Chinese Organic Farming and Community Mobilization

My host grandmother and my colleague weeding on the Quan family farm

Hello!  This is Jocelyn Durkay, concentration year, community track student at GSSW.  I’m spending 6 weeks this summer in southwestern China studying global social work practice with Visiting Professor Sarah Bexell.  I’m blogging about my experiences this summer- this is post number 2.  During this past week I had the amazing opportunity to visit a co-operative farming community in Anlong county outside Chengdu, Sichuan province.  I’ve always had a penchant for gardening and growing produce and held my foundation year internship with GreenLeaf, a youth-led urban farming program in northeast Denver.  I found this week to be a valuable social work experience, as well as a valuable farming experience.

The co-op community of Anlong Village was launched in 2006 with the help of Chengdu Urban Rivers Association (CURA) and other NGOs.  The project involved collaborating with farmers, who lived upstream of a major river that feeds into Chengdu, to switch from chemical farming (using of pesticides and herbicides) to eco-farming.  Eco-farming in China refers to a number of different practices including organic farming and high land productivity in order to avoid pollution and environmental degradation, to conserve resources, and to create healthy food.  In practice this means creating almost zero waste, growing organic produce, and selling the food to urban residents while educating them about the importance of chemical-free produce.  Even human and livestock waste is converted into clean-burning methane gas and organic fertilizer!  One of the larger farms in the village offers eco-tourism opportunities where visitors can stay at the farm in order to work, explore, or play on the nearby river’s beach.

Anlong Village is a pilot project that many organizations hope to duplicate.  I learned a great deal about Anlong and its farmers during my stay there from Monday – Saturday of last week.  I stayed with the Quan family (pronounced Chen): a grandfather, grandmother, and their teenage granddaughter.  It was a fantastic homestay experience where I was able to enjoy local, fresh, organic food at every meal and had some opportunities to work on the farm.

Me with my hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Quan

As I mentioned earlier, this was not just an opportunity to experience nature, culture, and agriculture but also a social work learning experience.  I had the opportunity to speak with four heads of households about their switch to eco-farming, through the translation assistance of a colleague.  These farmers had spent all (or most) of their lives as farming– initially participating in traditional farming techniques, then chemical farming, and now eco-farming.  Chemical farming rose to popularity in the 1980s because of the high demand for food to combat mass starvation from a population boom.  Chinese colleagues informed me that with the rapid rise in China’s urban development and modernization, farming has become somewhat synonymous with peasantry.  These farmers are reclaiming the occupation, however, through technical knowledge and concerns for public health.   Young people in Anlong are remaining on their family farms instead of moving to cities, helping slow the loss of a generation of Chinese farmers.   As mentioned, the initial impetus for the formation of Anlong Village stemmed from river pollution.  This river is used for laundry and for swimming by residents and guests alike.  The river water is also diverted to water the fields and has a direct connection to human and animal consumption.

Health benefits extend to farmers’ daily lives as well.  One farmer spoke of the positive health his mother has experienced since switching to organic farming.  Previously, she’d needed daily medication and had poor reactions to breathing pesticide-ridden air.  Now her health has improved enough that she does not need medication.  Another farmer spoke of how he made the decision to protect his family’s health, helping feed others healthy food was a secondary consequence.  That same farmer spoke of the concern he now felt for others who consumed chemically treated produce.  He’d seen farmers spray food with pesticide in the morning and sell the same produce later that day.  All four farmers spoke of feelings of pride they’d developed for their produce and their customers.  Previously they’d sold their produce to wholesalers while now they know their CSA customers by name and feel a concern for their health.  Farmers also spoke of their connection to their land, wildlife, and the act of farming—aspects they did not speak of when explaining their previous use of chemicals.  Several of them spoke of new responsibility they felt to the larger environment, demonstrating feelings of empowerment.  Farmers discussed the sense of community they felt with other eco-farmers, recognizing they had collective power and strength.  Additionally, all four farmers spoke of how they enjoyed their lifestyle and would not choose another occupation than eco-farming.  After completing my Research Methods & Design assignments on horticulture therapy, I found this last point particularly interesting and wondered if this supported research on positive mental health affects of horticulture experiences.

The Anlong Village co-operative was incredibly inspiring but they are currently fighting a losing battle against hyper-industrialization and urbanization.  The Chinese government is attempting to buy farmer’s homes in order to demolish them and relocate families to urban high rises (requiring a long commute to their farmlands).  Additionally, I could not see the sun through Chengdu’s smog clouds until my fifth day on the farm.  When showing my hosts’ granddaughter photos of Denver, she commented on how blue the sky looked and how she’s never seen sky like that in her hometown.

MORE ON ANLONG VILLAGE:

CURA’s official site, http://www.rivers.org.cn/en/

An article about the community, featuring the eco-tourism farm, http://zesterdaily.com/world/travel/going-organic-in-china/.

 

WORKS CITED & RESOURCES:

Dammon Loyalka, M. (2012). Eating bitterness: Stories from the front lines of China’s great urban migration. Berekely, CA: University of California Oress.

Wang, H., Qin, L, Huang, L, & Zhang, L. (2007). Ecological agriculture in China: Principles and applications. Advances in Agronomy, 47(10): pp. 181-208. DOI: 10.1016/S0065-2113(06)94004-8.

My host preparing lunch on a traditional Chinese stove while I feed the fire underneath to cook the food
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China, Pandas, and Global Social Work Practice

An image of a Red Panda in the wild

My name is Jocelyn Durkay and I’m a community track student at GSSW- and I have the amazing opportunity this summer to attend a GSSW internship in China with Visiting Professor Sarah Bexell.  As a participant in Professor Sarah Bexell’s International Social Development course (co-facilitated by PhD student Eric DesMarais) I had the opportunity to learn of her work at the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding.  Professor’s Bexell’s expertise is wildlife conservation but she also focuses on education.  Conservation education is vital because if residents near a protected area or urban residents (in Chengdu or in the United States) do not know their role in wildlife and habitat loss, they cannot mitigate or prevent further loss.  Her course also gave me the opportunity to design a development project on conservation and community development training for staff in Myanmar’s protected areas.

This research opportunity aligned with my first internship experience in China: shortly after my arrival, I joined Prof. Bexell in Beijing for Red Panda Population and Habitat Viability Assessment (PHVA), a red panda conservation planning meeting.  Red pandas are smaller than giant pandas, resembling more of a raccoon than a panda although they share the same habitat and food (see attached picture).  I was able to observe two sessions of the event, which involved 26 individuals from China, several Western nations, and Myanmar.  (Myanmar and the Chinese Yunnan province share red panda habitats.)  After designing a vision for red panda conservation, the group broke into two focus groups to explore red panda population dynamics and threats to the population.

I attended the threat breakout group sessions, which identified bamboo collection practices, poaching, road and dam construction, mining, ecotourism, and timbering as leading sources for population loss.  Attending these sessions was helpful in learning the direct implications of rapid industrial development on ecosystems and animals.  I found myself also examining the United States’ role in this habitat and wildlife loss, as China produces so many of the products that our country consumes.  Even though I live far from China, my lifestyle and consumption has a direct impact on Chinese ecosystems.  Not only am I responsible for loss that has already occurred but by continuing to live the way I do now, I am responsible for future loss that will result as the country works to satisfy global product demands.  I have already seen this in person through my initial visit to Chengdu, the industrial capital of southwest China, where visibility is measured in hundreds of feet, not miles, due to smog and pollution.  (In fact the city is constantly congested, placing into perspective the smog cloud I have seen over Denver when returning from the front range.)  Relatively young buildings are stained by pollution and the rain is acidic.  This is a city of 14 million people and I can only imagine the health consequences this generates for residents.

On a more positive note, I also had the opportunity to explore several areas of Beijing.  Our hotel was located near the 2008 Summer Olympic complex.  I visited Tian’namen Square, the Forbidden City, the summer palace, the Great Wall, and one of the Ming dynasty tombs.  While these experiences were breathtaking and enjoyable, they also provided me with historical knowledge and an understanding of current cultural perspectives.  For example, despite the large number of foreign tourists visiting the Great Wall many Chinese citizens still have limited contact with foreigners.  This is especially true as foreign visitors were restricted during the Community Revolution and subsequent years.  I had Chinese tourists ask to take their picture with me, including entire families, which was a very surprising experience.

I am excited to experience what this internship has to offer.  Next week I will be visiting a rural area outside Chengdu where 8 families have began an organic farming cooperative to attain greater control over their food and health!

Jocelyn

GSSW scholars explore cutting behavior among sexual minority youth

GSSW faculty scholars N. Eugene Walls and Julie Laser collaborated with GSSW doctoral student Sarah J. Nickels and GSSW alum Hope Wisneski to examine the factors that are associated with increased likelihood of engaging in cutting behavior among lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and transgender youth and young adults.1 Across various statistical models, they found that female- and trans-identified LGBQT youth and young adults were at significantly greater risk of cutting than their male-identified counterparts.  Other factors associated with greater likelihood include victimization, homelessness, depression, suicide attempts, smoking tobacco, and having friends in their close friendship network who attempted suicide. The risk for the behavior appears to decrease with increased age and with having an adult teacher, social worker, or other school personnel with whom the youth can talk about sexual orientation and gender identity.

One interesting finding is that youth who were more out about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity were at increased risk of engaging in the behavior.  Since being out is typically associated with greater mental health and resilience, this finding may seem counter-intuitive. However, the researchers point out, that the impact of coming out is frequently contextual – so if youth come out in an environment that invalidates or stigmatizes their identities it would not be surprising to find such a result. More research on the topic of cutting and other non-suicidal self-injurious behavior among LGBQT youth is clearly warranted.

1Walls, N. E., Laser, J., Nickels, S., & Wisneski, H. (2010). Correlates of cutting behavior among sexual minority youth and young adults. Social Work Research, 34, 213-226.

Spring Break R & R

Finals are exhausting…and seem endless. With one more week to work through, spring break is the light at the end of the tunnel and a much needed break from the pile of books sitting on my desk. I’m heading to Portland to catch some fresh air and an ocean view. My biggest suggestion: drop the books and go on an adventure  (catching up on those ZZZs is a great idea too!). Denver and the Rocky Mountains offer plenty of options to play, enjoy the sun, and refresh the mind and body. Whether you like skiing or climbing, good coffee shops or walking paths, take some time to regain your energy and come back prepared for the Spring academic quarter.

Track / Certificate / Program Information Sessions 2011 part 2 (VIDEO)

The following track / certificate / program information sessions are intended for students as they plan their concentration for the academic year 2011-2012.  Requirements and specific offerings change from year to year, so always check your student handbook for accurate information.
Continue reading “Track / Certificate / Program Information Sessions 2011 part 2 (VIDEO)”

Examination of suicide prevention efforts by GSSW scholar

In a pair of articles published recently, GSSW associate professor, Stacey Freedenthal, explores issues of suicidality in high school contexts. Given the prevalence of suicidal thoughts and attempts among adolescents, the important of her work cannot be overstated. The first article1 – co-authored with GSSW doctoral student Lindsey Breslin – looked at teachers’ experiences with student suicidality. The majority of the teachers reported that, at some time during their teaching career, a student had disclosed either their own suicidality or that of a peer. At the same time almost one half of the teachers had never received any suicide prevention training. Those who had received training were more likely to report that students had disclosed suicidality to them and were more likely to have directly inquired about a students’ suicidality than those who had never received training on suicide prevention. Given the reality that teachers are likely the most consistently present professional in most adolescents’ lives, much needs to be done to adequately prepare them to recognize and respond to signs of suicide risk.

The second study2 found little evidence of change in students’ help-seeking behaviors after the introduction of a high-school based suicide prevention program as reported by the students themselves or by the staff at the school. The one area of improvement found was students’ self-report of utilizing a suicide prevention helpline. The study – one of only a handful of community-based evaluation studies on suicide prevention efforts that looks specifically at behavioral changes – provides a foundation on which future studies can build.

1Freedenthal, S., & Breslin, L. (2010). High school teachers’ experiences with suicidal students: A descriptive study. Journal of Loss & Trauma, 15, 83-92

2Freedenthal, S. (2010). Adolescent help-seeking and the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program: An evaluation. Suicide and Life-threatening Behavior, 40, 628 – 639.

GSSW Scholar publishes on animal-assisted interventions

One of the unique programs at GSSW that really sets the school apart from other schools of social work is the energy and enthusiasm around the human-animal interaction. Not only does GSSW offer a certificate in animal assisted social work practice for MSW students and a post-MSW training program, but we are lucky to have on faculty scholars and practitioners who have extensive experience in the area of animal assisted interventions. Recently, faculty member Philip Tedeschi co-authored two chapters that offer an excellent foundational understanding of animal assisted interventions as well as the ethics around incorporating animals into practice.

The first, co-authored with GSSW Research Faculty member Kate Trujillo and GSSW Dean James Herbert Williams appears in a new book, The role of pets in children’s lives: Human-animal interaction in child development, health, and therapeutic intervention.1 The chapter not only lays out the ethical considerations organizations and practitioners need to take into account when considering incorporating animals into their work, but also lays out the case for the need for evidence-based practice research in this area. 

The second chapter is co-authored by Jennifer Boggs and GSSW Faculty Member Frank Ascione and appears in the book Innovative interventions in child and adolescent mental health.2 In this chapter, different models for animal assisted interventions are laid out, along with different components in the animal assisted intervention. The chapter provides a comprehensive look at the different types of programs that exist, how animal assisted interventions are integrated into different theoretical models, and outlines the evidence of the benefits of animals in the lives of humans.

Together these two pieces provide an excellent foundation for newcomers to animal assisted interventions, and give the experienced social worker who has integrated animals into their practice an overview of the evidence for the efficacy of this work.

1Trujillo, K., Tedeschi, P., & Williams, J.H. (2010). Research meets practice: Issues for evidence-based training in HAI. In McCardle, P., McCune, S., Griffin, J. A., & Maholmes, V. (Eds.), The role of pets in children’s lives: Human-animal interaction in child development, health, and therapeutic intervention, (pp. 199-216). Baltimore, MD: Brooks Publishing.

2Boggs, J., Tedeschi, P., & Ascione, F.R. (2010). Animal assisted approaches to child and adolescent mental health. In Norton, C. L. (Ed.),  Innovative interventions in child and adolescent mental health, (pp. 96-124). New York, NY: Routledge.