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Agroecology: Time to start a movement

The Netherlands needs an agroecology movement; this was made glaringly apparent during the three evenings of agreocolgy at Wageningen University this past week. A movement, practice and science, agroecology is a unique, thought-provoking interdisciplinary approach to agriculture.

Agroecology is an integral component of Project EAT and the garden will be a visual representation and definition of agroecological practices for students and visitors to the Wageningen University campus.

Definitions are varied across the board, making it a rather fun task to give a ‘quick’ definition. In short, agroecology is a multi-functional approach to agriculture; taking into account environmental, social, economic and political concerns on the path to creating a sustainable food system.

All of that was covered in a total of 6 hours over those 3 days. . .

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That would be some major Dutch efficiency, yet that was not the goal of the series of meetings. The goal was to make light of where agroecology  was in Brazil, the Netherlands, Wageningen, and at Wageningen University. Using the knowledge gathered in the first meetings,  we were to take action to make agroecology work.

Irene Cardoso of UFV in Brazil began the series at the “It’s the Food, Stupid” event, detailing the agroecology movement in Brazil. She spoke of the growing concern of “How do we feed the world?” Clearly, she explained, that may be the wrong question to ask.

Isn’t it better if each country feeds itself? Why should the Netherlands feed the world? Such a small country!

Next to the platform was Tom Saat of City Farm Almere. Saat runs an organic farm with 120 hectares of arable land next to the city of Almere.

He spoke passionately about the farm and its rise since 1996, along with the community efforts they have focused on. The farm practices a multitude of agroecological practices: from a grand crop rotation to allowing the cattle to forage in the woods during the Dutch ‘summer’ months.

Day two brought a number of individuals to speak about their agrecological initatives, local and international.

International initiatives:

  • Suprabha Seshan shared insight into the united force of students, farmers, and scientists acting to preserve India’s biodiversity
  • Irene Cardoso detailed the agroecology movement in Brazil. Oddly enough, this movement also involved cooperation between farmers, NGOs, and universities around Brazil. Western countries take note, cooperation and networking seems to be working.
  • Heitor Teixeira spoke of his university, the Federal University of Vicosa, and the student-run initiatives on campus. Vertical gardens and soil-painted buildings are but a few of the many awesome agroecology projects that are going on in Vicosa

Wageningen initiatives:

  • New green party intiative for the Wageningen student councilspurred by the Wageningen Environmental Platform (WEP); currently only 1 party exists
  • Yours truly, project EAT
  • Transition Town Permatuin
  • Interdisciplinary Farm Experience; an internship program to connect Wageningen University students to area farmers
  • Seed Swap Wageningen; a seed swap occurred on March 1st and another is to follow in April (look for details on the WEP website)!

P1010508These presentations were meant to bring awareness to the people attending the meeting; in turn, lending them some inspiration for the workshop scheduled for the next day. The workshop brought together 20+ people to decide what actions we were to enact in order to develop an agroecology movement in the Netherlands. Through the World Cafe Method; we quickly decided on two ideas to take action on:

A platform for agroecology would involve the people in the room facilitating connections between agroecological movements around the Netherlands, now! We would do so by connecting it to the Farm Experience, Stichting Boerengroep, volunteers, and editing the Wikipedia page (of which I am excited to take responsibility for). ACT groups and a social media presence through using #agroecology would bring further solidity to the platform, among other forms of networking.

Interdisciplinary Farm Experience is to begin in the summer of 2013 and will involve a number of groups from around Wageningen and the Netherlands. We brought  together ideas to further the new project: selecting and asking particular farms, connecting with the farmers, determining the length of stay, and developing relationships with organizations looking to get involved.

Agroecology is necessary. It is not an option, we must form  alliances around agroecology and further develop the movement across the world. Now, contact one of the initiatives listed and linked above and get started.

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This post was written by Tom Boyden. Tom is an exchange student from the University of Wisconsin-Madison currently doing communications work for EAT and running a blog with the goal of creating a new, sustainable food system, OrganicAndUrban.

What is EAT?

What is an edible academic garden?

The word academic relates to a learning environment focused on education; edible garden implies an aesthetically appealing space where plants will be grown for food and much more.

Wageningen UR is all about food and the quality of life! We are a life sciences university, sometimes we get stuck in our academic bubble and we just need to go outside, get our hands dirty and see how all this ‘theory’ we are learning connects to our every day lives. We see our campus as the perfect place for a hands-on, natural learning environment.

Our mission is to cultivate an edible academic garden where the WUR community can learn about food production and sustainability in action; working collaboratively and putting ecological design into practice.

Is this the same as a school garden?

No, School gardens are typically found on or near primary school grounds; they are most often used to teach science in an outdoor setting. They are typically associated with experiential and environmental education.

Is this the same as a botanic garden?

No, botanical gardens are usually a ‘look – not touch’ kind of place. They serve a valuable function to demonstrate and display plant diversity and garden design.

Our vision is to be a world leader in innovative academic gardens.

So, how are we going to do this?

Layar in action

One way we plan on achieving this is by integrating the latest technological tools to enhance our user’s experience of the garden.

Smartphone technology can now be used to connect educational materials to physical space in a way that wasn’t previously possible. Layar is the technology that will allow us to view digital information, which has been superimposed onto the view of the physical real-world environment around us.

A smart phone will be able to access information about the garden via the Layar app. This could be as simple as plant identification or a complex as a guided tour complete with videos or with additional information to enhance the users experience of the garden.

And why do we need this??

First of all, it allows for more interaction with the garden. It invites people to connect with the space in a different way. It also creates a way for students to use their campus differently.

Here at WUR there is a continuous discussion about the relationship between technology and agriculture. This project connects technology and agriculture in a new an innovative way. It is our intention that Project EAT will be a forum for open discussion from all sides of agriculture; helping to facilitate common ground and foster valuable connections

Let’s connect this technology to Project EAT:

We will soon be presenting our proposal to the executive board. I would like to superimpose a video of the design group presenting the design framework onto the printed proposal.

Jeroen and I will present the project proposal and when it comes time to talk about the location and design I want to scan an image of the printed proposal with an ipad/iphone. This will bring up the video of the design group presenting their design.

Crazy, right?

Why???

Most importantly, because we want the Executive Board to support Project EAT. It is important that the board understands our vision. We want them to see that Project EAT is far more than just a garden; we are developing innovative ways to use the campus and further the mission of Wageningen UR. We have been inspired by our WUR education and we want to inspire them with our creativity and ability to connect theory and practice.

This post was written by Project EAT’s Education and Research Coordinator, Blair Van Pelt.