Last Friday, the Berkeley Student Food Collective asked the question, “Is Sustainable Agriculture the Future?” In a room with a view (a.k.a. the Eschleman Library), with organic food and farming puns to boot, the answer seemed to be a resounding ‘yes.’
UC Berkeley Professor Ignacio Chapela, who leads in the field of Microbial Ecology, believed the question should be met with an obvious, though nuanced, response. “It has to be, but how?”
Sustainable agriculture no longer appears to be a trend, but rather a facet of modern society that is still growing. With everything from vegan, eco-conscious fashion to the mainstreaming of organic food, sustainability appears to be the most logical course for the future of agriculture. The problem is the concept just isn’t finding its most prominent roots in popular culture just yet.
Professor Chapela described the students in the room as a “small proportion of thinking, committed people who represent the future.” Laura Hayes, a fourth year Molecular Environmental Biology major with a focus on ecology, wanted to know how sustainability—the passion for a small number of devoted individuals—was going to become more feasible on a broad scale and more of a popular solution to the problems in the nation’s current food system.
Joel Salatin, a farmer in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley whose farm Polyface Inc. was featured in Professor Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, stated that less than one percent of the nation’s population is involved in farming. And this small group of individuals is not necessarily comprised of the “redneck, hillbilly, trip over the transmission in the backyard hicks” stereotype American culture has attributed to the farming community (even though he is admittedly one of the few who fit that description).
With such a small number of the population producing the nation’s agriculture, Mr. Salatin poignantly inquired, “Can we survive?”
The conversation was one that was truly enthralling and provided meditations on the mainstreaming of trends and ideals in American society. Instead of clothing lines, accessories, and RiRi’s latest single, however, the future of agriculture, the food system, and sustainability was at stake.
When asked how the public can gain a greater awareness of sustainable agriculture and food systems, Sibella Kraus, the president of the non-profit organization dealing with local food systems, SAGE (Sustainable Agriculture Education), talked of the relationship an individual has with their food. She highlighted the importance of tracing one’s food back to its source, of going to the place where the food is grown, stating that one’s education about and relationship with food is equally intellectual and experiential.
So, what exactly are the ties between carrots and couture?
The event had many take away themes that are applicable outside of the topic of sustainability. Ms. Kraus’s statement about the duality of intellectual and experiential relationships was quite insightful, as were two messages made by Mr. Salatin: “Bloom where you’re planted” and “Today’s movement is tomorrow’s opportunity.”
While the link between one’s love for couture and art with agricultural society and food systems may not seem obvious, the Berkeley Student Food Collective offered a conversation that helped illuminate the intersectionality of our cultural practices and values. After all, that chicken breast sandwich at Smart Alec’s may be organic, but so is that 100 percent organic cotton t-shirt you bought with that nifty, ironic graphic on the front.
You can learn more about the Berkeley Student Food Collective here. The event was catered by the Collective, which operates a store at 2440 Bancroft Way that is open weekdays from 9:00am-7:00pm.