Ag Students Learn Sustainability from a Global Perspective 

By Trista Gropp

March 4, 2011--University of Wisconsin-River Falls students visited rural India during winter break, giving them a different perspective to sustainability.

“It’s what we teach in practice,” shares Dean Olson, professor of agricultural engineering technology and a facilitator of the trip. “Indian farmers are sustainable not by choice, but by necessity through methods that have been learned over years.”

The trip focused on the agricultural and food processing aspects of India. Students received a true and much less “touristy” view of the country. The student group explored rural areas outside of Mysore and Bangalore in southern India.

The connections between UWRF and India began with an administrative outreach, and the “ag ties” between the university and individuals at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore and the Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysore have continued.

Joe Shakal, assistant professor of agricultural engineering technology and also a trip facilitator, says, “The trip gives [students] a bigger perspective of the world in general in the many ways to do things from religion to growing.”

In India, it is common to see farms sitting on one hectare, or approximately two and a half acres, of land. Nothing is wasted as the manure from the two cows is used in composting and methane gas is extracted through a digester and used for cooking. Fish ponds provide the nutrient-rich water for irrigation of the crops. Students observed the intercropping technique where a variety of crops are grown in alternating rows from potatoes to vegetables and beans, and even marigolds.

“They utilize their land to the max, getting two to three crops a year on a field,” notes Andy Moravec, a junior agricultural engineering technology student from Bear Creek.
The farms sustain a family and any surplus is sold at one of the area’s expansive street markets.

UWRF students also learned about silk production, known as sericulture, in India and toured the long sheds containing beds of silk worms and their cocoons. They visited what is considered a large dairy that milked 20-30 cows with a pipeline system and operated its own cheese plant.

“It’s the things you’ll see and hear and smell, and the things you’ll eat that make a global experience,” says Shakal.

The student group had the opportunity to experience the sights and sounds of the harvest festival in southern India. While the Indians celebrated the end of another growing season, a brightly decorated yellow-and-spotted cow nudged Olson to get her colored dust all over him; locals told him that he was “blessed by a cow.”

Other students participating in the study tour included Andrew Goers, junior agricultural engineering technology major from Colfax; Jordan Mallman, junior agricultural engineering technology major from Mayville; Leonard Polzin, senior agricultural business and dairy science major from Cadott; Tyler Tesmer, senior agricultural engineering technology major from Eyota, Minn.; Kelsey Peterson, junior agricultural engineering technology major from Wisconsin Rapids and Sandra Kirchner-Sawall, graduate agricultural education student from Clintonville.

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