Dirty Hands and New Horizons

A group of Gustavus students spent the month of January learning how economics and climate change impact people and agriculture in Indonesia.
Posted on February 6th, 2019 by

The Gustavus group takes a break with their Indonesian hosts.

Students on the January Interim Experience travel course Anxious Harvest: Farmers Facing Economic and Climate Change in Indonesia spent the month getting a hands-on look at how farmers are adapting to change in three different regions of the island nation.

The group learned about rice farming in Central Java with the organization Gita Pertiwi (Earth’s Clothing) before exploring efforts to reintroduce sorghum and utilize agroforestry to produce coconuts and cashews on the islands of Flores and Adonara, and finally visited Papua Barat to experience palm oil production, self determination, and land rights in the culturally, linguistically, and religiously distinctive region.

In each location, students had facilitated meetings with farmers and the staff of agricultural organizations. They got their hands dirty—spending time planting and processing food, visiting fields and farms, and attending lectures. The goal? To  engage through these experiences, to ask “what,” “how,” and “why” questions about agricultural systems, and to gain an understanding of how farmers and organizations are active participants in agricultural development and adaptation to cultural and climate change.

After the group visited many of the cultural highlights of the diverse country and explored its beautiful landscapes, trip leader and environmental studies professor James Dontje shared the following poem in a sign-off from Indonesia.

James Dontje, Director of the Johnson Center for Environmental Innovation

Did I Visit a Farm?
by James Dontje

Did I visit a farm while traveling abroad?
That question on the customs declaration form always puzzles me.

Do you mean,
did I walk around on the earth and get soil on my shoes, soil that might, and in most places, does grow food?
If I walked around in dusty air, with dust that came from the fields parched by drought
filtering through my clothes, my nose, maybe even my lungs, did I visit a farm?

Do you mean,
was I surrounded by plants that are beautiful, but also just happened to provide someone with food?
If the flowers on those trees turned into fruit, and grasses that I walked on sprouted heads of grain, did I visit a farm?
And that tangle of something like weeds where the old woman plucked leaves for her family’s supper, was that a farm?

Do you mean,
if it rained, and the water ran over my feet and then across someone’s field, did I visit a farm?
If that water soaking into the ground around my feet later climbed back up through the roots of those trees and grasses, did I visit farm?
And when the dew that settled on all the plants in the night wets my shoes, was I on farm?

Do you mean,
if I ate food prepared by hospitable hands, the same hands that tilled that soil, tended and watered those plants, was I on a farm?
If the food I ate came from those plants and had some of the dust from the soil in it, and some of the water, did I visit a farm?
And when that food, inside of me, became a part of me, was I on a farm?

If you mean all those things, yes, I was on a farm.
But really, I thought I had just visited the world.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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