Photo via Claire Pacione
Ever since Donald J. Trump won the election and assumed the office of President of the United States, I have found myself frustrated, feeling helpless, and generally fed up with St. Lawrence University. I love my home – it has given me bountiful opportunities to explore new viewpoints, form new friendships and gain valuable experience through campus organizations and events. However, all of that has happened within the framework of both the physical and mental construct of campus.
The “bubble” is a very real, potentially limiting factor in going to school at St. Lawrence or any other small liberal arts school whose backdrop is a poor, rural county. Over the past two semesters, I have been trying my hardest to pop the bubble, even if only for a few hours a week. The way to do that, as I have found out, is to get involved in the community more aggressively than just through a CBL or the occasional adventure to a local establishment. Personally, I have been working ten or more hours per week at Bittersweet Farm in Heuvelton, New York with Brian, Ann, and Catherine Bennett ’16. It is my way to get off campus, do some physical labor, and talk to people who are not professors or students on their way to a bachelor’s degree. What it has provided me with is a knowledge base that goes beyond what I could get at St. Lawrence, as well as an appreciation for different types of knowledge and the way that we value them as a community.
For the past four years, I have approached problems and issues from an elite, liberal, and yes, smug perspective. I have seen extensive knowledge of policy, economics, and public affairs as the most important type of knowledge, and because I have learned all those in the context of St. Lawrence University, I have become quite smug about just how right I am.
That has changed in significant ways since I started working at Bittersweet Farm. Brian and Ann have knowledge of heritage breed ruminants, poultry, topsoil degradation, food preservation, community building, and so much more than I ever would have imagined. They have different ways of approaching problems – Brian and I speak constantly about abandoning the idea of economic growth in favor of slow money movements and associative economics. These are all ideas that were out of my purview before leaving St. Lawrence’s hallowed academic buildings.
I have had the opportunity to birth and care for lambs and piglets, experiment with different types of fencing, and creatively problem solve when horses and tractors die in the same week. It is critically important knowledge – knowledge that helps keep our world, and specifically our food systems, running. That being said, we do not value that knowledge the way we should because we, or at least I, was sure that I knew the best way of doing things. That way of thinking is the product of spending four years on campus and approaching problems with the same lens.
As I prepare to graduate, I cannot thank St. Lawrence and its faculty and staff enough for the knowledge base they have given me, as well as the care and passion they have for their students. However, I think they would tell you, as I will, that what they teach and how we learn is not the only way to do things. That is, among many, a valuable lesson I have learned from getting off campus and into the St. Lawrence County community, and more specifically, working at Bittersweet Farm. For that, I thank them. I highly recommend popping the St. Lawrence campus bubble, getting some new knowledge, and maybe doing some good along the way.