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Tag Archives: United States
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.
Less than 300 miles northwest of New York City, in the Empire State’s Southern Tier region, is the small community of Endicott. Nestled along the Susquehanna River, it is known as the “Birthplace of IBM.” International Business Machines Corporation (IBM)—born of a marriage between the Computing, Tabulating, and Recording Company and the International Time Recording Company—opened its first plant in Endicott in 1924. From the 1920s to the 1970s, the IBM-Endicott facility figured centrally in electronic innovations, and the surrounding community enjoyed relative prosperity. Since the 1980s, however, the area has experienced steady decline due to IBM’s disinvestment in the Endicott facility and the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs.
ENGAGEMENT editors recently connected with Laura Ogden, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Florida International University, to talk about her new book, Swamplife: People, Gators, and Mangroves Entangled in the Everglades (2011, University of Minnesota Press). During our conversation, Dr. Ogden explained some of the ways in which her work addresses issues of social and environmental justice beyond the confines of the academy. This interview is the second in an ENGAGEMENT series that explores how environmental-anthropological book projects have profound and important impacts on the world around us. The first interview was with Paige West.
Throughout the course of my research, I’ve seen how there is no one way to eat locally or to farm sustainably. These concepts and practices are quite fluid and change based on context, but also with the flash of a dollar sign. The "Loca-vore" movement is but one incarnation of many efforts to (re)connect to land and food, to foster food autonomy, to check out of the ConAgra-Monsanto complex, or to profit off of well-intentioned consumers’ desires to be more responsible or ecological with their purchases.