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Tag Archives: agriculture
Back in 2005, as Emory University embraced sustainability as part of a new strategic plan, it was the physicians on the visioning committee who insisted on including food as a priority. Recognizing that environmental, economic, health, and social justice concerns intertwined with food, the committee encouraged local sourcing of vegetables, fruits, dairy, and poultry from farms with sustainable certifications. Imported items (bananas, coffee, tea) could contribute to campus goals by embracing products with Fair Trade or organic certification.
Once a booming agricultural and factory town, Muncie, Indiana, is today a post-industrial rustbelt city grappling with questions about its economic and environmental futures. As heavy industries left town, Muncie’s economy has flagged, leaving some 24% of its residents at or below the poverty line. To make matters worse, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined in 2007 that one-third of the city’s former industrial sites were brownfields that posed risks to human health and safety. In spite of these challenges, Muncie residents are transforming and revitalizing their city. In particular, they have shown renewed and growing interest in sustainably produced foods as a boon to overall health, safety and environmental restoration. Innovative partnerships have enabled Ball State University (BSU) professors and students to directly contribute to these community efforts. Inspired by Robert and Helen Merrell Lynd’s pioneering community study, Middletown, BSU professors and students are expanding this tradition of conducting engaged, local research to benefit the region. The result has been the transformation of former brownfields into public wetlands. Also through direct civic engagement, student volunteers have helped remove 70,000 pounds of trash from the White River watershed over the last six years. As significant as these restoration efforts are for the community, local residents are also finding ways to combine sustainable economic development with environmental restoration.
For the last fifteen years, I’ve worked as a volunteer – a citizen anthropologist – in the collaborative conservation movement sweeping across the American West. I co-founded the Arizona Common Ground Roundtable in 1997. For the next five years, we (the Roundtable) sponsored forums across the state to bring ranchers, environmentalists, and sportsmen together to talk about the future of Arizona’s wide-open spaces. We found our common ground by paraphrasing political analyst, James Carville: “It’s land fragmentation, stupid!” Then I chaired the Ranch Conservation Task Force of Pima County’s visionary Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan (SDCP), which seeks to conserve both biodiversity and working ranches around the Tucson metropolitan area. For the last decade, I have served on Pima County’s Conservation Acquisition Commission (CAC). The CAC provides recommendations to the Pima County Board of Supervisors on how to spend the $170 million in Open Space Bonds that voters approved in 2004 to support the SDCP.
The story of Wildgrass is one of organizational adaptation to the dynamism of present-day China’s politics and its rapidly changing social and environmental needs. After four years of working with the organization, I consider my roll in Wildgrass as more of an “exchange” than an “engagement” because of our reciprocal relations. We’ve shared knowledge and influenced one another on multiple levels, providing me a unique perspective to view changes in the organization over time.