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A Passion for Transforming Agriculture Motivates 2014 Calvin DeWitt Leadership Fellowship Recipient

Apr 03, 2014

Plump tomatoes, juicy sweet peppers, tangy jalapenos, biting arugula. Ian Gallo sees bountiful richness when he lays eyes on a beautiful garden.

Gallo is Au Sable’s Calvin B. DeWitt Leadership Fellowship recipient this year, and like the fellowship’s namesake, his motivation in caring for creation is joy and heartbreak in equal measure. DeWitt's visionary leadership led Au Sable, and called upon the wider Christian community, to care for our Creator God's earth out of joy for God's good gift of creation and out of our responsibility as earthkeepers for serving and protecting it. For Gallo, it's similar -- the delights of a well-tended and diverse farm leads to the firm conviction that current agricultural practices are deeply wanting. And he wants to change it. 

“I love food,” says Gallo. “I love showing people the world of flavors that have been excluded from our food system, the plants, animals, people, and land that produce those flavors, and the incredible benefit that fresh, whole foods have for our bodies and souls.”

The passion for food developed in Gallo’s family kitchen, learning from his mother and grandmothers how flavorful, healthy cooking contributes to the good life. These experiences found fertile ground when he came to Messiah and began his studies. A freshman course called ‘In Pursuit of Green’ introduced him to the profound impact humans have had on creation with one of the chief culprits being the revolutionary shift in how societies move food from farm to table. The course was a clear indication of how the call to care for creation interweaves with the call for loving our neighbors.

Since then, Gallo has taken initiative to act.  As a student in Messiah’s new Sustainability major, with a focus on sustainable agriculture, he has seized the opportunity to be a community leader through Messiah’s new Office of Sustainability, which has blossomed from one student position in 2012 to nineteen today. He has managed the Grantham Community Garden, redesigning it from a hobby plot to a production-oriented garden that now serves the Messiah dining hall. He has also worked to close the nutrient cycle on campus by gathering stakeholders around the college to capture and compost 100% of all biodegradable waste on campus. This includes converting all serveware to compostable, post-consumer products. All compost – and there’s bound to be a lot of it – will be sold by the student-run environmental club on campus with profits going towards sustainable capital projects.

Dr. David Foster, Professor of Biology at Messiah and Au Sable faculty representative to the college, has watched Gallo’s passion develop from his freshman year. 

“[Ian] thinks deeply about the issues he is studying and acts on his convictions,” observes Foster. “Like…Cal DeWitt, Ian is one who leads by doing and draws others along in his efforts to make the world a better place. I believe Ian’s ability to think in a multi-disciplinary fashion will build a strong, contributive future in the best of the traditions of Au Sable Institute and this fellowship.”

That future could lead Gallo a few directions – municipal composting, building local food systems, farming – but all point towards active leadership in reforming our agriculture system out of Christian conviction.

“I care deeply for creation," says Gallo, "but much of my motivation for sustaining it comes from Christ’s call for us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Issues of environmental justice are inherently issues of social justice and it is the human element which motivates me to care for the things that I do.”

Environmental protection and justice are key components of the Ecological Agriculture and International Development and Environmental Sustainability courses he will dive head-long into this summer. From local to global, these courses engage everything from local farming practices to issues of international trade. Gallo’s studies at Au Sable’s Pacific Rim campus will leave him with knowledge, skills, and abiding questions to take wherever God calls him.

He agrees, “My time at Au Sable in Washington will absolutely be a great way to kick off this [next] phase of my life.”