The Scoop on Sustainability: UNH continues to lead in sustainability
Published: Friday, September 28, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 16:02
On Sept. 24, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan spoke to members of the UNH/Durham community. The event acted as a precursor to UNH Food Day on Oct. 24 and the many food-related activities leading up to it. It also proved topical at a time when the nation’s agricultural system is being impacted by economic constraints, political controversy and climate change.
Despite looming challenges, the presentation remained upbeat and encouraging, kicking off with a YouTube video, “I’m Farming and I Grow It,” a parody of a recent pop hit by the group LMFAO.
Merrigan gave an overview of the many programs the USDA oversees, most notably the addition of a “compass” tool to the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program. The tool enables anyone to enter his or her location online and see the local food landscape of the community, including USDA supported projects, farmers markets and food hubs. It could prove particularly useful for students who may not know the area but wish to take advantage of the local agriculture scene.
One important theme of Monday’s presentation was the economic benefit of local agriculture, a benefit that’s awareness is growing, but that needs more attention. One in 12 jobs is connected to agriculture, but only 14 percent of profits reach the farmers that produce the food. Local and regional agriculture increases this percentage, and buying local creates massive potential for economic growth in the state.
The USDA provides financial assistance to offset costly expenditures related to farming, which is vital to developing local food production. Expansion of local agriculture infrastructure means career opportunities, not only in farming, but also in other areas like academic research.
The response to local and organic food production, particularly among college students, is often, “I can’t afford to buy local.” Merrigan addressed the accessibility, or inaccessibility, of healthy and local food across the United States and ways the USDA attempts to alleviate this problem through education about food choices. For example, eating in season, and supporting subsistence gardening through the Peoples Gardening Initiative. Unfortunately, many of these programs fall under “Nutritional Assistance,” an area of the budget that may be in jeopardy with the renewal of the Farm Bill.
Another focus of the USDA is on the dwindling and aging domestic farming population, the USDA is providing substantial assistance to beginning farmers. Forty percent of loans this year went to beginning farmers, often in the form of cost-sharing. Recently, there has been increased interest from younger populations, and New Hampshire is now tied with Arizona for having the youngest women in the agriculture industry.
According to Merrigan, UNH is doing its part as an “epicenter for sustainability issues,” not only with directly related academic programs, research and clubs, but through Food Month events that engage the university community and the local community. As sustainability is just as much about sustaining quality of life as it is about the environment, understanding the interaction between local choices their global impacts, and quality of life, is where the discussion of agriculture is vital to the university community.
Megan Barry is a senior interning at the Sustainability Institute at UNH.