I recently attended the Student Initiatives in Sustainable Agriculture (SISA) conference in Appleton, Wisconsin. The goal of the conference was to bring students together from all over the nation to share their sustainable garden and farming initiatives.
It was refreshing to interact with so many students who had found something they were passionate about and had actually succeeded in implementing their ideas.
We heard from students who managed a farm and orchard in Washington, a club that petitioned to make beekeeping legal within city limits for their college, and another group that ran a composting program by bike.
As encouraging as these stories were, the one speech that inspired me the most was by John Ikerd. Ikerd spoke about the future of farming and the need for young people to get involved in a new paradigm for agriculture. The one comment that struck me the most was about the liberal art college’s ability to work within a different framework than land grant institutions. Liberal art schools are not chained to traditional structures in relation to agricultural education, and thus have a unique ability to implement experimental and alternative methods of agricultural instruction and practice.
Central College is in an exceptional position to be a leader in sustainable initiatives, agricultural or otherwise. A majority of the students at this conference were from schools on the coast or more progressive states. Central, on the other hand, is from the heartland. The Midwest is hugely important in agricultural production, yet our colleges have not been on the forefront of change. We have the ability to be change makers and are in a situation to do so.
There already are several programs at Central that address agricultural sustainability. We currently have a wonderful organic garden that seasonally provides food to the Central Market. Dr. Benedict is working on Prairies for Agriculture, a research project that looks at how different prairie mixes could be used in an agricultural setting. I have been able to work on both projects, and I enjoy them immensely. Agriculture has even found its way into the curriculum, as Dr. Anya Butt has recently added an Agriculture and Sustainability topics class.
I don’t deny that Central has many opportunities for those willing to become engaged in sustainability, yet sometimes I wonder where the student-led passion is.
Is a campus that pushes its sustainability values through the avenues of the institution, rather than the initiatives of the students, really living out a liberal arts commitment to be sustainable?
I think if Central truly wanted to become a campus dedicated to sustainability, then it would find ways to empower students to be the bringers of change. This would put more responsibility in the hands of the students, and control is always hard to give up.
Yet college is the principal time for those in charge to allocate more power to the upcoming generation. We need to continue to find ways to integrate student involvement into the campus culture; only then will we succeed at becoming a sustainable institution.