#2: Finding Direction

Setting out on these interviews, I wasn’t really sold on any one idea. While I had ideas, they were sort of half-ideas. There was one half- idea I was leaning towards. This was looking at animal agriculture as it relates to Vermont’s environmental sustainability as well as economy at cultural identity. By talking through my ideas with people I was able to find more meaning and direction.


First I talked with Kate Toland. She is one of those people who is very passionate about not only what she does, but what everyone around her is doing. This year, I have been taking a class with her called Creating Sustainable Communities, looking into the economic, social and environmental elements of sustainability (the three pillars of sustainability.) When thinking about this multifaceted topic of animal agriculture in Vermont, I was somewhat overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start. But these three pillars of sustainability gave me a place to start my thinking. I decided that Kate would be an excellent person to talk to more. When I first presented this idea to her she said: “Yes, there is so much there” which seems like a good sign.  She gave me a some fantastic things to look into, like Ben Hewitt, a sustainable farmer. One thing that really stood out to me was when she talked about “getting people more connected to their food system.” I then realized that this short little mission statement is what could drive this process for me, it gives me more of a reason to do this work.


Both Rachael and I talked with Ms. Tymon, Peoples Academy’s environmental science expert, about our issues. I didn’t have that much time with her as she was in high demand by other students that day. But, in that short time she had a lot of great things to say. She spoke to Rachel about the nutrification of Lake Champlain. While this wasn’t the topic I was looking into, it was still highly pertinent to the topic of sustainability and agriculture. One of the major things she touched on was increasing the riparian buffers (or buffer strips) between farmland and rivers in order to decrease phosphorus and nitrogen entering the Lake Champlain watershed. She also spoke about the social and economic elements of sustainable farming, saying pastoral ideal is “our (Vermont’s) brand.”


But perhaps, the most useful guidance came when I asked Kate the questions “How can we as young people be an expert on these issues?” She said some things which I think are really important and I hope to carry out. “Seek the most diverse perspectives” “don’t be afraid to ask questions” “and “Don’t have a blindspot around your own bias”


After these conversations and further thought, this half-idea has become a more fully developed idea and the topic I want to explore for the coming weeks.


Aidan Lodge

6 Responses to “#2: Finding Direction

  • I love how as I read the article I could start to see you already getting excited and interested in your topic. It was really awesome to see how at first you were unsure about your topic, but then slowly became more passionate about it. I also love your three quotes in the second to last paragraph.

  • Hi Aidan,

    I’ll be commenting on your posts this semester and look forward with interest to see how your thinking develops and what lines of pursuit you decide on.

    I think Kate gave you some very good advice: seek a diversity of opinion and information and don’t develop a blind spot. It is unlikely that you will become an expert in such a short time frame but you should be able to identify the experts, understand their arguments and critically evaluate them. When reading experts’ articles and papers, ask yourself about their perspective, for whom they are writing and how does their research and recommendations stem from the employment, social perspective, etc.

    I used to work as an economic consultatn in natural resources. One of the ways that economists think about such issues is to try and identify the costs and benefits of undertaking a policy, project or initiative. But some costs and benefits are hard to quantify and further, the distribution of costs and benefits may broad. For example, farmers obviously benefit from the use of fertilizer. Their yields increase, they can produce more and sell more and presumably make more money. They don’t incur the costs of the runoff though. It accrues to boaters, fishermen and environmentalists concerned about pollution in fresh waterways. Often, it is the distribution of costs and benefits that give rise to important questions of fairness and equity.

    I hope you have a great semester honing in on a topic and beginning to thoroushly understand it. I’ll be reading your posts with interest.

    Best, Shel

    • It’s this kind of systems thinking that I think is really important to this issue. After reading this comment, I have tried shifting perspectives (like farmers vs boaters fishermen and environmentalists) throughout this project and it has helped me see more of the dimensions of the system than I had before.

  • Aidan,

    A year ago or so I ran into a farmer in Rochester (may be a bit of a haul) who would, I think, be perfect. The short story: He and his wife raised Holsteins. To get the grain he needed, he had to use GMO corn seed and subscribe to Monsanto’s weed killer program. Expensive. It became more difficult, particularly as milk prices dropped. One summer, he bought and spread half the usual weed killer. Production was about the same. The following year, he halved it again. He wondered: What am I doing spending all this money, harming the soil, falling behind?

    He and his wife sold their herd, bought much smaller cows that could be sustained by the hay he grew on all his fields and over time became organic so he could get a higher price. Bingo. Sustainability.

    Those kinds of stories could bring your idea to life. As you said in your first post, stories — two or three — could represent the issues/solutions in a compelling way.


    • Thank you for this, I have been on a “quest,” if you will, to find sustainable farms. If you remember the name of the farm, I would love to look in to that!

  • Nanja Horning
    6 years ago

    I don’t really know much about this topic but you seem to know where you’re going and doing a good job on figuring out how you’re going to get there. I think that you went to the right people for questions and I think that you’re bringing a fairly important issue closer to the forefront.

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