CRAFTSBURY COMMON, Vt. — Sterling College is poised to collaborate with five partner communities in Bhutan, Colorado, India, Puerto Rico, and Vermont, as they all navigate the ecological crises and social challenges driven by extractive growth. Through Sterling’s EcoGather initiative, the partner communities will be working to recover the ecological knowledge that was devalued and displaced when community-centered agriculture gave way to the purported advancements of industrialized global agribusiness. The necessary next shift involves respecting place-based knowledges, returning power to communities, and carefully integrating technologies suited to human-scale farming, food production, and education.
A collaborative learning network dedicated to the vitality of ecosystems, communities, and economies, EcoGather combines Sterling’s long-standing place-based approach to education with a suite of online tools to foster collaboration. EcoGather will begin with a series of twenty-four co-created modular online courses developed using the expertise of its faculty, alumni, and extended network of ecological changemakers. The courses will focus on building and sustaining communities, with agroecology, food systems, and community care at the core.
EcoGather will connect the partner communities to compare their strategies, challenges, and successes in building transformative communities and food systems. “Deep wisdom exists in communities. It is derived from relationships to place that unfold over time and is revealed through conversation,” observes Sterling’s Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Nicole Civita, a food systems educator and advocate who is leading the development of EcoGather. “By blending place- and project-based learning with remote teaching tools, EcoGather can connect communities with similar struggles and shared objectives in their work with the land, enabling them to share knowledge and strategies that point the way toward a more vibrant and balanced future,” Civita explains.
Each partner was invited into the network because the communities they serve face considerable challenges and they have already begun to address those challenges with a commitment to values-based action. The initial EcoGather partners are: the Gross National Happiness Center Bhutan, the Maati-Paani-Asha Center in India, FrontLine Farming of Colorado, the Puerto Rico Trust for Science, Research and Technology, and The Center for an Agricultural Economy in Vermont. Together these networked communities will become more resilient by locally controlling the production of and means of access to nourishing and culturally appropriate foods.
“EcoGather will accelerate our efforts to reclaim indigenous knowledge as the foundation of a viable agrarian society in this region of India,” says Sumeeta Gawande, Director of Student and Education Support Association and co-creator of the Maati Paani Asha Center. “It will enable us to support farmers in transitioning to agroecological methods that regenerate soil, water, and hope — Maati Paani Asha. These vital components must be restored so that our community can increase its resilience in the face of climate volatility, drought, and other shocks, such as the pandemic that has caused so much devastation in our region.”
The resources of EcoGather are being made perpetually available to the five partner communities free of charge, as part of a $1.5 million grant that Sterling College received to establish the platform. “For decades, Sterling College has been at the forefront of advancing ecological thinking and action,” says Matthew Derr, President of Sterling. “EcoGather allows us to transcend the boundaries of our campus in Vermont and more effectively use education as a force to address critical eco-social challenges.”
To support wide access and inclusion, EcoGather courses will eventually be available for anyone in the world to purchase and participate in, providing Sterling College and EcoGather the capacity not just to sustain, but to expand its reach and impact.
For more information about Sterling’s EcoGather program and to see profiles of the partner communities, visit ecogather.sterlingcollege.edu.