Speakers spotlight diversity, controversy

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The Farming for the Future Conference of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) not only featured intensive workshops and sessions on agriculture, but commanded notable speakers, as well.

Robert Steele, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State, pointed out the difficulty of defining “sustainable.”

Noting that some attendees at the conference had been farming for 10 generations, he quipped, “That’s sustainable.”

He indicated that food labeling is a huge issue that goes far beyond milk, and recalled when bananas were marketed as cholesterol-free.

The university strives for a neutral forum, grounded in the best possible science, which is never an absolute. He emphasized the need for a forum for interactive conversations on science.

Environmental activist

Diane Wilson, a shrimper on the Gulf Coast of Texas, regaled the audience with her chronicle of fighting toxic pollution in the bay.

Armed with information but not much else, Wilson called meetings and was told, “Now Diane, be a good citizen and drop this.”

She learned the chemical company in question had been “kicked out” of Taiwan because it had been its biggest polluter. But the politicians, she said, had given the company $250 million in tax abatements, cut its permitting requirements in half, promised jobs and were enjoying lucrative side contracts.

She moved her shrimp boat into the bay and went on a hunger strike. Within two weeks, she got what she wanted — zero discharge by the company.

Action plan

But later she learned that in spite of the new regulations, the company was still polluting. She planned to get attention by sinking her boat (minus its motor) in the bay, but three Coast Guard cutters appeared. The guard tied her up and confiscated her boat.

During the 3 a.m. commotion, her fellow shrimpers appeared, forming a blockade in front of the offending plastics company.

She concluded by modifying a quote by George Bernard Shaw: “A reasonable woman adapts to the world, but an unreasonable woman makes the world adapt to her.”

“So,” Wilson urged, “Be very unreasonable.”

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