—This article, written by June Pichel Cook, appeared originally on May 8, 2019 in the Hardwick Gazette. We are grateful for permission to reprint it.
CRAFTSBURY – The Sterling College Class of 2019 embodies the very essence of the message delivered by Dr. Vandana Shiva at commencement exercises on Saturday afternoon. The 31 graduates heard an impassioned plea from Dr. Shiva to undo the ravages wrought by the 200-year-old mistake that has driven industrial agriculture, namely, fossil fuels.
Dr. Shiva received a standing ovation following her emotional address indicting industrial agriculture for its destruction of the earth’s natural resources – soil, water, air, and forests. The emphasis has been on climate change, weather, and greenhouse gases with the use of fossil fuels, she noted, but, more insidiously “it has fossilized our minds.”
A fossilized mind at the root champions uniformity and is not able to be creative, eschews and destroys biodiversity. Industrial farming has made farmers redundant and defies the central meaning of the word, agriculture. She decried Mark Zuckerberg’s prediction that AI (Artificial Intelligence) will make 99 percent of people’s work redundant and people themselves.
“We have to be cultivators of community,” Dr. Shiva said. “Nothing living begins big. Every plant was a little seed. Your little college is the seed of the future. You don’t all have to be the same. Each of you is an expression of diversity.”
Looking over the graduating class, she complimented them on the diversity among them that she perceived. To find this working model and ethic in a small college, she noted, Working Hands, Working Minds, is something the students understood; it took her 50 years. She lauded them for doing, learning, and enjoying what they have done in the past four years and being fortunate to go out and continue their work.
She observed the students have not only been living a life in harmony with nature but could look forward to a life where the skills they have learned will grow and be used. The skills in farming, weaving, nurturing the earth, and taking care of animals are the skills that are needed “in this very particular moment.”
“To create community, you have to give. It is an intelligence that grows more compassionate intelligence. That is what is needed, not panicking in despair that destruction is inevitable. Compassionate intelligence allows you to take the right action.”
She called industrial farming as farming without farmers when the earth is inviting us to take care of her. Dr. Shiva emphasized that nature is multi-dimensional and circular, not linear as technology and mechanization has brought us to believe. Using the example of bees pollinating a flower, it is the bee that gives the flower its future through pollination and the flower that gives the bee, its honey.
“Pollinators create the next generation. Now they want to make robot bees. They won’t give you honey.”
She noted the teachers have been nature herself, building communities who celebrate work with joy and beautify their land, that is what agriculture is.
“It was never meant to be war (against nature). More efficient war is not caring for the earth.”
Dr. Shiva is an internationally known scholar, environmental activist, and food sovereignty advocate. She has spent over four decades working in support of biodiversity, indigenous knowledge, and sustainable agriculture. Dr. Shiva, a trained physicist, was awarded The Right Livelihood Award (known as the alternative Nobel Prize), Sydney Peace Prize, The Fukuoka Prize, Lennon-Ono Peace Prize, and named an environmental hero by Time Magazine in 2003.
In the late 1980’s, she traveled her native India’s back roads in search of traditional seeds threatened by industrial agriculture and returned with a following of 500,000 demonstrators, farmers, and activists. She returned with a network of 120 seed banks in place. She has spearheaded legal proceedings against multinational corporations seeking patents on indigenous life forms.