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Cider Pressing with CEEDS

2 Nov

Over Family Weekend this year students and their families gathered outside the Campus Center to celebrate Fall with CEEDS faculty, staff and student interns by pressing cider, tasting apples, eating freshly made cider donuts and sampling cheese. Attendees got to press their own fresh cider the old fashioned way via hand-cranked cider presses. More apples were consumed at the heirloom apple tasting table where seven very different local apple varieties were available for tasting. Dining Services partnered with us to offer some tasty aged local cheeses to pair with the apples.

Click through the gallery to see some photos from the event.

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– Brittany Bennett is a senior Engineering Science major hailing from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She hopes to educate engineers on how to best create a more sustainable world.

Garden Inspiration

27 Jul

Hi everyone!

My name is Danielle and this summer I’m working as the garden manager at the Community Garden on campus. Come fall I’m going to be a senior somehow but I still have a few more months of denial first. As was mentioned in an earlier post, I’m an Economics major (no idea how that happened) and I’m also IMG_2624in the Sustainable Food concentration. My favorite food right now is cereal because I haven’t gone grocery shopping in forever and it’s the perfect way to settle in and cool down after an afternoon of weeding my beloved garden.

I ended up here, covered with an intricate web of tan lines, perpetually aware of the dirt wedged under my fingernails, and eating cold cereal out of a coffee mug at 8 pm, through a long series of fortunate, random circumstances. I proudly come from a family of farmers. Growing up, I thought that, like me, all of my classmates had farms outside of town, that they would visit their farms on the weekends and would be welcomed by the choking aroma of manure that seemed to cloud the atmosphere, followed by warm cookies and milk fresh from the cow. It wasn’t until I was much older, after the farm had shut down, that I realized how special this part of my life was.

Of course, given that I was only a kid at the time, my memories of jumping on hay bales (imagine the lava game but x1000) and kissing calves straight on the mouth (because germs are whatever) are overly romanticized. My grandparents, together with my mom and her five siblings, all worked extremely hard. The cows required milking twice a day every single day of the year. That meant every day before school, every Christmas morning before presents, in blizzards and sweltering New England humidity. And they were extremely poor. As with most families who depend on agriculture, survival of the family was closely tied to the survival of the farm. Yet despite everything that was put into it and despite everything that it produced (probably about 100 million pints of ice cream, and also severe arthritis for some), the farm as a business was not viable in the end.

The story of this farm, though not uncommon in the grand scheme of things, has been extraordinarily influential in many of my endeavors since its closure. Apart from the wonderful memories, the farm gave me a deep respect for one of the most unappreciated professions of all time: the production of the food we eat every day. I had always been a bit obsessed with food (and still am, and I strongly encourage everyone else to be), but it wasn’t until I made the connection that all of the food on my plate, in the pantry, and at the grocery story actually came from somewhere and, more importantly, someone that everything changed. I kid you not, sometimes I look at an ear of corn and see a human face.

Since then, I’ve used food as a sort of lens into a world that may otherwise have been inaccessible. At Smith, this has manifested in incredible discussions about the invisible forces that create our food systems, neoliberalism and international trade policies, the role of agriculture in sustainable development, the effects of climate change on the livelihood of farmers everywhere, slavery and foundations of exploitative agricultural labor practices in the US, systematic racism and issues of food distribution in our cities, the untold stories of women in agriculture, powerful corIMG_2621porations, scarcity, and abundance. The question of food, from sustainable production to equitable distribution, is one of the greatest conundrums of our time, so as far as obsessions go, I don’t think it’s such a bad one to have. Last summer, it brought me to the Dominican Republic, where I had the unspeakable privilege of visiting a number of sugar plantations and seeing for myself the many layers of the controversy that has recently been in the news. This summer, it has brought me to this on-campus position supported by CEEDS and an internship at Grow Food Northampton, where I’ve had the opportunity to learn firsthand about what it takes to grow food.

Anyway, that’s how I got here, and with that I’ll end my first (long-overdue) post as Community Garden Manager. Stick around to hear me talk about something other than me, like the exciting stuff that’s growing in the garden, the people I’ve met, and all the new words I’ve learned! In the meantime, here’s a sneak peak:

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Early days- volunteers planting and staking tomato plants.

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Tomatoes in July are starting to show some color!

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Red currants ripening on the bushes.

In the area? We are in the garden behind Gillett House each Sunday between 3-6 p.m and would love your company!

It’s Summertime, and the Community Garden is Going Strong

24 Jun

Meet Danielle Jacques- this summer’s Community Garden Manager! Danielle is an economics major and student in the environmental concentration: sustainable food in the class of 2016.

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If you were to run into Danielle on campus during the academic year, she would probably be thinking about globalization and food systems or international trade. This summer, however, she has taken on an internship with Grow Food Northampton and the position with the student-run campus garden in order to learn more about what it takes to produce the food that sustains all of us. This may seem a bit of a switch, but it turns out that Danielle grew up in Maine next door to her grandparents’ dairy farm. The farm is no longer in operation, but that early introduction to life with 200-300 dairy cattle made an impression. She and her Mom still raise animals- chickens for eggs and to sell, but Danielle is now ready to learn about what it takes to grow produce from start to finish. In addition to planning and caring for the garden on a regular basis she will also be looking into how to more effectively compost the garden’s organic waste onsite.

For Danielle, some garden highlights to come include the berries- ALL the berries and Brussel sprouts and sweet onion later in the fall. Oh, and meeting all the wonderful members of the Smith community who want to get involved! If you want to know when the regular drop-in times are for meeting others in the garden email jbenkley at smith.edu. Come join the fun!

Florida Adventures with Native Bees!

14 Apr

I am a student Fellow in the Kahn Institute of Liberal Arts yearlong project “The Power of Disappearance”.  There are 15 faculty and 4 student Fellows in my group and we are all studying vastly different topics that revolve around the single word “disappearance”.  My honeybee passion has been ongoing for a few years now, and for this Kahn project I decided to push my boundaries and study disappearances within native bee species. I went into the project knowing I wanted to make a film, because making a film is much more fun than writing a paper or creating a powerpoint, both for me and the viewer.  Plus, I saw this as an issue that could inspire action, and films often have the power to do that.  The film Queen of the Sun is what initially got me into studying bees, and I wanted to pay homage to that.

Over Spring Break I traveled to Gainesville, Florida to interview researchers in the native bee biology lab at the University of Florida.  I had never been to Florida! Cory Stanley-Stahr, a post-doc in the bee lab, is an incredibly kind and knowledgeable person and was the person who I organized the trip with.  She picked me up from the airport and helped me set up interviews with people in the bee lab and community.

I filmed Cory explaining what native bee hotels are, and how people can help native bee populations by building bee hotels and providing more nesting spaces for these bees.  I also interviewed two of Cory’s lab technicians, including Mary, who dissected a frozen bumblebee hive to show me its components (have you ever seen the inside of a bumblebee nest?).  My aim is to create a film that educates people about bees (other than honeybees), explains why native bees matter, and addresses simple ways people can help native bee populations.

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The inside of a bumblebee nest- a still shot from my film.

You can read more stories and see pictures from my adventure at thesecret-lifeofbees.blogspot.com.  Also please come to my Collaborations presentation where I will be debuting my film on campus: Saturday April 18th at 10:45am in Seelye 106.

-Haley Crockett is graduating this May and is an American Studies major and proud Sustainable Food concentrator at Smith.

Spotlight: Amelia Burke, ’15

11 Mar

Meet Amelia: Amelia developed a well-established interest in Middle Eastern studies and sustainable agriculture in the year before she arrived at Smith. During her gap year, she worked in the West Bank, writing for a Palestinian news site, went WWOOFing in Italy and hiked a portion of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. She arrived at Smith ready to focus on environmental sustainability and land revitalization through sustainable agriculture. This spring, she will be graduating with a degree in Middle Eastern studies, a minor in environmental science and policy, and a concentration in sustainable food.

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During her first two years at Smith, she worked on research projects relating to climate refugees and abuses of freedom in Northern Africa. By her junior year, she decided to take another year off to engage in foreign sustainability issues in agriculture. Amelia had plans to return to the West Bank for an internship at a women’s olive oil cooperative, but upon being denied entry at the border, she was forced to improvise the following year’s plans.

Working her way across continents, she lived in Jordan, worked on a dairy farm in Turkey, a horse farm in Bulgaria, and a kiwi farm in Italy. Her travels then turned south, where she worked on permaculture at an Eco lodge in Egypt and then headed to Zimbabwe for an internship at the Africa Centre for Holistic Management. There she focused on improving degraded soil through proper cattle management. She next headed up to Morocco with plans to use Smith’s Praxis scholarship. Up in the Moroccan highlands, she worked at the High Atlas Foundation, engaged with rural development strategies through fruit and nut tree cultivation and production. In her last year at Smith (oh yes, she accelerated a year) she applied for a Fulbright and is now a finalist for goat and sheep management systems on rates of pasture regrowth in the Middle Atlas.

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When asked how Smith has contributed to her academic goals she responded: “there is no defined outcome [for what you get out of an academic institution].” As we can see, Amelia patchworked her own academic trajectory through Smith and beyond.

Thanks Amelia for sharing your unique navigation through Smith and good luck with all your future endeavors!

-Odessa Aguirre is a senior at Smith College from Sonora, California. She studies Anthropology with a focus on immigration and Spanish. When she is not at Smith College, she is somewhere sunny and warm. Her future plans include backpacking in every feasible mountain range–and for the non-feasible mountain ranges, she has plans to train as a mountaineer.

Smithies take a Fieldtrip to Crimson and Clover Farm

8 Dec

ThCC logois fall semester, students from the ENV 100: Environment and Sustainability: Notes from the Field lecture course, loaded into vans for a fieldtrip to Crimson and Clover Farm. Located in Florence, MA, Crimson and Clover works closely with the Northampton Community Farm in an effort to sustain community based farming. On 40 acres, they primarily grow fruit, vegetables, and flowers for their Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA) and for nearby farmers markets. And thus—on a beautiful fall day—students toured Crimson and Clover with head farmer, Nate Frigard, exploring the open fields and greenhouses and learning about sustainable farming.

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Back in the Smith classroom, students were asked to write reflection papers incorporating their newfound knowledge. Many wrote about how CSA models benefit small farmers, addressing how Crimson and Clover survives by their steady 300+ CSA members. One student reported that “in the variable world of farming, CSA provides both the producer and consumer with predictability and stability while still providing a superior product and healing the land and communities.” Another student recognized CSAs as imperative for maintaining balanced, creative, and sustainable diets year-round. Further addressing Crimson and Clover’s year-round CSA, she maintained: “year round production of food does not mean tomatoes in January in Massachusetts or individual chip bags hanging on trees, but bounty in the summer so that members can preserve for the coming winter.”

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Alternatively, an international student from China offered a unique perspective. Addressing a recent experience she had at home, she reflected:

“This summer I went to my father’s hometown, a quiet village called XiaoXian in Anhui Province, China. I could not tell the differences in the village from my last visit ten years ago, but my father said there were some big changes going on right before my eyes. Land in rural China is owned by the government, not by individuals. After a reform in 1978, however, individual farmers were allocated lands for their own use. Today, lands are becoming cooperative once again, because young adults, who are supposed to be the main laborers in families nearly all leave for cities; those who are left behind are mainly the elders and children. Farmers no longer cultivate the land on their own and earn profits for their single household; instead, they work together. This pattern in China is similar to CSA in the States, for both of them invoke a sense of community and cooperation. They differ in that the Chinese farms still operate as a small part of the larger agriculture industry while in the U.S., the CSA makes itself a complete market. Instead of selling produce to an enormous market far away, to unknown customers, perhaps such collective farms in China could try to form a smaller, nearby market for themselves, like CSA farms in the U.S. After all, this was how agriculture worked in the old days. There are two obvious benefits of doing this: creating a tighter community and improving the food quality.”

These varied student reactions to the Crimson and Clover field trip remind us of the sense of community and the high-quality food desired across cultures and different backgrounds. They address the means by which we can, and are, creating reliable and small-scale food systems. A big thanks to Crimson and Clover for providing an educational day on the farm!

-CEEDS intern Odessa Aguirre is a senior at Smith College from Sonora, California. She studies Anthropology with a focus on immigration and Spanish. When she is not at Smith College, she is somewhere sunny and warm. Her future plans include backpacking in every feasible mountain range–and for the non-feasible mountain ranges, she has plans to train as a mountaineer.

An Impressive Affair: CEEDS’ 4th Annual Cider Festival

4 Nov

The Center for the Environment, Ecological Design, and Sustainability [CEEDS] celebrated Family Weekend with a cider pressing event* on October 25th to great success.

This being my first experience with this event I did not know what to expect.  That morning, I staggered over to Chapin annex road with a milk crate filled with 6 varieties of heirloom apples. As I rounded the corner of Chapin I was amazed to see a white pick-up truck filled to the brim with an impressive load of apples -of all different colors, shapes, and sizes.

Lily1The truckload of apples: a mix of Macoun, Gala, Empire, and Honeycrisp.

As the morning preparations continued in a flurry of table cloths and apple slicing, crowds of parents, clearly in awe with the idyllic setting of Smith College on a breezy fall morning, began gathering around the apple tasting and cider press.

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As the numbers grew I was soon unable to see anything past the heirloom tasting table where I was stationed. Parents and students crowded around the white-clothed, apple laden table, clutching compostable cups of fresh-pressed cider and samples of aged local cheeses or a Hadley-made cider donut.  I could hear the director’s voice facilitating the operation of the pressing as people called out their preferred varieties for tasting to me.

Over and over, I was asked where the apples had come from (Scott farm in Dummerston, Vermont) and where one could get some of the heirloom varieties. “Our supermarket would never have these!” was a constant refrain. ‘”I never knew there were so many kinds of apples!” was another common exclamation. It was wonderful to see so many people marveling in the possibilities of such local, diverse fruit.

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The heirloom apple tasting table.

The grandmother of a friend of mine delighted immensely in the Cox’s Orange Pippen, her favorite variety of apple, which has been unavailable to her since she moved to the States from Great Britain. She reported that she had tried to smuggle a pound of this variety through airport security a few years prior, but had had them confiscated.

I slipped her a whole apple.

-Lily Carlisle-Reske is a sophomore at Smith College from Alexandria, Virginia. She is studying environmental science and policy with a concentration in sustainable food and Italian. When she is not working she is probably in the kitchen stirring a pot of soup and baking bread.

*The event, this year in collaboration with Dining Services, included cider pressing with apples generously donated by Clark Brothers Orchard in Ashfield, MA (and gathered by CEEDS students and staff), fresh-made cider donuts from Atkins Farms in South Amherst, MA, an heirloom apple tasting with apples from Scott Farm in Dummerston, VT, and 1yr and 5yr cheddar cheese from Grafton Village in Grafton, VT.

It all begins with the community: a site visit to Azilal Province

23 Oct

This post by student in the sustainable food concentration about her experience in Morocco was originally published on the High Atlas Foundation blog on Wednesday, 21 May 2014 11:49

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It was well past nine by the time we rumbled through the city to pick up Abderrahim. The streets of the medina were only just waking up from their Sunday morning snooze, but HAF’s Project Manager had been up since six. He hopped in the front seat of the taxi, passing back loaves of warm barley bread to the four of us scrunched into the back seat. We were happy to accept; it would be a long ride to Azilal province.

It is summer already in Marrakech. The city echoes with the slapping of thousands of sandals on hot pavement. People congregate at night in the cool parks, squares and cafés, sipping juices, feeding pigeons and chatting. But outside of the city the change in season takes on a larger significance. As we drive, we see on either side of the road small groups of men and women harvesting golden fields of wheat, scything the long grass with steady rhythm. The barley harvest has also begun, and the markets are already filled with fresh apricots, peaches, melons and plums. In a country where more than 45% of the labor force works in agriculture; the harvest is a matter of the utmost environmental, cultural and economic importance.

We drive north along a dusty road for a couple of hours before we stop at a roadside café. As we dip our bread in olive oil, honey and amlou – a nut paste mixed with argan oil – we discuss the agricultural system that produced our breakfast. What does it take to grow almonds, walnuts, and olives in the mountains of Azilal province? Why these crops? Encouraging fruit tree cultivation over grain or livestock production can be challenging, but the environmental and economic benefits, can be enormous. Today we’ll be seeing HAF’s methodology in action, visiting a tree nursery and seeing the beginnings of participatory planning in a local community. With the launch of HA3, the High Atlas Agriculture and Artisanal enterprise developed to connect farmers with organic markets domestically and abroad, these nuts and oils will mean increased family incomes and reinvestment in community development. But it all begins with the trees.

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Our breakfast finished with sweet cups of tea, we head on toward the nursery, passing the incredible Bin al Ouidane lake with its myriad shades of blue and green. Dammed in the 1950’s for hydro-electric power and irrigation, the lake reflects all of the faded greens and clay reds of the mountains. The new nursery, built in partnership with a local cooperative, is nestled into the slope of one of these mountains. We half walk, half slide our way down to the terraced beds. The three large plots are all prepared for planting, and several workers have already begun propagating thousands of olives in the lowest bed. The farmers use varieties that are well adapted to this mountainous environment, and the cuttings used for planting come from local olive trees, dried briefly to prevent rot. Abderrahim is hopeful that the success rate could be over 90%, comparable to the nearby nursery at Ait Mohammed.

The two upper terraced beds will soon be filled with more fruit trees: walnuts mixed with the adult almonds already littering the land, providing ample saplings to distribute to local farmers. These varieties, unlike many fruit trees grown in the region, don’t require pesticides or intensive irrigation, and are therefore excellent candidates for organic cultivation. Additionally, on the mountainous soils of Azilal province, they are essential in the battle against ongoing soil erosion.

These nurseries represent a huge commitment from the participating communities – some trees, such as almonds, will mature enough to bear fruit in a couple of years, but others will take as many as seven or eight. The amount of labor required, especially early on in the process, is high, but regular labor is also required after the seedlings sprout. Yet the local cooperative has been more than willing to take on these responsibilities, ensuring regular maintenance by community members and leasing land. Efficient drip irrigation systems are the next step here. The community is making excellent progress considering they only began clearing the land in late February. Insha’allah, these neat rows will soon be spotted with olive seedlings.

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 It’s now past noon and the blazing sun makes the air above us dance. Slowly, we make our goodbyes and work our way back up the hill to the taxi and toward Ourouizarght. It’s a small town, but a hub of the province, and it is here that we meet Amina. As the director of a women’s association in town, she’ll be joining us for a community visit to Ait Shribou, a nearby village. HAF hasn’t yet gotten involved in the community, so we’re here to introduce the organization and to get a feel for the conditions of the village, its environment and its agriculture. On the way there, we pick up women and children who volunteer to show us around. It is strikingly beautiful: walnuts are already coming in on the trees and some spring wildflowers are still in bloom. Si Hassan stops the cab by the edge of the road and we climb down into the valley.

The slopes are fairly steep and we stop in front of a small cave where one of the women invites  us to drink the spring water. Ait Shribou is built around this spring and its sweet water is syphoned off into an aqueduct and transported to surrounding towns. Further down the hill, several women have gathered with their children to wash laundry in the aqueduct, beating their clothes dry in the sun.

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Despite its water resources, life in the village is difficult. We gather in a small shop on the other side of the valley to identify the most pressing community issues. The three men in the shop offer us a table and chairs, and join the women in discussing the state of the village. Soon, poster paper and colored markers are produced, and two of the younger villagers began to map out their community. From this, in Darija (Moroccan Arabic) mixed with Tamazight (the local Berber Amazigh dialect), the development priorities of the village are discussed. Soon the paper is splattered in red, green and blue and the whole table is laughing. Neighbors leading donkeys peek into the shop, buying sugar and candies for the kids, and fresh mint is brought for tea. The discussion continues for several hours, and at the end, a meeting with the women of the community is proposed for the coming weeks. Spirits are high as we thank our hosts and work our way back to the car. As soon as the wheat harvest is finished, these women too will drink cups of steaming tea and discuss strengthening the future of their communities, one tree at a time.

Amelia Burke, HAF intern
Photos: Amelia Burke

Amelia Burke, ’16 is in the process of accelerating by an academic year to compensate for time spent working and learning abroad. She studies Middle Eastern Studies, Environmental Science and Policy and concentrates in Sustainable Food and is interested in HLLM implementation in North Africa. She returned to Smith this fall and is HR of Parsons House.

Keep current on gender and international agriculture

20 Oct

https://www.flickr.com/photos/icrisat/5814411222/in/faves-croptrust/ Sorghum at its peak.

Agriculture is the largest employer of rural women in much of the developing world (FAO 2011). Yet women farmers often face gender-based productive constraints, largely in the form of unequal access to resources. The world’s female farmers own less land, manage less livestock, and use less purchased fertilizer than men; they are less likely to obtain formal education, credit, insurance, membership in groups or collectives, and improved seed and livestock breeds (FAO 2011). In many agricultural communities, female-headed households are less resilient to economic and environmental stressors and more food insecure than their male-headed counterparts (for evidence from Africa, see a recent working paper from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research). As should be the case, multilateral agencies and research institutions are increasingly committed to redressing gender inequality through agricultural and rural development.

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An Ahir tribal woman in Nadapa village, east of Bhuj harvesting wheat.

Through my research on and off campus, I have amassed a collection of favorite agriculture-related blogs. Below are some of the sites that I use to keep current on gender issues on the international ag front. Enjoy.

1. Gender-Nutrition Idea Exchange of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health
2. Year of Gender news page of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics
3. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI): Gender
4. Gender, Agriculture, & Assets Project of IFPRI and the International Livestock Research Institute
5. Gender & Food Policy News from IFPRI
6. Climate Change, Collective Action, & Women’s Assets from IFPRI
7. On Gender and Restoration: A case study series by the International Union for Conservation of Nature
8. Agroforestry World posts on gender from the World Agroforestry Center

– Jacqueline Maasch ’16J

Jacqueline is an anthropology major, environmental science & policy minor, and sustainable food concentrator. Her interests include agroecology, human nutrition, (agro)biodiversity conservation, and climate.

Agriculture and transboundary infectious diseases – the Ebola crisis

14 Oct

20141010-BABY-slide-MFC3-videoSixteenByNine1050_NYTPhoto: Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

International Food Policy Research Institute Director General Shenggen Fan has authored an opinion piece on the implications of the Ebola crisis for food systems in West Africa. The article, Preventing an Ebola-Related Food Crisis, was posted to IFPRI’s DG Corner blog on October 9th.

Agricultural production, food importation, labor availability, and local trade have been significantly upset in many regions struck with the virus. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 40 percent of farmers in Kailahun, Sierra Leone, have abandoned their farms since the outbreak, while cultivation has ceased on 90 percent of agricultural land. Harvests have been disrupted due to labor shortages as people fall ill, are quarantined, or are prevented from traveling freely. Consequences include decreased food availability and rapid increases in food prices: the cost of rice has increased by up to 30% in Ebola-stricken regions (World Bank 2014), while cassava has jumped in price by up to 150% in Liberia (FAO 2014). See the original World Bank and FAO reports for more information.

Fan offers his own recommendations for moderating what could become a large-scale food crisis. I assume this blog’s readership includes those who share my interest in evidence-based agricultural growth that is responsive to the needs of people – perhaps you also have thoughts on the implications of zoonotic epidemics for agricultural livelihoods, and what can and should be done in times of crisis.

I have more questions than answers.

– Jacqueline Maasch ’16J

Jacqueline is an anthropology major, environmental science & policy minor, and sustainable food concentrator. Her interests include agroecology, human health & nutrition, (agro)biodiversity conservation, and climate.