Writings

One class and one assignment at a time, I am exploring the breadth of challenges facing the natural world. Below, please find a sampling of my latest course assignments.

 
 

 Sun sets over Creciendo Farms, a small farm business that operated in Chicago at Windy City Harvest's Legends Farm Incubator site.

Sun sets over Creciendo Farms, a small farm business that operated in Chicago at Windy City Harvest's Legends Farm Incubator site.

Ecological Farming and Ecological Finance: Tandem Strategies for Smallholder Climate Resilience

by Erin D. Matson

What happens when we slap a "climate-smart" label onto conventional industrial farming practices? Do those practices somehow start helping, rather than harming, our soils just because we say so? 

And what happens when we take regular financial systems -- rooted in systems of accumulation and the profit motive -- and call them "green"? Does that label remove financial practices from their history of extractivism and exploitation?

In this paper I wrestle with these questions and propose the concept of "ecological finance" as possible tool in the quest for equity and resilience in the face of climate change.

Read the paper


Where to Stop Farming: A Site Suitability Study for Carbon Sink Potential

by Erin D. Matson

Thirteen states, including Virginia, have formed a Climate Alliance to support the Paris Climate Agreement after Trump announced his intention to withdraw. These states will need actionable geospatial data analysis to target agricultural policies toward efficient and climate-sensitive food production.

Project Goal: Create a useful tool for Virginia’s policymakers, highlighting agricultural lands that could be put to better use as carbon sinks to mitigate VA’s impact on the global climate.

Read the report and see the maps here

 Photo courtesy LIFT, lift-fund.org

Photo courtesy LIFT, lift-fund.org

Seeking Stability, Building Opportunity

by Erin D. Matson, Wilton Pichardo, and Leah Zibulsky

This 15-page report was a group project for the class "Food Security: Who's in Charge?" taught by Professor Johanna Mendelsohn-Forman in Spring 2017. We review the current state of efforts and assistance to achieve food security in the long-turbulent country and present our own recommendations for areas of focus. 

Read the report


 Students in the Chicago Botanic Garden's Windy City Harvest sustainable urban agriculture program plant garlic in fall 2014.

Students in the Chicago Botanic Garden's Windy City Harvest sustainable urban agriculture program plant garlic in fall 2014.

Agriculture in the Driver's Seat: Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Policy Makers

by Erin D. Matson

Soil is trending. As the world begins to implement the action phase of the Paris Agreement, and Obama expounds the virtues of farm-based climate solutions, what should U.S. soil/carbon policy look like? What kind of an impact can soil management really have on a changing climate? And, considering the realities of the Trump presidency, what domestic policies would be realistic?

This report presents the carbon sequestration potential of American soils and recommends areas of focus for policy makers. It was written as my final project for Professor Simon Nicholson's fall 2016 course, "Environment and Politics."

Read it here.

 The sun shines in Anza Borrego State Park

The sun shines in Anza Borrego State Park

Disentangling from the Celestial Dream: Rejecting Duality to Engage Empathy

by Erin D. Matson

This essay, written for Professor Paul Wapner's class "The Future of Environmentalism" in spring 2017, explores the potentialities for future environmental thought presented in Ta-Nehisi Coates' book Between the World and Me (2015) and David Abram's Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology (2011).

Both authors identify a destructive duality between the animate and the inanimate in Western thought and call for us to return to the sensual experience of our bodies, in order to become more fully human. Their rejection of false dichotomies and emphasis on the individual work of experiencing and valuing our bodies speak to and seek to address the ubiquitous and destructive realities of racial and environmental oppression and exploitation.

Read more here


 Photo: Rucha Chitnis, greengrants.org

Photo: Rucha Chitnis, greengrants.org

Female Farmers and Food Sovereignty

By ABBY EVANS, ERIN D. MATSON, GABBY NEUSNER, RONNIE SAHNI, KATIE SCOTT 

For our final report for our International Affairs Statistics & Methods course with Professor Austin Hart, we attempted to quantitatively define "food sovereignty" and explore the factors that cause or inhibit a country's achievement of food sovereignty. We created a simple index for food sovereignty based on self-sufficiency and the quantity and quality of diet. Then we asked ourselves -- would having more female farmers make a country more likely to be food sovereign?

Using data from 76 developing countries, we explored this question and offered suggestions for further research.

Read the full report here


Interrupting Slow Violence: Amplification and Embracing Human Agency

by Erin D. Matson

Rob Nixon's concept of "slow violence" brings theoretical clarity and practical urgency to the long-simmering problems of environmental destruction and consequent human suffering. In this, my second essay my "Future of Environmentalism" class, I propose two areas of focus for the environmental movement to incorporate slow violence into its long-term strategy. If slow environmentalism succeeds in amplifying the voices of the unheard and promoting deep reflection on the consequences of human action, the public will not be able to avoid recognizing the unsustainability of the current imperialist, extractivist system that inherently perpetuates slow violence. 

Read the essay