon, Jones planted tomatoes, watermelon, blueberries, wild ginger, Jerusalem artichokes and Nasturtium, an edible flower.

“I just had so much fun in the garden. It’s been a really cool way to bring people together through different events. It’s a very peaceful space,” she added.

One of her favorite events was a workshop she hosted on mushrooms, which included cutting oak trees into logs, drilling holes in them, and then injecting the logs with shiitake mushroom spawn to harvest the grown mushrooms later to eat.

“They are super delicious,” she says.

Since graduating in May, Jones has been working as a community forestry intern at YSE’s Urban Resources Initiative, helping communities in New Haven establish green spaces.

Satellite image of the New Haven area

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“Jess is one of the most thoughtful students I have worked with. Her enthusiasm and curiosity are inspiring, and she has so many interests and passions. Her devotion to both building community and land stewardship is evident and she was able to bring together these values in the Kroon Forest Garden,” says Marlyse Duguid, Thomas J. Siccama Senior Lecturer in Field Ecology and director of research at Yale Forests. “Relationship with the landscapes we live on is crucial to developing our land ethics and solving the climate crises. We are lucky that Jess helped so many form relationships with the local landscape of YSE during their time here.”

When her internship ends, she plans to move to Brazil to work on and learn more about community conservation there.

“I see myself in the next three to five years spending an extended period of time in different parts of the world. Eventually, I would love to settle down somewhere and organize around my own community, putting into practice different things I've learned about food production and conservation,” Jones says.

Jones was one of several graduating students who were honored with awards at YSE’s May 22 commencement ceremonies. Neeti Jian ’23 MESc received the Donnelley Award; Daivie Ghosh ’23 MESc and Sophie Morin ’23 MEM received the Learning Community Award; Zachary Herring ’23 MESc received the Geballe Award; Maria Jiang ’23 MEM was awarded New Haven Champion; Jayson Velazquez ’23 MESc was named Equity Champion; Vivian Hawkinson ’23 MESc earned the Above and Beyond Award and Wyatt Klipa ’23 MEM received the Unsung Heroes Award.

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