May 10, 2023
This blog captures the reflections and main takeaways of the Food and Farm Immersion course from a handful of students within this year's graduate cohort. The immersive is a key component of the curriculum for the Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership graduate certificate and the Sustainable Food Systems master's degree. These comments were collected during the trip from observations and conversations, as well as after the trip via email and text when the students returned home and had time to consolidate their experiences. While the reflections vary in a lot of aspects, similar themes of eye-opening experiences, inspiring learnings, and comradery stood out from their responses. To read the student bios, click here.
As a member of the 2022 Cohort and being responsible for consolidating these responses, this blog would be incomplete without my contribution. In starting to sing the song of praise, I will begin with this line: “Oh how I wish to thank Suzanne, Jane, Colleen, and the entire Swette Center team."
As we toured farming communities and livestock farms, the first thing that registered with me is that policy designs for sustainability should be a product of necessity with buy-in from the effected communities. This is true for the tribal community as well as the urban farming community. My impression from the Arizona Farm Immersion reinforces my belief that working in consonance with the community leads to optimum results. My reflections on the operations we visited can be summarized in a few words: educative, inspiring, and unique yet replicable.
My observed value was in Duncan Family Farm’s progression over the years without sacrificing its core values of good soil management and care for their employees. Duncan Family Farms may have started as a small organic family business, but it has grown into a multi-state, multi-specialty operation. Although DFF has grown quite a lot over the last 30 years, it keeps the same values and mission of treating people and the planet with the utmost respect. DFF focuses on good soil management, providing nutritious, life-giving food, and healthy employees and consumers.
I found each operation we visited to be eye-opening and unlike the others. The opportunity to see and experience the vast array of production models allowed students to understand how important thoughtful policy must be. Arizona farmers produce food that feeds us year-round given the warm climate and the supporting infrastructure. The broad spectrum of crops produced in Arizona allows farmers of all kinds to participate in the agricultural economy. The immersive gave students a first-hand point of view on how development, water, labor, and the changing climate are directly impacting operators on the ground.
Prior to the immersive, I wasn't very versed on water usage and water access, so seeing Arizona's water struggle within agriculture was a bit jarring. Also, talking to more people on the trip and learning from our colleagues’ experience on how water resources are managed in their states was insightful. Now I want to research a little bit more into how Oregon, where I live, manages water resources. It was also remarkable to understand the contribution of Arizona to the nation’s food system knowing that the state is largely a desert.
The 2022 Food and Farm Immersion Program was a great experience to learn different perspectives along the entire food system supply chain. I enjoyed learning firsthand from different stakeholders and hope to apply this insight as we shape our future food system.
My main takeaway is connecting the lessons from our first class, SFS 562: Managing Natural Resources for Food Production, to the practical experience on farms, orchards, and processing centers over the course of five days. It was a great opportunity to spend time with 22 fantastic individuals. I was super happy to get to know everyone and learn how passionate each one of us is about sustainability and farming. I am looking forward to our next immersive in DC in May of 2023.
I think this immersive is an extremely valuable aspect of the program. Enacting food systems change is a collaborative effort and the in-person experience with our cohort allowed us to really have that camaraderie and connection to truly work collaboratively. It was eye-opening to see the agriculture industry in Arizona first-hand, and I am extremely grateful to all our hosts for opening their farms and businesses to give us that experience.
Our week in Arizona provided an invaluable opportunity to hear firsthand from farmers how they're helping feed a growing global population amidst water, labor, and land shortages. I was moved by their expertise and dedication to their work, and grateful for the opportunity to be surrounded by fellow students committed to bettering our food system. For anyone looking to do food systems work, I believe a farm immersion like this should be a prerequisite!
The Arizona Farm Immersive provided great exposure to different production models and perspectives in agriculture. It opened my eyes to the precarious state that some of our natural resources are in. I keep thinking about how much produce Yuma provides during this time of year. The severity of the impacts that a loss of water resources in Arizona can have on the entire North American supply chain is astonishing. The experience gave me more motivation to continue to work toward food security in my own state and to educate our leaders about the importance of building resilient regional food systems. I came home with a new sense of belonging and camaraderie with my fellow cohort members. They are an outstanding group of human beings and it's been a pleasure getting to know each of them better.
The Farm Immersion course provides the singular opportunity for cohorts to become better acquainted and coalesce as peers. The selected sites offered varied perspectives from those working in our food system, and traveling together allowed students time to contemplate and engage in thoughtful discussion. Our travels cemented our ties as colleagues and friends. I am truly grateful for the experience, particularly for sharing it with such passionate, insightful, and talented peers.
Upon reflection of the immersive, I am particularly intrigued by the reliance on flood irrigation for most of the farms we visited. I understand the cultural significance of using the network of canals, but I am very concerned about the sustainable use of such scarce water resources.
Making the rounds and engaging my colleagues whenever I had time over the 5 eventful days together gave me the perspective to relay the defining reflections of the group. Meeting with the Director of the Arizona Department of Agriculture, Mark Killian, set the stage for my cohort to understand the contribution of Arizona to the food production system of the United States. He described the “5 C’s of Arizona” as the backbone of the state’s economy which is deeply intertwined with the agriculture system: cattle, cotton, citrus, climate, and copper.