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Sustainable Ag Student Spotlight: Misha Moschera

Posted: February 23, 2010

Misha Moschera, a graduate student in the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education, shares her path to sustainable agriculture and the work she is doing to build sustainable local food systems in low-income communities.
Misha Moschera is a graudate student in the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education.

Misha Moschera is a graudate student in the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education.

I grew up about five miles outside of New York City where I had very little exposure to agriculture. I knew almost nothing about where food came from, let alone how it was grown, produced, or processed. During my undergraduate career at the University of New Hampshire I was exposed to the impact of agriculture on the environment and the climate crisis we face today. After moving to State College I worked on a small organic market-farm as part of a work-share program, receiving fresh produce in return for labor. Not only did I learn about the practice of farming, I learned to appreciate food and the hard work that goes into every meal, and the role that agriculture plays in our daily lives.

In the United States, agriculture has become a distant reality for many people. Americans are disconnected from where their food comes from, and make unhealthy food choices based on the availability and cost. The isolation from healthy, local food sources is especially hard on low-income communities. Gardening and backyard farming is an economically viable alternative to purchasing cheap foods that are high in fat, sugar, and calories. During World War II the government encouraged “victory gardens,” community or residential vegetable, fruit and herb gardens, as a means to fresh nutritious foods during a time of economic hardship, like what many of us are dealing with today. Sustainable agriculture is currently enjoying a surge in popularity, with the environmental and public health benefits being lauded by popular media and advocates alike. Beyond its chic status, sustainable agriculture can positively affect communities that are in need of economic, dietary, and environmental improvements. With my research, I hope to help low-income communities develop solutions at the individual and community level, based in sustainable local food systems.

I began my graduate studies at Penn State in Fall 2009 in the department of Agricultural and Extension Education, Youth and Family Education program. As I have become more aware of the need to consume more sustainably produced foods, I have also realized that typical venues for those products, such as farmers’ markets and CSAs, do not effectively serve lower income populations. While many consumers of local, organic and sustainable foods tend to be from a higher socioeconomic status, I hope to reach an audience that are not frequent consumers of these foods. For my master’s thesis I plan on developing a curriculum, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) and the Centre County Youth Service Bureau (CCYSB), that will teach limited-income families about the importance of sustainable agriculture and how to grow their own food as an alternative to purchasing fresh produce.  The curriculum I plan to develop will also include important principles such as how to effectively use food stamps to incorporate fresh and local produce into one’s regular diet, efficiently using limited-space to grow organic fruits, vegetables and herbs, and living sustainably as a family through improved communication. Drawing from different disciplines and areas of research I hope to find effective strategies for introducing sustainable agriculture into low-income communities.