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ESF Alumna Brings Lessons from the Peace Corps Home 6/29/2020

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Chloe Blaisdell

By Karen B. Moore

Chloe Blaisdell was approaching her one-year anniversary with the Peace Corps in Zambia when the global coronavirus pandemic forced the program's closure worldwide. Now she's using what she learned in Zambia as the farm assistant at Matthew 25, a non-profit farm serving those in need in Central New York.

"I joined the Peace Corps because I wanted to teach and I wanted to learn. I learned so much in Zambia. I learned a language, a new culture, a new perspective, and new agricultural practices. I got to teach what I was passionate about to people who were eager to learn. I made friends for a lifetime and a family on another continent," said Blaisdell, who graduated in 2018 with a B.S. in conservation biology.

One of the Peace Corps goals is to bring what is learned abroad back to the United States. "I'm already doing some of those things here at this farm," she said.

The farm works with multicultural farmers which aligns with Blaisdell's work in Zambia. "We have a few refugee farmers that cultivate plots of land at our farm," she said. "I was thrilled to be able to return to the U.S. and continue work similar to that I was doing in the Peace Corps. It made the transition much easier for me."

The food produced at Matthew 25 goes to area food pantries and people in need. "We don't sell any of it," she said. The farm operates on a pick-one, keep-one rule. People can pick the food they need but are asked to pick an equal quantity to be sent to food pantries.

Blaisdell is happy to be working at Matthew 25, but being part of the Peace Corps was always a life goal.

"What I liked about the Peace Corps is the emphasis of cultural integration and long-term commitment by the Peace Corps allows for a more successful service as you approach projects from the community perspective and not just a foreign perspective," she said. "The Peace Corps tries to get you into your community as a member of that community instead of the outsider."

Blaisdell credits her time at ESF for preparing her for the Peace Corps. She drew on what she learned in courses including the Diversity of Life as well as environmental communication classes while working as an agroforestry volunteer.

Blaisdell's program ranged from nutrition to agroforestry to conservation farming with many other topics in between.

She conducted tree nursery demonstrations, taught people how to self-harvest seeds, and create tree nurseries. She also taught about climate change and the importance trees play in the region which is experiencing rapid rates of deforestation.

"I worked with community members, government officials, and my village's headman to create a community forest in our village that is strictly off-limits to harvesting trees or plants, in an attempt to restore lost forest cover," she said.

There were also secondary projects focused on health and gender equality. Blaisdell did HIV and malaria education and organized a GLOW camp - Girls Leading Our World - which helped empower girls and taught them how to be leaders in their community.

Blaisdell credits her time at ESF for helping her expand her horizons through internships, research projects and support. "My hometown was pretty small," said the Lafayette, New York native, "and I do credit my time at ESF for helping me grow, find my passion and giving me opportunities to explore through different avenues. I think that kind of environment at ESF is what allows students to build a resume that will get them where they want to go."