All posts by Natasha Lalonde

Farming in Belize: A look into international practices

 Farming in Belize:
A look into international practices

Orange from a citrus farm in the Toucan Ridge Ecology and Education Society (T.R.E.E.S) near Alta Vista, Belize.

Farming, as a cultural and economic practice, naturally varies from place to place. For one thing, northern and southern countries often adopt fairly different approaches. This could potentially be due to the people’s varying connections to the planet as well as their relations and ideas about sustainability. It is, however, important to be mindful of tradition, access and environment seeing as practices must be adapted to fit the environment in which the people live. To demonstrate this, I will be discussing and detailing a key agricultural practice that I witnessed and learned about in Belize: swidden agriculture. It is important to note that such techniques originate from Native peoples and has been practiced throughout Belize since the origins of these groups; they have a rich history.

Swidden Agriculture (Mayan Practice)

This practice is otherwise known as slash and burn or milpa farming. Though it began to be adopted in order to meet the rising need for food in the Mayan’s growing populations, it is still widely used today by the Mopan, K’ekchi and Yucatan communities. Swidden agriculture can be recognized by the large clouds of smoke that come from crops as well as the burnt soil, which can be seen in the image below.

1. Cut and align trees on the ground
2. Burn the trees to ashes which will become fertilizers
3. Let the soil fertilize for a few weeks
4. Dig holes and plant crops
5.Repeat in 2 sections of land every 3-5 years

Students on a slash and burn farm near Alta Vista, Belize

Given the fact that milpa farming does not require the use of artificial fertilizers, it is much better for the environment than industrialized farming techniques. Also, it allows plots of land to be reused and redesigned in order to accommodate various types of crop. Though slash and burn farming is very effective in terms of enriching the soil, if used to excess within the same plot of land, the vegetation will not be able to restore itself. It is vital to wait the sufficient number of years before reusing the land. However, farmers are under a lot of pressure to meet consumers’ demands so often the proper technique is ignored. If the soil is overused, swidden agriculture could then be considered bad for the environment.

There is no clear line between what is “good” for the environment and what is not, nor are there perfect solutions to humanity’s treatment of the earth. Within all different areas of the world, we can see a “mistreatment” of earth materials. So, we must, as farmers, be mindful and willing to learn from different international practices, but also we must learn to be critical of them. Despite historical significance and tradition, with new knowledge must come a change in practice.



Dawson Gardens: A conference by Anna-Liisa Aunio

Dawson Gardens:
A conference by Anna-Liisa Aunio

“From Food Security to Food Justice: Establishing a framework to address inequality and sustainability in urban food systems”

Anna-Liisa Aunio, a sociology professor at Dawson college who specialises in food politics, is known for her involvement in Dawson College’s rooftop garden. It is made up of three major parts: the edible rooftop garden, the ecological peace garden, and the bees and pollinators. At a conference sponsored by the Insititute for Health and Social Policy, she discussed her initiative, and her will to implement environmentally sustainable practices within the cegep. A sustainable food system is defined by CRC Research as “a collaborative network that integrates several components in order to enhance a community’s environmental, economic and social well-being”.  The rooftop garden allows vegetables to be grown on site in order to present students with the option of purchasing affordable and healthy food. Essentially, Anna-Liisa is attempting to establish a sustainable food system which exemplifies ideas such as food security and food justice.

On top of the economic and environmental benefits that the gardens presents, this initiative also engenders several social benefits. The act of volunteering is beneficial for students given that it inspires a sense of pride; they are proud of the work they do. Also, the diversity of those involved allows for mutual learning and understanding. Notably, Anna-Liisa mentioned how the intermingling of aboriginal and non-aboriginal students created a sense of trust between the two. The opportunity to learn and grow from each other was made possible through their common interest in the gardens and Dawson’s sustainability.

Anna-Liisa ended the talk by going beyond sustainability practices within Dawson and discussing ideas of food security and food justice in reference to national issues. She started by examining definitions of these terms in order to underline just how ambiguous they can be. Diets vary depending on location, culture, and access. Thus, we cannot have generalized definitions of food security and food justice. She suggested that we need to examine the transference from policy to practice because there are too many different variables to consider in terms of these ideas. To exemplify such issues, the Dawson professor discussed the rising levels of food insecurity in Nunavut and discussed the issues and varying opinions surrounding food banks. Anna-Liisa was able to connect these vast issues to the small steps being taken within Dawson, reinforcing the importance and significance of the Dawson Gardens.


Forks over Knives


Directed by: Lee Fulkerson

“Let food be thy medicine”-Hippocrates

            Dr. Campbell and Dr. Esselstyn, whose points of view are discerned through the documentary Forks over Knives, suggest that the cure to cancer, heart disease, lack of energy, diabetes, high cholesterol and various other diseases and health risks all lie in one simple lifestyle change: adopting a whole food, plant-based diet. Supported by global diet studies conducted by the AICR (The American Institute for Cancer Research) and several personal testimonies, Campbell and Esselstyn, among various other researchers and scientists, have attributed the alarming and overwhelming presence of disease in American and global populations to the consumption of animal-based foods.  This documentary follows real-life Americans through their experiences with health complications and demonstrates that a change in diet can, in fact, both halt and even reverse their illnesses.

            To begin, Campbell and Esselstyn critique common beliefs that meat and dairy are essential to a healthy diet. They suggest that, in reality, these perceived food groups can actually be detrimental to our health; the effects that they have on our bodies are not what large corporations like Monsanto would have us believe. Forks over Knives details how processed foods have become so habitual in our everyday lives that they have become like drugs to us: we are programmed to eat them. AICR studies demonstrate how during their consumption, our brains produce insulin, commonly known as the happy hormone and eventually we, as humans, develop hormonal addictions to them. Campbell and Esseltyn then went on to study specific areas of the world such as the Philippines, the United States and China and were able to find connections between the kinds of diseases that caused the most number of deaths and the diet of that region. The links between diet and disease consistently showed the same results: animal-based foods are the problem. These results even definitively support the fact that animal based foods promote cancer growth, while plant-based foods decrease such growths.

            Forks over Knives is a shocking, well-constructed film. The real-life testimonies pull at the heart strings and really make you question your own eating habits and health. It allows viewers to think about their diets in respects to their long-term health, happiness and quality of life. Without simply stating that plant-based diets are the only way to go, Campbell and Esselstyn present evidence that brings about self-reflection and an opened-ended discussion about our society’s relationships with what we put into our bodies. The documentary leaves us with the final idea: “Eat to live, don’t live to eat”, reinforcing the importance of conscious and healthy eating, not just to save our planet, but to save our own lives.