Transforming Food Systems with Agroecology

From by Philip Hanes
Transforming Food Systems with Agroecology

The 16th Annual International Agroecology Shortcourse will be held July 12-25, 2015 at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). This year's theme, Agroecology, A Global Movement: Tracing Our Roots and Looking Forward, brings together the diverse experiences and work of agroecological movements worldwide in an effort to form a clearer global picture for future work with environmental and social sustainability. The course, administered by the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS), will be conducted in an innovative immersive fashion, with diverse participants living, eating, and interacting on campus in continuous contact with course related topics and activities. Stephen Gliessman is Professor Emeritus of Agroecology at UCSC and acts as Board President of the Community Agroecology Network. He shares his unique perspective on agroecology in general, and this UCSC course.

Food Tank (FT): Over the course of your career at UCSC, do you feel agroecology has become a global movement, and if so, are you inspired by it?

Stephen Gliessman (SG): From its humble beginnings at a small school of tropical agriculture in southeastern Mexico in the 1970s, agroecology has blossomed into a true global movement. As we have refined and applied the focus of agroecology, a transdisciplinary, participatory, and action-oriented approach to transforming food systems to sustainability has emerged. UCSC was the home of the first formal academic program in agroecology, and thanks to the participation of a network of farmers, eaters, students, and researchers, we now know how to "do" agroecology. I am continually inspired by the focus and energy fostered by the movement, and truly believe there is hope for change.

FT: What will the respective work and living experiences of the course be like?

SG: The course will be an intensive learning and living experience from breakfast through dinner, geared towards knowledge exchange and networking across the different spheres of agroecology. Course participants will stay in The Village student housing, located on lower UCSC campus next to the CASFS Farm. Meals will be prepared on-site using locally-sourced, seasonal produce, reflecting the values of the course as well as the local flavor of Santa Cruz. Course participants include folks from around the world - students, farmers, professors, activists, agroecology technicians, and some that are new to agroecology.

FT: How is the curriculum organized and directed?

SG: The development of the course curriculum has been guided by a coordinating committee made up of representatives from organizations including Food First, Berkeley Food Institute, Swanton Berry Farm, The Food Commons, UCSC CASFS, and Community Alliance for Family Farmers. The committee generated the vision for the course as a movement and a model, building on a gathering of farmers, activists, academics, and professionals, in the development of specific content. The result is a course program that is dynamic and action-oriented, that showcases the best and most innovative examples of agroecology in action in the Central Coast, California region and the world. It builds momentum from the basic principles of agroecology through to agroecological social movements and models of transformation, culminating in a course declaration that states the collective commitment of course participants to change. 

FT: What is new in this year's International Agroecology Shortcourse?

SG: This year's shortcourse has a special focus on international and global social movements of agroecology. We will be featuring some of the people, programs, communities, and organizations that are making this movement happen.

FT: How can the diverse elements of agroecology be brought together to better address common challenges in the food system?

SG: Since agroecology is grounded in ecosystem thinking, it provides a holistic way of integrating the diversity of elements of the food system, from the soil and seed, all the way to the table, and back again. In this way, agroecology integrates science, practice, and social movements working together to transform food systems to sustainability. If any one of those three parts is missing, it is not agroecology. Agroecology is also an intercultural activity where different forms of knowledge and experience work together for change. Ecosystem health, diverse livelihoods, and social justice all merge as the movement scales out and brings equity, security, choice, and justice to all parts of the food system.

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