SANTA CRUZ—International researchers, farmers and community workers have toured Santa Cruz County farms and community gardens this week as part of a two-week intensive course to study the intersection of agriculture, ecology and the social and political structures of global food systems.
“From the soil to the seed to the table,” said organizer Stephen Gliessman, a former UC Santa Cruz environmental studies professor who has been one of the leading researchers in the movement since the 70s. Gliessman helped found Santa Cruz-based Community Agroecology Network, a lead sponsor of the event with UCSC and University of Vermont.
The 16th annual International Agroecology ShortCourse is focused this year on the history of agroecology as a movement and its future. The 32 participants include people from 11 countries as well as several U.S. students. Dozens of speakers from organizations that are prominent in the field such as Food First, the Berkeley Food Institute and Sociedad Cientifica Latinoamericana de Agorecologia have been involved as well.
The intensive course, which met last year in Nicaragua, has grown every year, evolving to reflect more global and comprehensive perspectives, Gliessman said. The courses have evolved as well.
Agroecology, which has its roots in the traditional farming practices of Mayans in Mexico, is “transdisciplinary,” according to participants. It has come to mean much more than sustainable food practices. Supporters consider entire food systems. They consider the food, the environment and the people involved — from grower to consumer.
Wednesday, groups spread out into the community. They picked rhubarb at Swanton Berry Farm near Davenport and weeds at Mesa Verde community gardens in Watsonville.
The program brings together people of diverse backgrounds in an informal exchange. It’s a critical part of the course, said Heather Putnam, associate director of Community Agroecology Network.
“We’re often in our own little bubbles. There is not just one vision.”
Txarann Basterrechea, a native of Spain’s Basque country, is currently working in Angola for the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization to help rebuild a food system after years of war. The challenges there, he said, include the introduction of long-term sustainable practices in rural communities where food needs are immediate.
Jean Michel Sourisseau of Montpellier, France is a social sciences researcher working on agriculture and economic development issues in Africa. The connections he’s made during the course may inform his projects, he said. He also would like to see the European Union — where governments have created large territories for specific crops — heed research in the field.
“Our conversations have impacted me the most deeply,” said Glenda Abbot, who is working to restore native prairie land at the Wanuskewin Heritage Park in Saskatchewan, Canada.
The goal is for the group to establish new sustainability markers so agroecologists can better assess projects.
“We’re looking at where can we have the most impact?” said Gliessman who intends to publish some of the group’s collective findings in the Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems journal, to seed more ideas going forward.
WHAT: It is the integration of scientific, social, environmental, political and economic issues in the entire food system. Agroecologists may study productivity, stability, sustainability and equitability. They do not necessarily favor one type of farming over another, but include social and environmental benefits at each stage of the food system.
HISTORY: Its roots are in the traditional farming practices of the Mayan culture in Mexico. Stephen Gliessman, UCSC professor emeritus of environmental studies, has been researching agroecology since the 70s.
SPONSORS: The Community Agroecology Network, UC Santa Cruz and the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.
This article was first published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel