On The Path to Sustainability
Eco-Farm Conference: SNC students seek sustainable agriculture education outside the classroom
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The ocean breeze was briny, the sun slipping into the horizon, and a group of small snowy plovers dashed in and out of the waves poking their beaks into the sand in search for a meal. It’s an idyllic scene that belies a struggle for survival this species has waged for at least a generation as a victim of disappearing habitat.
In 1993, the snowy plover, a small shore bird found in North and South America, Eurasia and Africa, was listed as threatened for extinction. During a field trip on Jan. 25-28 to the Ecological Farming Association (Eco-Farm) Conference in Pacific Grove, Calif., Nick Babin, professor of sustainability at Sierra Nevada College, shared the story of the snowy plover and the human impact on wildlife and the environment.
“It’s a cool story of how we can learn from our actions and our mistaken actions, and take some directive measures that really aren’t that drastic,” Babin said. Since the listing, efforts have been made to preserve snowy plover breeding and nesting grounds, and the birds have been able to make a comeback. “We can have a huge impact on other species, just by understanding them a little better.”
Nine SNC students studying sustainability, journalism, and environmental policy attended workshops at the conference to learn from successful and aspiring organic farmers, ranchers, activists, entrepreneurs, students, non-profit organizations and presenters.
“What’s really neat about Eco-Farm is it’s a conference, but it’s really kind of an incubator for the sustainable agriculture social movement,” Babin said. Eco-Farm is in its 37th year. “I thought it would be really neat to get students to go experience this community of people.”
“Eco-Farm was definitely a reassuring experience of the hope that is currently present in our food systems, said Junior Celine Holland, “I met many great organizers and farmers with the most valuable knowledge, sources, and energy for the future that we desperately need to maintain.”
“I only plan to grow more confidence in this sort of authentic education for the sake of our lands and societies as we enter this intimidating new era.”
Senior Chris Budicin attended mycologist (the study of fungi) Paul Stamet’s lecture “Mycodiversity is BioSecurity: Mushroom Mycelium and the Worldwide Food Web,” where Stamets talked about new research suggesting the value of mushrooms to health and the environment.
Budicin learned mushrooms can take over and remove different toxins from soil, break down organic compounds in order to create soil, and even cure cancer.
“The ecological methods of growing food sustainably interest me, and one of the most sustainable foods is mushrooms,” Budicin said. “So seeing that there was going to be a mycologist there giving a talk who has a reputable career interested me. His work spans across all spectrums of mushrooms, not only edible mushrooms, but how they can benefit different parts of the environment and the spiritual self.”
The conference had a personal connection for Junior Kela Killam, who enjoyed two presentations led by indigenous people. They spoke about the honor within the food that they eat and grow, and their self-determination to restore their culture and the restoration of their seeds. “To watch the process of what they’re doing was the biggest highlight of the conference; to see indigenous people out there doing work and making sure that their culture is still alive for the next generations,” she said.
Within the field of sustainability, Killam focuses her studies on social justice issues and indigenous rights.
“I notice that there’s a connection with indigenous people especially with the land and with agriculture,” she said. “Being an indigenous person I understand how challenging it is to live the way you want to live in a capitalistic world where you’re getting pushed to do and to be something else. It’s just so important for me to keep culture alive and to see indigenous people working towards it.”
During the trip Babin brought students north, to the farm and garden at the University of California, Santa Cruz, to visit one of the first experimental organic farms in the country. UCSC is home to the first organic horticulture apprenticeship program in the country.
“Hopefully it inspires agro-ecology on our campus,” Babin said. “The main reason I wanted students to come was for the inspiration. Leaving campus and visiting a place where there’s a bunch of people in a particular pursuit, or passion, or academic field, all kind of bringing their own world to it and creating a moment and space to get inspired…hopefully to go back home and do something with it.”