A group of seven students in the Colleges’ Sustainable Living and Learning Community (SLLC) Program – a specialized First-Year Seminar focused on sustainability education and community – recently attended the New York Chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s (NOFA-NY) annual winter conference in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Accompanied by Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Robin Lewis, one of the faculty members leading the SLLC Program, the students included: Benjamin Crosby ’20, Nicholas Khan ’20, Emma Loubsky-Lonergan ’20, Victoria “Tori” Malamas ’20, Lucas Mischler ’20, James Monaco ’20 and Alyda Twilley ’20. SLLC Teaching Colleague Alyssa Kelly ’19 and former residential assistant Jeff Rizza ’16, MAT ’17 also attended.
The three-day conference featured more than 100 workshops focused on the theme of diversity and biodiversity in agriculture. Workshops were led by a variety of professionals from across New York State working in the agricultural field, including chefs, farmers, and agricultural and environmental scientists.
“As someone who has not encountered many organic farmers, it was extremely interesting to hear what their passions and struggles are as producers of our organic foods,” says Malamas, noting since attending the conference she has shared what she learned with her classmates and professors.
For Mischler and Twilley, the knowledge gained at the conference translates directly into their campus sustainability intervention group project – a required semester-long assignment for students in the SLLC Program – which they decided to focus on the HWS Fribolin Farm. As part of the project, students are required to tackle a sustainability “issue” on the HWS campus and pitch a solution outlined in a final “action plan.” Lewis explains that the group was able to gain multiple perspectives from farmers across the state about best practices in the agricultural sector that can be incorporated into their research and proposed solution.
“Students were able to network with others who share their interests and many of the SLLC students seemed to have walked away feeling inspired,” Lewis says. “Beyond the conference content, I was also happy to see a group of highly engaged and talented first-year students coalesce and bond around their shared interests.”
The conference also provided Crosby, Monaco and Rizza an opportunity to gain new insight on aquaponics – a method of soilless farming – that can be applied to the educational aquaponics system installed by Rizza and his peers in the Environmental Studies House last spring. Crosby and Monaco are now part of a team of students who are maintaining the aquaponics system and also investigating potential campus and community collaboration to increase interest in soilless food production systems.
“I thought the conference was valuable,” says Monaco. “We were able to see the execution of sustainability and hear from the people on the ground living the values that we learn about in the classroom.”
Support for the students’ participation in the NOFA-NY conference was generously provided by the Kloman Fund, Office of the President, Sustainable Community Development Program and SLLC Program.