The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies hosted several organic farming and public health leaders at the 30th annual National Pesticide Forum last weekend.
Held in Kroon Hall, the conference aimed to support the efforts of regional grassroots organizations focused on organic land care and organic food, said conference organizer John Kepner, who is the project director of the nonprofit organization Beyond Pesticides. The secondary goal of the conference, Kepner added, was to educate the estimated 250 audience members — ranging from students from the environment school to members of the general public — on the effects of pesticides.
Part of the decision to host the forum in Connecticut, he added, resulted from the state’s role as a leader in protecting the environment and the public from toxins through policies banning pesticides. Some of those policies, he added, are currently threatened by draft legislation that would lift the ban on pesticides on school grounds.
Vanessa Lamers FES ’13, said the conference helped her meet people who are implementing urban agricultural initiatives similar to those in New Haven across the United States, and learn from their experiences. Lamers, who led a panel on organic worker fairness, said the conference provided opportunities for interdisciplinary discussion between fields such as environmental and social justice, among others.
Featured conference speakers, Kepner said, included United States Senator Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, Stonyfield Farms CEO Gary Hirshberg, author and ecologist Sandra Steingraber, and Yale professor of environmental policy John Wargo FES ’81 GRD ’84, Lamers said keynote speakers Steingraber and Hirshberg were highlights of the forum.
“Steingraber absolutely blew me away,” Lamers said. “She did an amazing and intricate analysis of the US energy, agricultural and organic systems and natural gas production.”
Kepner said the conference was particularly successful in its goal of engaging the community about the effects of pesticide exposure.
Hody Nemes ’13, co-leader of the advocacy wing of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition, said he attended the conference because of his interest in pesticide policy. He said he feels many students are unaware of the issues regarding pesticide use, and that it was “reassuring” to meet several people who think pesticides and chemicals in the environment pose a problem to human and environmental health.
“They definitely woke me up to the fact that as young people, this is an issue we shouldn’t ignore since we’re in our child-bearing years, and pesticides and other chemicals can affect young people who are going to have children,” Nemes said.
Beyond Pesticides, which sponsored the conference, was established in 1981.