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Ecological Agriculture Projects resource centre celebrates 20 years

 

by Susanne J. Brown

 

 

Twenty years ago, a majority of heads would often nod in agreement when "ecological", "silly ideas", and "Stuart Hill" were mentioned in the same breath. Today, that perception towards sustainable agriculture is changing.

Thanks to Stuart Hill's determined, pioneering spirit, Macdonald Campus is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Ecological Agriculture Projects (EAP), a resource centre that is now globally recognized as a source of extensive information on all aspects of ecological farming and gardening, renewable energy, rural development, nutrition and health.

In early November, an open house and a dinner featuring locally-grown organic food was held at the Centennial Center of Macdonald Campus to toast EAP and its' director Stuart Hill. The event was also a fundraiser with the benefits going to further improve EAP's library collection.

 

Early years

"When I came to Macdonald College (in 1969) it was the first time I was in an agricultural faculty, and I was absolutely horrified at the way in which agriculturalists tended to treat the environment and their approach to the environment," says Hill, who is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences.

So, in 1974, when David Stewart, a financial supporter of Macdonald Campus, wanted to have a feasibility study to establish a centre for what he called biological agriculture and nutrition in human health, Hill jumped at the opportunity to do the preliminary study and get EAP off the ground.

"We could have used the amount of money we got to carry out a study that would demonstrate that ecological was sensible, but I knew many studies had already been done. We could have set-up a teaching program, but it would have been too early. It would not have passed by the system," he says.

However, "the thing that I heard from all my colleagues, all the time, was that there was no information, no literature. I knew there was an enormous amount of literature because I had a lot in my files. So, I thought what we really need is a resource centre to collect that literature and make it available to anyone who wants to know how to do it. That's how (EAP) got established as a resource centre rather than a research project," recollects Hill.

Since then, in the past twenty years, the EAP team has answered thousands of requests for information from around the world. It has held countless lectures, workshops and media interviews and has published hundreds of papers and reviews on the economic, research and policy aspects of sustainable agriculture. In addition, more than a dozen government policy studies have been completed for Agriculture Canada and EAP has established an information service for provincial government extension agents and a national toll-free number (1-800-ECO-INFO) to make the centre's resources more accessible to the general public.

While most people would feel a great sense of accomplishment for all that EAP has achieved, Hill figures "we've just scratched the surface. My goal was the complete transformation of the country."

Funding struggle

In the effort to promote a more ecological approach to agriculture, EAP has always had to struggle to get funding, Hill says. But "I think if you look through the history of humanity, the people dealing with what needs to be done next in society are not well supported up until its too late."

So, for Hill EAP has been a mission.

"It's almost like a religious thing in a sense that I'm committed to making it happen. If it doesn't happen one way, I'll make it happen another way or I'll donate money myself," he says.

"From my perspective there is absolutely no question you cannot have a food system that is not sustainable. And our present food system is not sustainable," he says. "We must find a way to manage it so we maintain its' resource base."

After devoting two decades of his life to EAP, Hill will be leaving the resource centre in July 1995 for Australia where he plans to "live life to the fullest."

Hill's crusade for better soil management and a more ecological approach to agriculture will be sustained, he says.

EAP "may change how it will operate. It will sort of depend on who comes in and who remains. But, I think its present functions will continue," he says.

 

Copyright 1994 REAP Canada

Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.


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