Thursday, August 2, 2012

From Brussels to Luxembourg; A Gardener's Perspective

by Kristin Aye-Guerrero
As I was scurrying about preparing to make pickles from my cucumbers in the garden, my mind drifts back to Europe. This year’s EU Center summer study tour took us to Brussels and Luxembourg. I would like to thank the EU Center, Illinois Trade Office in Brussels, University of Luxembourg, as well as the EU for this trip. The theme of our visit and four-day work shop before we departed was titled; “Seeking Sustainable and Secure Connections in Food, Energy, and Governance”. I found the topic of agriculture and energy policy fascinating. Our family still farms, and although I live in a suburb of Chicago, I garden to keep close to my roots. I believe there may be a pun in that last statement but it was unintended! One assumes there will always be food here in the states, after all, doesn’t Jewel make it? So to learn about the roots of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) and the importance it holds for EU member states in dealing with problems of food supply, plant and animal disease, and sustainability, should serve as a wakeup call to Americans. I am looking forward to sharing with my students the similarities and differences between agricultural policy in the EU and those here at home.

Another revelation was the seriousness that the EU members take regarding the environment and sustainability. In Brussels there are bike rental racks everywhere as well as electric chargers for cars right on the street. You can sense that climate change and conservation are a part of the popular consciousness. Also a preservation of history is also quite evident. Not just from the preservation of Gothic Churches and Baroque buildings.  More than one speaker referenced World War II when discussing the importance of the EU. Moreover, agriculture is their history. As we drove through the countryside, the Romantic notion of pre-industrial life was evident in the free roaming cattle and sweeping fields of grain. As we sat and enjoyed our La Chouffe beer at the Brasserie D’ Achouffe in rural Belgium, I spied a few domestic ducks and geese belonging to the owners.  However, as a naturalist as well as a gardener, I was a bit surprised by the absence of wild animals and birds and even insects. Most of the Ardennes Forest near the brewery has been planted for the timber industry. There were fisheries near the brewery to try and replenish fish for the local stream, which is a good sign. I believe that part of the CAP of the EU that requires a 7% set aside of lands for nature is a positive step for EU member states towards preserving not just their man-made history but all of their history like indigenous plant and animal species. 

In beautiful Luxembourg I had the opportunity to explore a bit, and discovered the community gardens on open lands below castle walls and near train tracks. The gardens were another example of preserving history. The plants growing were cabbages, potatoes, broccoli, and other typical vegetables used in a European kitchen. Alas we only had two days in Luxembourg, a wonderful medieval city.  At the top of this article is a picture of one of the community gardens in Luxembourg. I would love to see these all over the U.S. If you are concerned about food supply and the environment I have two suggestions for you to get more involved:
Kristin Aye-Guerrero teaches AP World History and AP European History at South Elgin High School in Illinois.

This article is one in a series of blog entries authored by teachers who participated in the University of Illinois European Union Center’s 2012 Summer Study Tour: Seeking Sustainable and Secure Connections in Food, Energy, and Governance. The tour to Belgium and Luxembourg was supported by a Getting to Know Europe grant from the European Commission. 


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