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Sustainable Agriculture; Food for Thought

Last month five Dartmouth students hit the road on their way to the NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) Vermont winter conference. Each one with a unique perspective on organic farming, but sharing the same common goal of a greater knowledge of the subject, and the issues surrounding it. NOFA-VT was founded in 1971 and has worked tirelessly since then to provide commercial producers, homesteaders and gardeners with the skills and knowledge to promote an economically viable and ecologically sound Vermont food system for future generations.

This year’s theme, Beyond Borders: Our Role in the Global Food Movement, focused on Vermont farmers’ place in the global food movement. Workshops covered everything from industrial hemp in Vermont to organic farming in cuba. The leaders of each workshop were more than capable, disseminating their information like so many seeds in a field, and as each student attended their workshops throughout the day, our small garden of knowledge continued to grow and flourish. Practical information crossed with folk knowledge as students minds filled with thoughts of projects to implement on the Dartmouth Organic Farm and ways to support the Global Organic Movement.

The culminating moment of the event came around noon time, when Dr. Vandana Shiva, a woman identified as one of the seven most powerful women on the globe, spoke. Her message shook the audience into a state of awe. Like a calm wind over sea of grass, everyone leaned in just a little closer to pick up the tidbits of knowledge she imparted. Simply put Dr. Shiva harped on big agricultural corporations, such as Monsanto, reminding the audience that it is not these monolithic farms and companies that feed the world, but rather the small farmers, giving us nearly 70% of the food we eat annually. Just as a farmer aids their plants growth through added humus, Dr. Shiva piled on more information from studies her organization, Navdanya, had completed. Awing the crowd with information about nutrition/acre, a new measurement her organization had come up with, showing that biodiverse farms, such as the ones organic farmers maintain, have a larger and more positive effect on the world. She ended her talk with a heart-warming statement, which stuck with all of the students in attendance, “Small multiplied millions of time is the large of today. And the largeness of that small is the largeness of solidarity, of compassion, and of a planetary consciousness. Exactly the power we need to deal with the brute, violent power of irresponsible bully”. As everybody filed out of the auditorium, still shaking their heads at the words of wisdom that Dr. Vandana Shiva had bestowed upon them, there was a palpable excitement growing amongst the students. By this point, the day's informational harvest passed their wildest expectations.

The implications of Dr. Shiva’s words, and the workshops that students attended, has a larger impact than the Dartmouth community. Each individual at the conference represented a small portion of the organic movement: farmers, gardeners, foodies, students, and activists. As they made their way back to their respective corners of the state, and us to New Hampshire, each one left with the understanding that the organic movement no longer was about a bunch of hippies growing food in a more natural state, it had global implications. The Organic Farming movement is no longer just about food, it now stands for democracy in the face of monopoly, freedom from the oppression of a single market choice. Food connects people to the Earth, whether they are conscious of it or not. And in these trying times, with the Earth heaving from the stress that humanity has put on it, organic farming represents a caring hand to the Earth, and by extension its inhabitants, that promises a brighter and healthier future.

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