The Sustainable Agriculture & Forestry Scholarship Endowment Fund

2021 Scholarship Recipient

Audrey Lavina Marie Ochtrup-DeKeyrel

The following, excerpted from her scholarship application, clearly demonstrates why the panel selected Audrey for the scholarship:

Audrey is from Harmony, Minnesota. A Junior at Gustavus Adolphus College with focus on environmental studies and geography. But more than that, a review of her coursework demonstrates an individual with a broad education preparing her for her future focus, in her own words:

“My time in undergraduate has been dedicated to the fields of Environmental Studies and Geography. The multidisciplinary nature of both of these fields has shaped my approach to sustainable agriculture as integrative as the education I have received. Something as multifaceted as regenerative agriculture requires a multifaceted approach, which I bring by understanding both the scientific and social scientific dimensions. Through coursework in natural sciences, as well as  physical geography, I have gained an understanding of the realities of conventional agriculture and its impact on natural resource depletion and overall environmental degradation. Additionally, I have learned the regenerative effects sustainable agriculture and resource management has on an ecosystem from a natural science perspective.

My studies in the area of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have been integral in my understanding of the impacts of conventional farming. I have distinct memories of mapping out the crop varieties in southeastern Minnesota and seeing nearly exclusively corn and soybeans, despite a majority of each harvest not going towards human consumption. I also remember creating two maps depicting the different percentages of topsoil between two different decades, which ultimately showed about a 1% loss of topsoil annually. These visualizations of the reality of farming in my region of Minnesota have only fueled my desire to change our conventional agriculture system.

While my coursework in classes such as geology and conservation biology have bolstered my scientific understanding of agricultural and food systems, human geography has added a layer of social and political elements to my critical analysis of regenerative agriculture. I have grown to understand the concepts of food justice and food sovereignty and how those are supported by sustainable, small scale, agriculture. I believe supporting an agricultural system that is accessible to all individuals, regardless of gender, race, or economic status, creates a world in which farming is understood as a practice we all should be invested in, especially in regards to ecological impact.

The economic viability of sustainable agriculture is directly tied to policy that aims to promote environmental quality, while supporting farmers as they transition from “cheaper,” conventional farming. My interdisciplinary intersectional education has molded me into a capable individual, dedicated to creating environmentally sustainable agricultural systems that are accessible to a wider community of people.

Her future plans represent a perfect match with the goals of this scholarship. Again, in her own words:

“I intend to pursue on-site agricultural resource management followed by a career in nonprofit social justice and agricultural policy advocacy. I hope to advance food sovereignty and feasibility of sustainable farming for rural producers. By beginning my professional career in onsite sustainable farm management and labor, I intend to bolster my existing knowledge of effective regenerative agriculture and what barriers exist for farmers. This hands on experience will aid in my nonprofit work. Growing up in rural Minnesota, I cannot say I know a single conventional farmer who sets out to practice the least sustainable methods of agriculture while knowing the impact it has on the environment. The reality is, the practices that degrade natural resources are the most financially accessible methods to most small-scale producers. These same producers have little power or economic stake in the large scale industrial farming system, forcing them to compete with the approximate 3% of US farms producing over 50% of agricultural products. The power imbalance is painfully obvious, and has affected my family, our neighbors, and farmers all across the U.S.

After spending several years working within the agricultural industry, I intend to shift my role to one involved in nonprofit organization and advocacy. I want my work to center on advocating for political reform that allows for just transitions for farmers into sustainable, regenerative practices. Working with a group like the Land Stewardship Project in the future is a personal hope of mine. During this time, I also intend to decide to pursue graduate studies, likely in Sustainable Food Systems or Rural Development, to further my understanding of the complexities of our agricultural system and how it can be reformed and bettered. The industrial agriculture system as we know it is both environmentally and socially degrading, relying on exploited labor and resources to produce cheap food. It is also detached from most consumers. Farmers from somewhere produce food that suddenly appears on our dinner tables. I aim to bridge that conscious and physical divide between communities and producers through educational campaigns and facilitated farmer–community engagement opportunities.I believe this can be achieved by connecting farmers to communities through educational opportunities such as public gardens, workshops, and volunteer opportunities. However, this must be supported by government subsidies to ensure small-scale producers can practice regenerative farming and support themselves financially.

My intersectional educational background, as well as my lived experiences as a rural farmer, equip me with both the understanding and the ability to be a change-maker in the sustainable agriculture and food systems while centering people like my family in my work.

Ms. Ochtrup-DeKeyrel will be a senior at Gustavus Adolphus this fall.

Audrey will receive $5,000.00 for the upcoming school year—thanks to our donors.

The review panel of nine, managed by the Rochester Area Foundation, unanimously agreed that Audrey has the qualities we are looking for in the Scholarship recipients:

     1.        Have a demonstrated strong interest in and commitment to completely sustainable (as pertains to economic, social and environmental issues—combined) agricultural and/or forestry practices.

     2.        Be committed to protecting and preserving our natural resources and related economic and social condition.

     3.        Have strong communication skills.

     4.        Possess leadership characteristics.

     5.        Priority will be given to students active in agriculture/forestry also outside of school.