Victoria Bhavsar, Ph.D. Interview 2006

Victoria Bhavsar, Ph.D., is a staff member at the University of Kentucky who works with the new sustainable ag curriculum for the UK College of Agriculture. I interviewed her on May 12, 2006. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

Kentucky Tree and Fence

About the new Sustainable Agriculture undergraduate major at UK:

The University of Kentucky made a change at its horticulture farm, converting 11 acres to organic. They are also planning to create an undergraduate degree program. It's a major in sustainable agriculture. People have been putting a whole lot of effort into it. There's a grant from USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] to fund development. Unless it stalls in the Faculty Senate ' and there's no reason to expect it would, because it's a high quality major ' there's no reason for it not to go forward.

The first classes will be taught in Fall, 2006. Right now between seven and nine people have signed up for GEN 109, 'Intro to Sustainable Ag.' They are sophomores, maybe a freshman or two. The plan is eventually to have about 60 in the program and graduate 12 per year. The major is not housed in any one department. The coordinator, Mark Williams, is in horticulture.

About 'footprint calculators'

It is actually possible to compute the amount of oil used in getting one box of blueberries produced and delivered all the way to your table. Whole truckloads are made of small bits. You can go online and find a calculator... one is called an 'eco footprint calculator' that will give you some idea.

About a powerful change individuals can make that will have multiple good effects:

The big one is ' if you eat meat, especially beef ' buy it locally. For example, buying meat from Elmwood Stock Farm ' that's high impact. If beef is completely grass-fed -- and most are not, even if there's just enough corn to get them to come ' that's using a resource... converting solar energy directly to a food source.

With traditionally grown beef, calves grown in Kentucky travel to Denver to a feed lot. Their feed, corn, travels a long way. There's the waste problem. And then the cattle are shipped all the way back here. Buying local is good especially because grass-fed tends to be local.

About ways to move toward eating more locally grown foods:

There are CSAs, Community Supported Agriculture. The one I belong to [Three Springs Farm, Carlisle] is looking for new subscribers. There are clearinghouses for information on which CSAs serve particular areas. The problem is that they aren't regularly updated. There is a CSA directory for 2006 that's available from the Land Stewardship Project. [Unfortunately for Kentuckians or people interested in Kentucky growers and Kentucky foods, the directory is oriented to Minnesota, a bit of South Dakota, and the upper Midwest. Still, it's a website full of ideas and resources.]

Wayne County Field and Hills

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has a list but it's incomplete. [It says so right on the home page for the site. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture site also includes a list of farmers markets in the state and a link to the Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation site that offers a map showing information about 76 certified roadside farm markets.]

Also, you can grow your own tomatoes.

It helps if you have friends who are willing to try [eating local foods]with you.

None of these is particularly easy. It's not necessarily quick but it is satisfying. It's more nutritious to buy local food. It does tend to be more expensive to buy local. There are different ways of looking at that. For example, what you buy... not buying cookies frees up the money to buy local produce. You can do that and address the nutrition question.

There are a lot of other special reasons why some people can benefit from buying local. Cancer survivors, young children, people with chemical sensitivities ' they may want to use their money for fresh, unprocessed and local stuff.

Last words?

Do what you can, not what you can't. Commit to things that are possible to carry out. Don't do what's not sustainable, and don't feel guilty about not doing more.

People are beginning to see that organic is not a threat, but it's a tool. Today we have to take advantage of every tool we possibly can.