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A local farm gives Naz students hope for the future of climate change

Published November 03, 2022

A field trip to see environmentally friendly practices at a local farm gave Nazareth students new understanding about agricultural strategies to address climate change.

"We are often asked what solutions there could possibly be for issues like climate change. It is one thing to learn about these topics in a classroom, but it adds another layer of knowledge to learn from someone who is actively a part of finding those solutions," said Sarah Roush '23, who is working on a double major in dance and global sustainability.

Roush shared the experience with her classmates in Professor Devparna Roy's environmental sociology class when they recently visited Squash Blossom Farm near Naples, New York. The trip was made possible by Weider Community Engagement at Nazareth. Farmer Jeremiah Pacheco practices regenerative agriculture — using the power of plant photosynthesis to help isolate carbon in the soil while improving the soil's health over time. He also uses very little plastic on the farm, and applies simple technology.

"Climate change is the greatest existential threat facing humanity today," said Roy, director of Nazareth's global sustainability undergraduate program and a sociology and anthropology professor. "Students in my class have been exposed to the principles of non-industrial farming in the classroom with the help of textbooks, lectures, and films. This was a voluntary field trip that taught them more about sustainable agriculture and regenerative agriculture, and how such non-industrial agricultural practices can contribute toward mitigating the worst impacts of, and perhaps even reversing, climate change."

Pacheco chooses not to use often toxic and harmful chemicals, and instead views crop loss as a natural occurrence that arises when a plant is diseased or simply not suited for growth.

"I found it interesting that there is a difference between traditional organic farming and regenerative farming," said Veronica Szaba '24, who is studying biology. "The trip inspired me to look into the local fresh food options that are available to me to better understand the personal story that comes with each fruit, vegetable, or animal product I consume. I also hope to be more conscious about the produce and other foods I purchase in the future, and apply what I have gained from this experience to the topics we continue to discuss in class."

A secondary reason for the trip: Students saw first-hand how a small organic farmer survives and even thrives in the agricultural landscape of New York State today.

Squash Blossom Farm is growing many varieties of vegetables this season, like lettuce, broccoli, and turnips. Their plan for the future is to purchase cows and poultry to help the crops and environment even more. Pacheco says rotational grazing with animals is an excellent way to build organic matter in soils, which is most effective to sequester carbon from air.

"Rather than use a tractor to help quicken the process of their farming, Jeremiah and his wife do everything by hand," said sociology major Shelby Monroe '24. "One thing that Jeremiah spoke on that totally surprised me was that tractor farming is contributing to global warming. The smoke and gas from the machine is extremely harmful to the soil and allows bad bacteria to grow there which is very similar to what we have learned in our environmental sociology textbook."

Student Megan Forney '22, a chemistry major graduating in December, was impressed with the variety of plants that Pacheco and his wife grow on their 57-acre farm, with one acre of vegetable production this year. "They are able to provide more than 100 people with the majority of their produce with a small-scale farming operation," she said. "Discussions on regenerative farming and community-supported agriculture also made me curious about the logistics of how to start shifting from buying produce from industrial sources to smaller farms and the affordability of that."

This trip showed sociology major Yahya Sellars '23 that farming takes a lot of skill and dedication. "Growing up in New York City, I was taught that farming is a job that uneducated people do, but it is the lifeline of every civilization." Sellars added, "Corporate farms focus on productivity rather than care and quality — mainly due to their focus on profit and their huge customer base. If society focused more on small-scale farmers like Jeremiah who believe in natural farming, then the U.S could have more healthy and less processed food."

Environmental studies and sustainability major Joshua Triou '26 hopes to use knowledge he learned at the farm in his future career in conservation. "Unfortunately, sustainable and organic farming do not have yields as high as industrial farming, which makes it less attractive to farmers and investors. He said switching to more environmentally-friendly agriculture will not be easy and would require more people to become farmers. "Seeing how vital the ecosystem is to maintaining human activities like agriculture really drives home one of the points of environmental sociology — that nature is vital to us no matter how disconnected we may think we are from it."

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