Project Promotes Dialogue With Farmers in Mexico
While many students, faculty and staff were planning their summers during the first week of June, a handful of people from Alma College were in Mexico planning a project of global importance.
The Alma contingent, led by Professor Ed Lorenz, met with
farmers and leaders of the indigenous Tarahumara group in the Mexican
state of Chihuahua from May 31 through June 5 to plan the first forum
of the Common Table Project, which seeks to pioneer continuing dialogue
between rural residents of Mexico and Michigan.
“The purpose of the Common Table Project is to provide a forum to
bring together farmers and other rural residents in the United States
and Mexico to see what concerns are common, and which are not, and what
can be done to address concerns,” said Lorenz.
The idea for the project traces back to the 2001 when the College’s Public Affairs Institute hosted “farm forums” that raised many agricultural issues.
“We began to hear concerns of farmers and rural residents of the area around Alma with the industrialization and globalization of agriculture,” says Lorenz. Similarly, since 1996 when Lorenz began taking student groups to Mexico, time and again “I was hearing of the negative impacts of current trade policy on Mexican agriculture,” he says.
Since the latter half of the 20th century, the world has increasingly seen the effects of what is often termed the third agricultural revolution, said Lorenz. Issues of concern have included intensifying industrialization, rationalization of land tenure, increased use of pesticides and other chemicals, full globalization of the food supply, and bio-technology. Many of these issues have not yet been thoroughly discussed, examined or explained by and to the rural residents directly impacted.
The Common Table Project will take a distinctive approach, grounding its work in two very different yet specific rural communities, Michigan and Chihuahua, to initiate a global perspective on the cultural, economic, environmental, political, social and technological challenges and impacts on agricultural practices, rural life and the broader community sustainability.
“Alma College is ideally suited to host the Common Table discussions,” Lorenz says, “because as a liberal arts college, we are structured to bring together interdisciplinary perspectives needed to fully assess the options people face.”
Additionally, the College’s significant involvement with the Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force, previous work in Mexico, and goal of active, responsible leadership affirm Alma’s continuing commitment and attention to real-world issues and experiences, benefiting students, local and even international communities, and future generations, said Lorenz.
“Recommendations should be developed to make rural life, migration and agriculture more humane, with renewed respect for life, human communities and human rights,” said Lorenz. “The Common Table Project positions Alma to playing a pivotal role in the global discussion of agricultural change.”
The first Common Table forum is planned to occur in Chihuahua in late August 2007. A forum in Michigan later this fall and at least two more in 2008 will follow.
The funding for the initial meetings is provided by a grant from the W.K.K. Fund of the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation, supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation as part of a trustee mini-grant program designated by Dottie Johnson, the wife of Alma College Trustee Mart Johnson.
Posted: Thu, July 5th, 2007 at 1:53PM