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Writer Gary Nabhan brings inspiration to campus

Writer Gary Nabhan brings inspiration to campus

July 1, 2014

By Kevin Redmon '09.5

Each year, the Franklin Environmental Center invites an innovative leader in the environmental field to participate in a short residency on our Vermont campus. The goal is to stimulate conversation and thought around timely and provocative environmental issues. The residencies usually include multiple opportunities for formal and informal discussions, and are designed to enrich Middlebury’s culture and community so that students, faculty, and staff can benefit from the expertise and passion of working professionals.

This past January, we welcomed Gary Nabhan as our 2014 Environmental Writer-in-Residence. Gary is an author, farming and food advocate, and W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Arizona Southwest Center. He is also a leading voice in the local food movement and a tireless advocate of cultural and ecological diversity in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. His environmental writing has garnered international acclaim—as well as several awards including a MacArthur “genius” award. He has performed pioneering research in ethnobotany (the study of the relationship between people and plants), pollinator habitat, and heirloom seed saving, much of it on his small permaculture farm in Patagonia, Arizona. Gary has brought together diverse stakeholders in the Southwest—including ranchers, farmers, and indigenous peoples—to forge new thinking around conservation, environmental justice, and climate change.  

During his time on campus, Gary visited two classes, Sustainability: Writing & Rhetoric and Conservation & Land Management in Practice. He led a discussion about his newest initiative, Make Way for Monarchs, and contributed his insights to the Franklin Environmental Center’s “Visioning Education for Environmental and Sustainability Education in the 21st Century” initiative during a roundtable discussion.
Gary also engaged a larger audience though a public event with Schumann Distinguished Scholar Bill McKibben, called “Local Food: Past, Present and What’s Next?”

Gary and Bill shared readings from their latest books, reflected on their experiences in the local food movement, and envisioned the future of sustainable agriculture—all while sipping locally produced beverages. Interestingly, this event came a decade after Gary first visited campus and spoke to Bill’s winter term class on the same topic. Since that time, student interest in local agriculture and food systems has proliferated. (In fact, our own Global Food Studies Coordinator Sophie Esser Calvi ’03 was a student in that class!)

Gary’s visit to Vermont also marked the inauguration of the Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers’ Conference, a collaboration between Middlebury and Orion magazine. The weeklong event was held June 9-15 at Middlebury’s mountain campus and featured distinguished authors, including Rick Bass, Jane Brox, and Alan Weisman.

“We couldn’t have chosen a more accomplished or gifted writer than Gary to visit Middlebury during the academic year and in the inaugural summer of the Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers’ Conference,” said Dean of Environmental Affairs Nan Jenks-Jay.

The Franklin Environmental Center joined with the Middlebury College Organic Farm, Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers’ Conference, the Office of Academic Affairs, the Program in Environmental Studies, and the Department of Biology to bring Gary to campus.