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Meet Robert DuBois, the 2013 recipient of our annual Simply Organic Scholarship.
Robert DuBois is one of 39 aspiring organic farmers planting, cultivating and harvesting organic botanicals on a 25-acre farm at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Robert is an apprentice at the University's Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) — and the recipient of the program's 2013 Simply Organic Scholarship Award.
Robert's journey to participation in CASFS's top-flight sustainable agriculture program began when he developed food allergies while living on the East Coast. The allergies led him and a friend to undertake a May-to-September cross-country biking expedition to explore local food in different parts of the country. They ate what Robert describes as "a series of pot lucks" — and discovered, to his surprise, that some spots of the bountiful Midwest offered no better choices for consumers than urban food deserts.
A stopover in Boulder Creek, Colorado, resulted in a job at a 25-member organic CSA there, where he "began to learn how to grow food." He stayed for several years and became a co-manager. The CSA was on a four-acre property where they grew and canned vegetables, raised goats and maintained fruit trees. It was there he heard about CASFS, which he thought would be a great opportunity to learn more about agriculture and food distribution. Our Simply Organic scholarship made that idea a reality.
The goal of the scholarship is to support the development of a new generation of sustainable agricultural leaders by providing opportunities to participate in advanced training that will allow them to fully contribute to the organic community. Robert, like the three scholarship recipients before him, exhibits the passion and values that are required to realize the potential of sustainable agriculture.
He calls the CASFS program a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" that has not only taught him about growing food organically, but has also given him a chance to explore what he calls the "justice aspect" of food production — what's in our food, who gets what food, and how food production affects people. Robert says, "Learning about food is a good way to gain knowledge of politics because there is so much political activity involved in our food systems."
He hopes to share what he learns from CASFS and other experiences, ideally in on-farm, in-garden environments like the one at the Boulder Creek CSA. The interaction with the community there included apprenticeships and community programs — offering opportunities to both share skills and connect with people. Robert wants to keep his focus on the justice of our food systems and help people understand them. He also enjoys helping people learn to grow their own food — especially people who don't otherwise have access to good food.
Robert's long-term goal is to cooperatively own some land on which to implement some of his ideas, but he plans to work on a farm after he finishes the CASFS program. He's eager to sharpen his agricultural skills further and put everything he's learned about organic growing into practice. But wherever he ends up, he'll be working to make it a place where people can go to learn and share about food and organics.
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