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Class of 2020
Educational Studies
Spring 2019

I have always been interested in farming and the way in which cultures develop around agriculture.  I believe my fascination with agriculture began with the innocent admiration for the farming lifestyle idealized in American history and in tales like Johnny Appleseed.  I loved the idea of growing one's own food, being self-sufficient and providing for one's family.  Now, as I've grown older and have learned more about global agriculture, I am interested in the ways in which agriculture creates communities.  How, in growing food, a community is grown as well.  Culture is comprised of many aspects, but many of them are related to agriculture, whether it be styles of food, holidays celebrating planting and harvesting season, special dishes used to celebrate holidays, methods of cooking, or how crops are traded/purchased in marketplaces.  The Andean region is no different. 

Studying abroad in Cuenca, Ecuador, I wanted to take advantage of my proximity to the Andes and the heart of the Inca Empire to research and see with my own eyes the famed terracing system and other agricultural practices used and developed by the inhabitants of the Andean region, be it the Incans or pre-Inca societies.  In order to form a better understanding of the geographical area where the Incas and their predecessors lived and farmed, I took a class during my study abroad program called “Environmental Studies of the Andes.”  A part of this class involved creating a research paper covering a topic of your choice.  For my paper, I focused on efforts to re-introduce Inca agricultural practices in the Andean region.  The paper highlighted the work of the Cusichaca Trust, an organization that teaches local farmers techniques used by the Incas.  One of the techniques is returning to planting native crops like quinoa, amaranth, and potatoes, which were disregarded by the Spanish in favor of using land for cattle.  Instead of ranching cattle and sheep, which were introduced to the region by the Spanish, local farmers are encouraged to raise animals like llamas and alpaca.  The Incas revered llamas and alpacas, and their soft feet do not damage the delicate montane ecosystems like cattle and sheep.  The Cusichaca Trust also encourages mixing the crops being planted to symbiotically nourish one another and rotating the plots used for farming to promote sustainable land use.  Furthermore, they organize community projects to rebuild the Inca terraces and canal irrigation systems.  The terraces not only increase the amount of land available for farming on the steep slopes of the Andes, but they also prevent erosion and improve the efficiency of the canal irrigation systems. 

After studying the sustainable agricultural techniques developed by the Incas and their predecessors, I wanted the opportunity to see some of the archeological sites preserving this system of agriculture.  The travel enrichment grant I received from the Clare Marie Rogers Matthews Memorial Award helped me to travel to places like Pisac, Macchu Pichu, Ollantaytambo, and the area around Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia.  I was able to see first-hand the way the Incas transformed the landscape in order feed their growing empire in a sustainable way, working with nature, not against it.  By researching the methods and techniques used by the Incas before visiting the sites, I was able to better appreciate the significance and magnitude of the Incas’ accomplishments. 

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