Last year I was working on a farm in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania with no idea that I would find myself exploring the Antioquia region of Colombia studying sustainable food systems. I enrolled in the journalism program at Northampton in order to work towards my dream of becoming a photojournalist. When I learned that NCC had a study abroad program, I knew I had to get involved.
Traveling to Colombia was a humbling experience. I had to learn many things, like how to communicate in Spanish, how to navigate my surroundings and how to count in pesos. Everything was new and exciting. I felt like a kid again. The Sustainable Foods course brought us behind the scenes of farm life in Santa Rosa de Osos. We visited a few farms, witnessing firsthand, a glimpse of what goes in to food production. It shed new light on the hard work that the laborers do every day for little pay. I began to gain perspective on my own life. I often take for granted all that I have, like a secure roof over my head. As our bus drove up the mountains to a sugarcane plantation, past miles of grassy hillsides and grazing cattle and into the high elevations where houses became few and far between, I saw many crude shacks with plastic roofs.
The roads were terrible and thick clay made it almost impassable. We saw people riding on horseback or steering mules that were loaded down with milk canisters and bags of grain. In the panela factory, we watched workers soaked in sweat as they processed sugar canes. The more I learned about Colombia’s history of civil war, the more I began to understand the incredible transformation the country is undergoing. Working in agriculture is not easy, but it has created jobs for the people while providing food for the country.
Our class visited the National Vocational Training Agency (SENA). In the Santa Rosa facility, the focus was on the economic and social impact of local agriculture. SENA works to help people improve their communities by providing training and education. They provide a social network as well as entrepreneurship incentive programs to help provide funding for projects that will positively impact the region by creating jobs. It was incredibly uplifting to see the people of Colombia working tirelessly to improve their quality of lives and the country they call home.