ALC members Scott Lewins, Vic Izzo, Janica Anderzén, and Alejandra Gúzman Luna have received funding to advance their Participatory Action Research (PAR) projects both locally and internationally. We’re so grateful for the support and excited to see these projects through!
This generous grower support has helped launch the Agroecology Extension Summer Research Fellowship, an experiential learning experience focused on the development of adaptable research, leadership, and outreach skills. The goals of this exciting new initiative include training the next generation of extension researchers, and contributing to new and ongoing Extension projects dedicated to UVM’s Land Grant mission.
From the Gund Institute for the Environment’s website: Gund Graduate Fellow Janica Anderzén (CALS) will study the ecological, economic, and social importance of bees for coffee farmers in Chiapas, Mexico. Native and managed bees help shade-coffee farmers ecologically by pollinating coffee and food crops. Farmers who manage honeybees are less financially dependent on coffee, increasing their resilience. Her results will inform farmer and community education programs and dialogues with local governments regarding harmful pesticides. Project collaborators include: Gund Postdoctoral Fellow Alejandra Gúzman Luna (CALS); Rémy Vandame, Michelle Rosales, Daniela Gallardo Olimón, Yliana Delfín Fuentes, and Omar Argüello Nájera of El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR); and Rigoberto Hernández Jonapá, Jose Antonio López Pérez, Williams Salomon Roblero, and Inés Lucia Pérez Gómez of Campesinos Ecológicos de Sierra Madre de Chiapas (CESMACH).
Read more about Janica, Ale, and the ALC’s work with coffee farmers and diversification of coffee farms here.
The research in this chapter brings together agroecological principles, landscape design, and cultural ecosystem services in a transdisciplinary, PAR approach to assessing urban agroecology in Burlington. While Vermont is a predominantly rural state, this chapter explores the growing field of urban agroecology through urban and peri-urban farms and gardens in and around Burlington. Urban agroecology utilizes the frameworks and approaches of agroecology and applies them to urban contexts. As demonstrated in existing research, urban agrifood systems fill a multifunctional role in urban areas and can contribute to addressing issues such as food insecurity, public health crises, and poverty. As such, there is great potential for the application of agroecology in urban agrifood systems, and in further exploring and amplifying the benefits.
While the ALC’s work with these partners is ongoing, the value and importance of vibrant local food systems has been highlighted in the current COVID-19 pandemic and resulting food crisis. Through our PAR process, we look forward to continuing to facilitate conversations and connections within Burlington that center around agroecology and its potential within the urban and peri-urban context. As articulated in the chapter, “Ideally, by reinforcing its presence and relevance, agroecology can become a unifying catalyst for broad food system transformation in Burlington” (p 316).
Caswell, M., et al. (2021) Agroecological transformations in urban contexts: transdisciplinary research frameworks and participatory approaches in Burlington, Vermont. Pp. 299-320. In M. Egerer and H. Cohen (eds) Urban Agroecology: Interdisciplinary research and future directions. Boca Raton, FL, CRC Press/Taylor and Francis.
The ALC is excited to share the news that ALC Co-director Ernesto Méndez has been selected as the inaugural Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) Fellow at UVM. This competitive fellowship provides institutional support for the institutionalization of the ALC as a University of Vermont institute. Tentatively named the International Agroecology and Food Systems Institute, this initiative will integrate research, education, and outreach to better understand and support food systems that are ecologically sound and socially just. This new unit will have three primary areas of focus, 1) Agroecological performance, 2) Agroecology, food sovereignty and justice, and 3) Innovative pedagogy for agroecology.
This fellowship comes at a critical time as multiple crises nationally and globally have worsened and revealed issues in our food and agricultural systems. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown our high level of vulnerability to industrialized agricultural and food systems. Supply chains got broken, healthy and nutritious food became inaccessible, and those who are on the front lines of food production were forced to take on enormous risk. Alternatively, ecologically sound and socially just agrifood systems, which rely on local food production at small and medium-scale production, have emerged as a more stable and sustainable alternative that can withstand multiple crises globally. The transformation of the ALC, which started as a research group, will create an opportunity to address many of these issues through agroecological frameworks, deepening the capacity and learning of agroecology and food systems scholars, and students and community partners at UVM and beyond.
By: Nell Carpenter and Martha Caswell, with input from Megan Browning, Vermont Agrarian Commons
In the spring of 2020, Bread and Butter Farm, a farm partner of the ALC, became the founding farm of the Vermont Agrarian Commons, one of a collection of ten Agrarian Commons nationwide. The Agrarian Commons is a model for land access that challenges notions of land ownership established in the U.S. by European colonizers, and seeks to redefine land access for farmers, with particular attention toward the next generation of farmers. By reconsidering relationships to land, this movement provides new options in reaction to the U.S. Agricultural Crisis, and its many ecological, sociocultural, and economic impacts. Though there is a global movement toward agricultural commons as a viable, and desirable model – there are context-specific details that are particular to each locale.
Below, we will dig deeper into the Bread and Butter example to better understand how this works, but to start let’s set the stage for its relevance. The Agrarian Commons is a model inspired by centuries of thought, practice, and community. This model recognizes that the current model of land ownership over the land currently known as the U.S. was a foothold in colonizing the land, dictated by capitalist and white supremacist frameworks of leadership and governance. The Agrarian Commons model envisions a return to a relationship with the land that more closely resembles the reciprocal, stewardship of land that has been practiced through intergenerational management by BIPOC and peasant communities around the world. Read more about who and what has inspired the Agrarian Commons here, and hear current stakeholder perspectives here.
As we know, land is a limited and expensive resource, which can mean that farmers who are able to access land are perpetually working to lessen their debt, but aren’t ever able to escape that burden. This can result in farmers spending the majority of their careers engaging in unsustainable agricultural practices to chip away at mortgage debt that only gets passed to the next farmers of that land. Many tools and structures such as conservation easements exist to help lessen these costs, however, land access for those who want it remains a primary challenge, especially for BIPOC community members who have been excluded by long histories of racist and exclusionary policies.
The commons is a strategy for increasing access to land and freeing up financial resources for regenerative agricultural practices by making land available at a lower price and providing a structure for land to be held in community, rather than individually owned. This lower price is possible because the land is acquired by a nonprofit legal entity (501c2) – in this case the Vermont Agrarian Commons – through fundraising or land donation. The Commons then provides a 99 year ground lease of the land to a farm business – in this case Bread and Butter Farm. The Agrarian Commons are governed locally by a board composed on ⅓ leaseholding farmers, ⅓ community stakeholders, and ⅓ Agrarian Trust staff, and exist in partnership with Agrarian Trust (501c3). The Agrarian Commons model and lease structure is governed by bylaws, such that each farm business operating in the commons adheres to a level of social and ecological sustainability in their operations with a focus on agriculture in community. The land in the commons is, thus, decommodified, out of the real-estate market, and considered a member of the commons alongside the business(es) it hosts. While Bread and Butter is the founding farm for the Vermont Agrarian Commons, there will be opportunities for the Commons to grow with additional land and farms over time. Other Agrarian Commons exist around the country, in various states from California to Virginia. Explore them all here.
Beyond breaking the cycle of unsustainable land ownership and inequitable access and tenure to land, the Agrarian Commons can be a step towards food sovereignty, particularly for BIPOC and immigrant communities. In Central Maine, the Little Jubba Central Maine Agrarian Commons was just established in association with the Somali Bantu Community Association (SBCA). This land will expand their existing Liberation Farms land for SBCA farmers, an important foothold of food access and cultural vibrancy for the Somali Bantu Community. The Little Jubba Agrarian Commons and others will be able to ensure that the land remains in their possession for at least the next 99 years. In tracing the current and historic stealing of land, genocide, and racist land policy, this is a significant step in creating opportunities for BIPOC farmers and communities to reclaim land. And, in the event that an Agrarian Commons entity dissolves, the “bylaws ensure that all assets will transfer to Indigenous communities and communities of color as one small way to move against the perpetuation of white-led nonprofit ownership of land” (https://agrariantrust.org/).
In late October, the ALC welcomed Megan Browning from the Agrarian Trust/VT Agrarian Commons for a discussion about the commons with our Community of Practice. In just a little over an hour, we learned about the overarching vision and then dug into the legal details. After lots of questions and discussion, it’s clear that this movement is on its way towards very concrete impact in the United States.
Megan is working with Corie Pierce and Brandon Bless of Bread and Butter Farm (BBF), as well as additional board members, to establish the Vermont Agrarian Commons through the acquisition of land. BBF is a collaborative working landscape that actively honors its land, animals, community members, soil, plants and history. The original parcel of land farmed by BBF was around 140 acres of extremely depleted land. In 2018, BBF entered into a three year lease for eventual ownership of 375 acres of land that would have otherwise sold to developers. The negotiation involved significant contributions by the Vermont Land Trust, town of South Burlington, town of Shelburne, and Dirt Capital Partners, as well as the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Currently, BBF manages over 600 acres of land through ownership and lease, which is the land to become the Agrarian Commons with the support of the partners named above, local community members and, Agrarian Trust.
Corie wrote a piece about this experience that you can read here, but here’s a preview to help you understand what this means to Corie and others at BBF.
“We absolutely love this model because it does so many things!!
Most importantly, it helps to guarantee a high standard of managing land forever by excellent farmers.
It means that this land WILL be farmed forever! It can never be a gentleman farm that is just mowed each year and owned by an individual who chooses to work elsewhere and not farm but have the luxury of their own 500 acres for themselves.
Bread & Butter Farm is relieved of our mortgages and allows us to make investments in the farm business for the future for the people who work here and for the needed infrastructure.
We commit this land to a commons model where there will be 17 miles of beautiful trails that weave through the 500 acres for the community to enjoy (think Shelburne Farm walking trails in the southeast quadrant of South Burlington!), and…
This will become a model for future farms in Vermont and for the country, which is EXACTLY what we need!! More viable models so that more amazing land steward/farmers are incentivized to farm and are ABLE to farm so that we can provide nourishing food for our community and simultaneously building soil and health of the land. And many more amazing reasons.”
Read more about the Vermont Agrarian Commons here, and follow along by following @agrariantrust and @breadandbutterfarm on social media, as well as joining the Agrarian Trust newsletter list here.
NEWS: ALC team contributes to important paper discussing ‘The evolving landscape of agroecological research’
A paper recently accepted in the journal Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems charts the evolving landscape of agroecological research using innovative bibliometric and network analysis. Led by Dr. Rachel Mason, a PSS alum who now works at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, the article analyzed the evolution of themes in agroecology research between 1982 and 2018. The author team, which included ALC Co-director Ernesto Méndez, ALC research associates Gabriela Bucini and Scott Merrill, and ALC doctoral candidates Alissa White and Janica Anderzén, examined the evolution of agroecological research using research papers from the Web of Science. This manuscript is an important contribution about the evolution and growth of the field of agroecology as shown by trends in scientific publications. Moreover, the content of the scientific papers signals that agroecological science has been increasingly engaging with social movements and taking a wider food systems perspective.
The figures below summarize and characterize agroecology in academic research over time, demonstrating an increase in work focusing on food sovereignty, food justice and social movements (you can click on each figure to enlarge). The paper uses citation-based networks to identify discrete areas of research within agroecology, and shows that many of those areas build on knowledge from social science disciplines. We share the abstract and link to the article after the figures.
It has been widely argued that agroecological science, which originally developed as the application of ecological principles to agricultural systems, should engage with the social and political issues that affect production agriculture, and incorporate knowledge from a variety of sources. In this paper we use techniques from network science and bibliometrics to evaluate the degree to which this transformation has taken place. By creating networks based on over 3,000 agroecology papers and the roughly 160,000 references they cite, we distinguish the sub-fields (“research fronts”) that made up agroecology in three time intervals: 1982 – 2004, 2005 – 2013, and 2014 – 2018. We also identify the main disciplines from which the research fronts in 2014 – 2018 drew their supporting knowledge. We suggest that, very broadly, themes in agroecological research include: Ecosystem services; (agro)biodiversity; approaches to agricultural intensification; tropical agroecosystems (particularly coffee); pest and weed management; organic agriculture; cropping systems; system transitions, modeling and design; climate change adaptation; food sovereignty; education; and the nature and purpose of agroecology itself. Some research fronts mainly cite papers in natural science fields such as ecology, environmental science, agriculture, and entomology. However, others draw upon work in social science areas including development studies, environmental studies, and anthropology. The analysis presented in this paper demonstrates that agroecology has indeed evolved to possess many of the characteristics of an “ecology of [the entire] food system”. We anticipate that this work will also be of use to those wishing to gain an overview of the field or identify key papers, knowledge gaps and potential collaborations.
Citation: Mason R., White A., Bucini G., Anderzén J., V.E. Méndez., Merrill S.C. (2021) The evolving landscape of agroecological research. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 45: in press.
NEWS: Highlighting ALC Co-director Ernesto Méndez on multiple panels
ALC Co-director Ernesto Méndez has participated on three virtual events in the past month, one based out of the University of Vermont as well as two hosted by other institutions. See below for ways to access recorded versions. We are grateful for the opportunity to join in on important conversations, about food systems, agroecology and climate change, which are being held during such a critical time.
On October 7, Ernesto Méndez joined five experts in agroecology in giving ‘lightning talks’ on their interpretation of the evolution of agroecology as a practice, research discipline, and social movement. Recording coming here soon.
On October 8, Ernesto Méndez interviewed author Jonathan Safran Foer about his book, We are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast, and work surrounding climate change. The event was heavily attended.
On September 18, Méndez joined four other experts in the field to discuss redistributive policy tools towards the “5D of Redistribution”: Decolonization, Decarbonization, Diversification, Democratization, and Decommodification. Watch the recording here.
When we imagine the Andes, we see majestic peaks and a vibrant texture of landscapes and cultures. Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru are the three countries where the projects of the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP), funded by the McKnight Foundation, work together as a community of practice (CoP). The CoP is formed by local NGOs, research centers and other associations, which directly work with smallholder farmers. Central to the activities of the Andes CoP is to support producers who wish to orient their farms towards agroecology, conserving soil health, enhancing agricultural biodiversity and integrating different knowledge systems, including indigenous knowledge and western scientific methods.
Every year, in an invigorating atmosphere of friendship and collaboration, the Andes CoP gathers in one of the three countries to exchange insights and discuss new and lifelong questions that kindle the research of the CoP across farms and communities. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 16th conference of Andes CoP took place online. Yasmin Jalil and Sergio Larrea aptly organized the online system, supported by the CoP organising committee and the regional team composed by Claire Nicklin, Roberto Ugas and Carlos Barahona. Yasmin and Sergio facilitated the conference, and the animated and keen group, was able to instill life to two weeks of high-quality content. This included seminars, thematic groups, open spaces for discussion and planning, presentations of advances in GIS mapping, as well as a new session dedicated to agroecology fellows.
Agroecology is at the core of the CCRP program’s commitment to support an ecologically sound and socially just transition of the Andean food system. The CCRP’s interest is particularly directed to collaborative agroecological research and knowledge-sharing, aimed at strengthening the capacities of farmer groups, research institutions and development organizations. The Agroecology Support Team (AES) includes Ernesto Méndez, Gabriela Bucini and Nils McCune, of the Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC), at the University of Vermont (UVM). AES seeks to deepen the agroecological knowledge of the program participants and assists in research and co-learning that supports a transition towards agroecological systems.
Ernesto, Nils and Gabriela participated at the Andes CoP16 and facilitated a dialogue around agroecological transitions. The two sessions entitled “Reflexión sobre Agroecología en Los Andes” (Reflection on the agroecology in the Andes) provided fertile ground to collectively reflect on the current state and visions for the future of agroecology in the region. The AES team proposed questions for nine working groups aimed at bringing collective awareness around the values and principles that guide their work with Andean producers, and which are vital to create strength and cohesion in the agroecological journeys of the local communities.
Agroecological Visions for the Andean regions
What does it mean to be in an agroecological transition? Where are we starting and where do we wish to go? What principles guide us in the journey? The work of answering these questions and envisioning actions to start or to continue the agroecological transition were grounded in the CoP wisdom and experience. To catalyze the dialogue, Ernesto gave a presentation on agroecological principles and showed concrete examples of principles-based transitions in two farming systems of Vermont, U.S.A, where the ALC is located. His presentation encouraged the participants to note that agroecological principles have the depth to support real change and the width to reach different contexts and cultures in the world. These principles can hold meanings that overlap with indigenous principles, such as those of the Andean cosmovision, and can therefore be held together.
The visions for the regions of the Bolivia central plateau, the central zone of Peru and the central zone of Ecuador were shared in a plenary session. The themes spanned across the three dimensions of agroecology – science, practice and movement – with strong emphasis on the social, cultural, political and economic dimensions. Technical skills are important but need to be built within a participatory and sincere exchange of knowledge between indigenous farmers and technicians. The CoP visions wish to enhance the inclusion and legitimization of indigenous knowledge in the farming practices and in the schools, in order to strengthen the presence of local farmer organizations in the governance, to continue to work on women’s empowerment, equity and food sovereignty. Markets for agroecological and autonomous products and conscious consumers supported by short market chains are important for the future of farming in the regions. The visions call for responsible policies that account for the interests of local farmers, instead of supporting capitalistic and extractive farming and mining practices.
Agroecological components, such as agricultural biodiversity, seed conservation, ecological pest management, water conservation/management, soil health, risk management for climate change, and healthy nutrition are all part of the visions for agroecology in the Andes. The challenges of COVID-19 add a need for the health of the people with whom we interact. “Agroecology is a concept in construction at the scale of the individual, the family, the community and the territory”, said one participant. Another participant noted that “agroecology is a trajectory that is made on the base of principles but also on the base of the analysis of opportunities and threats in the current conjuncture.” When we look at the principles that will orient the journeys of the CoP, we find them in the integration of different knowledge systems and in particular the Andean cosmovision, which recognizes the connection of natural and human systems. The CoP emphasizes participatory and horizontal learning approaches based on trust, solidarity, respect, humility, cooperation, equity and inclusion at all levels. The collective action and complementarity of efforts that leverage the capacities and values of people can lead to a transformation not only of single individuals but also of families, farms, communities and ultimately, of food systems. Sovereignty is essential, the CoP recognizes, in the three dimensions: in the resources, the food and the individual choices.
What is missing for agroecology to be strong in these territories? Technical skills are necessary to improve research quality, but they need to also be supported by an agroecological approach that influences political economies, and more explicitly, national, regional and local policy. The principles of participation, co-learning and humility transform research by creating relationships of trust that empower all participants to work for change. A key challenge identified was the connection with consumers, both in rural and urban contexts. For a new agriculture based on indigenous and agroecological principles to thrive, it is necessary to educate and direct consumers towards healthy diets and a preference for traditional/local food ingredients. Influenced by consumers, markets can then also more directly support agroecological food systems. Another challenge is keeping local knowledge alive by integrating scientific and technical knowledge with indigenous knowledge, viewing them both on an equal basis. This process can start in schools where the new generations can be encouraged to apply local knowledge. Technology poses a more general challenge, according to some people in the CoP, which poses questions on who brings the technologies and how to make sure that it is appropriate for the local environment and culture.
Noches de cultura and a closing of a beautiful story
On Friday night, it was time to take out the musical instruments and warm up the voice. All are welcome to share their talents …both modest efforts, as well as the more experienced! The CoP Andes has wonderful musicians! The charango and the guitarra accompanied voices and brought many smiles through computer screens. Music and song bring people together in a special way and makes us feel close.
We close with a personal story illustrating the relationships that support the co-creation of agroecological knowledge, shared by Juan Torres from the project “Semillas y Escuelas” (“Seeds and Schools”). He often visits producers of his project and works with them in the fields. He shares his knowledge and learns from them. During a visit, he asked a producer what he wished. The producer said: “You always come to the field and get to know our environment and how we work. I’d like to come to where you work once and see how you learn and you work”. This led to an arrangement for the producer to go visit the campus of the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina in Lima, Peru. The producer enjoyed visiting the big library and the building where Juan works. A simple visit opened a new vision of science and generated more equity in the relationship. This story reminds us that an individual’s professional positionality and experience can become a place of learning and discovery for others, if we are open to listen and share. Equal interest in the technician/academic and the producer to share their knowledge can open new horizons and strengthen relationships for expanded learning.
En la Vivacidad de la 16ª Reunión Anual de la Comunidad de Práctica de los Andes
Cuando imaginamos los Andes, vemos majestuosas montañas y una textura vibrante de paisajes y culturas. Bolivia, Ecuador y Perú son los tres países en los cuales los proyectos del Programa Colaborativeo para la Investigación en Cultivos (CCRP, por sus siglas en Inglés), financiado por la Fundación McKnight, trabajan juntos como una Comunidad de Práctica (CdP). La CdP está formada por ONG locales, centros de investigación y otras asociaciones, que trabajan directamente con los pequeños agricultores. Un aspecto central de las actividades de la CdP de los Andes, es el apoyo a los productores que desean orientar sus granjas hacia la agroecología, conservando la salud del suelo, mejorando la biodiversidad agrícola y la integración de los diferentes sistemas de conocimiento, incluyendo conocimientos indígenas y los métodos científicos occidentales.
Cada año, en una atmósfera vigorizante de amistad y colaboración, la CdP de los Andes se reúne en uno de los tres países para intercambiar ideas y discutir nuevas ideas y cuestiones que persisten, y las cuales catalizan la investigación de la CdP en las granjas y comunidades. Este año, debido a la pandemia de COVID-19, la 16ª conferencia de la CdP de los Andes ocurrió en línea. Yasmin Jalil y Sergio Larrea, organizaron acertadamente el sistema en línea, con el apoyo del comité organizador de la CdP y el equipo regional compuesto por Claire Nicklin, Roberto Ugas y Carlos Barahona. Yasmin y Sergio facilitaron la conferencia, y el animado y entusiasta grupo, pudo dar vida a dos semanas de seminarios de alta calidad, grupos temáticos, espacios abiertos para el debate y la planificación, presentaciones de los avances en la cartografía con SIG, así como una nueva sesión dedicada a los becarios de agroecología.
La agroecología es la base del compromiso del programa de la CCRP de apoyar una transición en el sistema alimentario andino, de manera ecológica y socialmente justa. El interés de la CCPR está dirigido en particular a la investigación agroecológica en colaboración y al intercambio de conocimientos, con el fin de fortalecer la capacidad de los grupos de agricultores,y a las instituciones de investigación y organizaciones de desarrollo. El Equipo de Apoyo en Agroecología (AES, por sus siglas en Inglés), integrado por Ernesto Méndez, Gabriela Bucini y Nils McCune, del Colaborativo y Medios de Vida (ALC, por sus siglas en Inglés), de la Universidad de Vermont (UVM), busca profundizar los conocimientos agroecológicos de los participantes en el programa y prestar asistencia en la investigación y el aprendizaje conjunto que apoye a la transición hacia sistemas agroecológicos.
Ernesto, Nils y Gabriela participaron en la CdP16 de los Andes y facilitaron un diálogo en torno a las transiciones y transformaciones agroecológicas. Las dos sesiones tituladas “Reflexión sobre Agroecología en Los Andes” proporcionaron un terreno fértil para reflexionar colectivamente sobre el estado actual y las visiones para el futuro de la agroecología en la región. El equipo AES propuso preguntas para nueve grupos de trabajo con el fin de crear una conciencia colectiva en torno a los valores y principios que guían su trabajo con los productores andinos, y que son vitales para crear fuerza y cohesión en los recorridos agroecológicos de las comunidades locales.
Visiones agroecológicas para las regiones andinas
¿Qué significa estar en una transición agroecológica? ¿Dónde estamos empezando y a dónde queremos ir? ¿Qué principios nos guían en el viaje? La labor de responder a estas preguntas y prever medidas para iniciar o continuar la transición agroecológica se basó en la sabiduría y la experiencia de la CdP. Para catalizar el diálogo, Ernesto hizo una presentación sobre los principios agroecológicos y mostró ejemplos concretos de transiciones basadas en principios en dos sistemas agrícolas de Vermont, Estados Unidos, donde se ubica el ALC. Su exposición alentó a los participantes a observar que los principios agroecológicos tienen la profundidad necesaria para apoyar un cambio real y la amplitud necesaria para llegar a diferentes contextos y culturas del mundo. Estos principios pueden tener significados que se alinean con los principios indígenas, como los de la cosmovisión andina, y por lo tanto pueden mantenerse unidos.
Las visiones para las regiones del altiplano central de Bolivia, la zona central del Perú y la zona central del Ecuador se compartieron en una sesión plenaria. Los temas abarcaron las tres dimensiones de la agroecología -ciencia, práctica y movimiento- con un fuerte énfasis en las dimensiones sociales, culturales, políticas y económicas. Los conocimientos técnicos son importantes, pero es necesario crearlos en el marco de un intercambio participativo y sincero de conocimientos entre los agricultores y técnicos indígenas. Las visiones de la CdP desean mejorar la inclusión y la legitimación de los conocimientos indígenas en las prácticas agrícolas y en las escuelas, fortalecer la presencia de las organizaciones locales de agricultores en la gobernanza y seguir trabajando en el empoderamiento de la mujer, la equidad y la soberanía alimentaria. Los mercados de productos agroecológicos y autónomos y los consumidores conscientes apoyados por cadenas de mercado cortas son importantes para el futuro de la agricultura en las regiones. Las visiones exigen políticas responsables que tengan en cuenta los intereses de los agricultores locales, en lugar de apoyar las prácticas agrícolas y mineras capitalistas y extractivas.
Los componentes agroecológicos, tales como la biodiversidad agrícola, la conservación de semillas, el manejo ecológico de plagas, la conservación/gestión del agua, la salud del suelo, la gestión de los riesgos del cambio climático y la nutrición saludable forman parte de las visiones de la agroecología en los Andes. Los desafíos de COVID-19 añaden una necesidad de cara a la salud de las personas con las que interactuamos. “La agroecología es un concepto en construcción a escala del individuo, la familia, la comunidad y el territorio”, dijo un participante. Otro participante señaló que “la agroecología es una trayectoria que se realiza sobre la base de principios, pero también sobre la base del análisis de oportunidades y amenazas en la coyuntura actual”. Cuando miramos los principios que orientarán los recorridos de la CdP, los encontramos en la integración de diferentes sistemas de conocimiento y en particular la cosmovisión andina, la cual reconoce la conexión de los sistemas naturales y humanos. La CdP hace hincapié en los enfoques de aprendizaje participativos y horizontales basados en la confianza, la solidaridad, el respeto, la humildad, la cooperación, la equidad y la inclusión en todos los niveles. La acción colectiva y la complementariedad de los esfuerzos que aprovechan las capacidades y los valores de las personas pueden conducir a una transformación, no sólo de las personas individuales, sino también de las familias, las granjas, las comunidades y, en última instancia, de los sistemas alimentarios. La soberanía es esencial, según la CdP, en tres dimensiones: en los recursos, en los alimentos y en las opciones individuales.
¿Qué falta para que la agroecología sea fuerte en estos territorios? Los conocimientos técnicos son necesarios para mejorar la calidad de la investigación, pero también deben estar respaldados por un enfoque agroecológico que influya en las economías políticas y, más explícitamente, en la política nacional, regional y local. Los principios de participación, co-aprendizaje y humildad transforman la investigación al crear relaciones de confianza que facultan a todos los participantes para trabajar en pro del cambio. Un desafío clave identificado fue la conexión con los consumidores, tanto en contextos rurales como urbanos. Para que prospere una nueva agricultura basada en principios indígenas y agroecológicos, es necesario educar y orientar a los consumidores hacia dietas saludables y una preferencia por los ingredientes alimentarios tradicionales/locales. Influenciados por los consumidores, los mercados también pueden apoyar más directamente los sistemas alimentarios agroecológicos. Otro desafío es mantener vivos los conocimientos locales mediante la integración de los conocimientos científicos y técnicos con los conocimientos autóctonos, considerando a ambos en pie de igualdad. Este proceso puede comenzar en las escuelas, donde se puede alentar a las nuevas generaciones a aplicar los conocimientos locales. La tecnología plantea un desafío más general, según algunas personas de la CdP, que plantea cuestiones sobre quién aporta las tecnologías y cómo asegurarse de que son apropiadas para el medio ambiente y las culturas locales.
Noches de cultura y una hermosa historia final
El viernes por la noche, era el momento de sacar los instrumentos musicales y calentar la voz. Todos son bienvenidos y bienvenidas a compartir sus talentos… ¡Los principiantes y los más experimentados! ¡La CoP Andes tiene músicos maravillosos! El charango y la guitarra acompañaron a las voces y trajeron muchas sonrisas a través de las pantallas de las computadoras. La música y el canto unen a la gente de una manera especial y nos hace sentir cercanos.
Cerramos con una historia personal que ilustra las relaciones que apoyan la co-creación del conocimiento agroecológico, compartida por Juan Torres del proyecto “Semillas y Escuelas”. Él visita a menudo a los productores y trabaja con ellos en los campos. Comparte sus conocimientos y aprende de ellos. Durante una visita, preguntó a un productor qué deseaba. El productor dijo: “Siempre vienes al campo y conoces nuestro entorno y cómo trabajamos. Me gustaría venir a donde trabajas una vez y ver cómo aprendes y trabajas”. Así que arreglaron que el productor fuera a visitar el campus de la Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina en Lima, Perú. El productor disfrutó visitando la gran biblioteca y el edificio donde trabaja Juan. Una simple visita abrió una nueva visión de la ciencia y generó más equidad en la relación. Esta historia nos recuerda que la posición profesional y la experiencia de un individuo puede convertirse en un lugar de aprendizaje y descubrimiento para otros, si estamos abiertos a escuchar y compartir. El mismo interés en que el técnico/académico y el productor compartan sus conocimientos puede abrir nuevos horizontes y fortalecer las relaciones para un aprendizaje más amplio.
One of the most important components of participatory action research (PAR) is the Action. Where it falls in the cycle varies: sometimes the action can emerge as a result after careful analysis of the data; or it can be a catalyst earlier in the process, centering the value proposition that both the researchers and community members should be receiving real benefit from the effort.
On a sunny Thursday morning in June, at the New Farms for New Americans (NFNA) farm near the Ethan Allen Homestead, Action rolled in. There it was, hitched to the back of a red pickup. To most eyes, it looked like a simple structure. A shed maybe? Or, as one farmer remarked walking by, “a break room?” But, as with most things, there is more to this structure than meets the eye.
For the past three years, Alisha Laramee, program specialist for NFNA, has been participating in the Urban and Peri-Urban Agroecology initiative with UVM’s Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC). We are currently in the second year of a USDA Hatch grant to explore the expression of agroecological principles in urban and peri-urban spaces in Burlington. Our partners include NFNA, the Vermont Community Garden Network, UVM’s Catamount Farm, and the Intervale Center. Alisha has been cautiously interested in this project but is also judicious with her time and energy. She gives all she has to the farm and farmers. When we have been able to fit into that equation, it’s been great. But Alisha has been a strong advocate for her priorities, and there isn’t a lot of room for theoretical conversations about whether or not what’s happening on the farm counts as agroecology.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, New Farms for New Americans (NFNA) is an agriculture program for refugees and immigrants based in Burlington, VT. NFNA supports farmers and gardeners to grow culturally significant crops, increase access to food, land, and agricultural resources, and learn about growing food in Vermont. They facilitate ongoing work with over 275 refugee clients from various countries in Africa and Asia. NFNA has sites in multiple locations, including the Ethan Allen Homestead (2.5 miles from downtown Burlington) and the Intervale (among others), representing mostly peri-urban contexts.
The Ethan Allen site is a secluded, peaceful spot along the Winooski River, with full sun and the rich alluvial soils that come from being in the flood plain. The drawbacks of this site include a high risk for floods and the fact that it is difficult to access without your own transportation. Early on, Alisha mentioned the problems they faced with flooding, pointing out the eroding riverbank, asking if buffer strips or hedgerows might be effective adaptations to consider. As conversations continued, we worked to align what Alisha was identifying as needs with the dimensions of agroecology as defined through the CIDSE principles, and discussed two priorities: the first was improving pollinator presence (an environmental consideration), and the second was the need for a shade/supply area to encourage gathering and sharing tools/knowledge (socio-cultural consideration).
Partnering with co-PI Stephanie Hurley and ten of her students from the Ecological Landscape Design course in the Plant and Soil Science Department worked with Alisha and developed designs for the NFNA farm site and its surroundings. Student designs included options for creating riparian buffers, floodplain wetlands and earthworks to increase flood resilience; pollinator gardens provide nectar and pollen to a biodiverse array of pollinator species and potentially increase crop production; and ideas for structures to provide much-needed shade for the farmers, and to be multifunctional for equipment storage, group gatherings and a safe place for children to play.
Alisha reviewed the design options considering which would meet the criteria that the community had shared; they wanted shade, but since many of the participants carry trauma from their time in refugee camps visibility (being able to see what was going on inside of the structure at all times, from all sides) was also critical. The potential cost of a shade structure with these many benefits was a significant concern. The Winooski Park District required that the structure be mobile, for seasonal use and in the event of floods. Graduate Student Josh Taylor, has been working closely with Alisha as part of his dissertation research, and he and Alisha applied for and were awarded a City Market Seedling Grant to support the construction of the shade structure. That’s when the wheels really started rolling. Originally the project was going to be a community build with the farmers, but COVID-19 removed that possibility. In an effort to see the shade structure through to completion, Alisha contracted RG Builders LLC, a small, local business to complete the build. Carpenter Linsey Brunner (pictured above) donated all of the hours she dedicated to this project, and after recently completing the UVM Master Gardeners program, is eager to consider other ways she can contribute to NFNA’s mission.
Sounds good, you might say to yourself, but how does this connect to research? There are several answers to this. The first is that we have found that the most important research question isn’t always the first to emerge. I was visiting Alisha on the day when the shade structure was delivered, but instead of talking about the shed, we talked about the devastation farmers were facing from pest and disease pressures in their plots. We realized that VEPART could potentially work with NFNA to identify ecological and integrated pest management (IPM) strategies that would help them be more resilient to the threats they are facing. We also hopeful that the shade structure will be a site for future workshops and focus groups, which will give us the opportunity to assess participant opinions about how the structure impacts their time at the farm. Because of all of this, we see this Action as a catalyst, that has been participatory, and has provided us good cause for reflection and reassessment of our research directions.
We also value in the co-production of knowledge that has happened among all of us throughout this process. NFNA has just been awarded a highly competitive USDA Urban Agriculture Grant and in the coming year, they will partner with VCGN to develop a leadership and mentorship program. We see lots of potential for continued cross-pollination among people and ideas as this PAR process continues to unfold. It’s not unusual for PAR projects to diverge slightly from their original paths. As noted in a recently published paper “…participatory research projects, which aim at transformative impacts in complex settings beyond knowledge products and learning, need to sustain high intensities of actor interactions in knowledge coproduction throughout all research phases to achieve their sustainability impact goals.”1
That’s our end goal. Prioritizing research, and learning alongside our partners, but never at the expense of the community. Alisha says working with the ALC and thinking about agroecology helps her to ‘see with new eyes’, and she also continues to say – “call it what you want, I just want to do right by the farmers.”
1 Tribaldos, T., C. Oberlack, and F. Schneider. 2020. Impact through participatory research approaches: an archetype analysis. Ecology and Society 25(3):15.https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-11517-250315
Querencia as “love of home, love of place” is described by American author and founding father of Nuevomexicano Chicano literature, Rudolfo Anaya, in his foreword to Querencia: Reflections on a New Mexico Homeland (University of New Mexico Press). And it is this querencia for northern New Mexico- El Norte- that is inextricably tied to the land and how the practices of cultivation have defined both place and people. This querencia extends to the wisdom of Native and colonist antepasados whose Indo-Hispano heritage is rooted in La Madre Tierra, from the headwaters that serve the oldest acequia systems in the United States, to the adobe walls that envelop familia, to the parciantes on these acequias who collaborate to share water to grow for the needs of the community. It is these food traditions that have assured food security in northern New Mexico for centuries. Continued colonization and development of irrigable land move away from these practices and threaten the livelihood of these agroecological systems.
“…from centuries past to present, the wisdom of the ancestors alive, and I listening.”- R. Anaya
The villages of northern New Mexico (El Norte) are home to the descendants of prehistoric Native Pueblo and Spanish colonist peoples who established communities along the headwaters and streams flowing into the Rio Grande in an otherwise arid land. Access to these waters, joined with indigenous wisdom and colonist understanding created that which is sacred and has fostered ceremony, community and familia. Seasonal and companion planting, such as the Three Sisters being squash, corn, and climbing beans; the use of the alkaline in soil to preserve dried maiz concho (corn) so it would be available in the winter for posolé and frijole con chico, that would be part of many family meals. Still today, though threatened by the affliction of greed, the food systems in El Norte cultivate an earnest respeto y permiso (with respect and permission) for the land and people.
In a conversation with old-timers in northern New Mexico a rancher who was 86 in 2005 told me that the land degradation didn’t start “until the fences came in with the Forest Service.” He reflected on the days when livestock were rotated to new locations each season to keep the underbrush and risk for overgrazing down. He noted that the rotation of livestock was in its own way, fire management. It was also the rotation of vegetation crops that maintained the quality of the otherwise sandy loam soil. Communities planned their crops and exchanged their harvests that supported a more balanced diet. Once I was referred to derogatorily by an employer as a beaner, referencing my Chicana heritage. It was shortly after that when the Food and Drug Administration revised the Food Pyramid, placing legumes at the top. Proudly I can note that the people of El Norte, and many other indigenous communities, have known what is healthy for them.
Community, by nature, is self-defined, fluid in the outcome of shared values with each generation contributing to its ongoing identity. The communities of El Norte have long been formed by those who share a mutual respect for the relationship between water and land, sharing in the identity of El Norte. It is here in El Norte, where nature is a sacred member of the community, where seeds are family, and where days for planting and harvest are aligned with those of patron saints and phases of the moon. The food traditions of El Norte were born from the wisdo
m of the ancestors establishing an unwrote discipline that has been practiced for centuries. Greed, contemporary and historic, has often challenged the balance of life in this area. It has been in revisiting the folkore of our ancestors, and alignment with natures systems, where we have often found solutions to our modern-day conflicts.
“…we learned a deep, enduring love for the sacredness of the earth, for the unity of life, a harmony that brings peace and happiness. Querencia means vecinos.” -R. Anaya
Nature as a sacred community member is ever evolving and adapting to the influences of its vecinos. From the headwaters that are driven to nourish the fields, orchards and livestock, agua es vida – life wants to live. Nature’s course is to nourish, and traditional farming methods were seemingly aware of this fact. It is in El Norte where querencia is born of indigenous knowing and cultivated in a manner that cannot be disputed, and are supported by science. It is in these local practices where a sense of place and identity are formed and shared with our vecinos. When we are in disharmony, nature will seek to create balance. To live as a parciante on an acequia means to abide by a system that seeks to assure that all vecinos are served equally. When we contest natural laws, nature will hold its course and time will reveal the victor. When discord disrupts balance, our sense of unity and harmony is compromised. The lessons of our ancestors teach us to work with and respect natural systems and hold natural laws as sacred.
It has been said that the remains of ancestors that billow when the wind picks up the land. It is this land where seeds are planted and provide nourishment as they have for the ancestors and will for future generations. For farmers whose use of the land has become tradition, and the tradition is to produce food, the connection becomes integral to identity – if “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” then there is profound meaning in connection to the land. In El Norte there are communities whose identities are based on the connections to the land and the ancestors who billow in the seasonal winds. It is not uncommon that seeds are identified by a family name and referenced by the grandmother who acquired it for a family or community.
As the local communities have transitioned from the barter to the cash economy, the local food system has become a complex dynamic of access, economics, tradition, and identity.
Our sense of place, with unique geographic elements, customs, practices and people, conforms only to the natural environment that surrounds it. In historic communities with pre-historic roots, such as in El Norte, the foods are unique to place. Some foods have been derived from indigenous tradition and others have been adapted from European influence to accommodate ingredients available to the area. It is here where the influences of the natural environment on food culture contribute to both personal and community identity. Shared experience contributes to community identity, and sense of place contributes to how we see ourselves in our community. External influences on the traditional people of El Norte have only in the last century had a profound influence on the economics and perception of wealth, as well as the desire for convenience. Labor on the land is less desirable when comfort and convenience can be purchased. Community food traditions are threatened by imported food commodities and systems and the threat to community health prevails. As our traditional community food systems are challenged, so is identity. Knowledge of oneself and sense of community is necessary for mental and spiritual health, and when nature is part of our community, our physical health is a benefactor. The messages of our ancestors remain constant and the traditions contribute to the livelihood of the lands and its peoples.
Being part of the ALC means committing to a process of inquiry and reflection that is both individual and collective. For several years, we have worked as a community of practice (CoP) to define norms, interrogate our own positionality and responsibilities, and make commitments to be agents of change both in our personal and professional realms. Given the growing awareness about systemic racism, we thought it was a good time to write a public statement about our position on broad issues of justice. We wrote the following statement together, as a community of practice, which reflects our values and articulates our commitments.
The Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative is a community of practice where we strive to understand systems and, in this work, we are confronted with our individual and collective roles in oppression and destruction. We hold ourselves and each other accountable as we work to transform and heal our agrifood system – using collaboration to find co-liberation. This requires us to confront our discomfort and set aside our egos, with the goal of living our values instead of just talking about them. We know this takes time, energy, effort, humility, and, above all, deep listening and reflection.
We center anti-racist work while challenging all forms of oppression. We commit to following the lead of our BIPOC members, supporting the collective protagonism of those that have historically been excluded or marginalized, responding to the demands and calls for social change, showing up in solidarity, and striving to be accomplices in this long-overdue transformation of society. We will learn, unlearn, and imagine with genuine curiosity and care, we will remember that joy and struggle must accompany each other, and we will stay true to this process recognizing that it is not a destination, but a journey.