In 2009, Victor DeSimone moved from western Pennsylvania to Portland, Oregon, and developed a deep respect and appreciation for the natural environment. Seattle University, a leader in environmental studies, was a natural choice for college.
After taking Exploring the American City, with Professor Marie Wong (Doc Wong to her students), he decided to major in Environmental Studies with a Specialization in Urban Sustainability.
“She turned me on to urban planning and opened my eyes to the ways the built environment affects how we behave,” he said.
DeSimone saw first-hand how agricultural policies, urban development, and sustainable practices impact communities when he traveled to Ecuador as a volunteer with Global Student Embassy (GSE) during spring break of his sophomore year. GSE manages programs in Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Northern California that address climate change, ecological degradation, and food production using a volunteer corps of high school and college students.
As a result of land use practices, farmers in areas around Bahia de Caraquez, population 20,000, converted forests into grazing lands in the latter part of the 20th century. In 1998, a 7.2 earthquake followed heavy rains, and when coupled with the depleted soil, led to massive landslides. Much of the city’s infrastructure as well as the rich marine estuary that was the source of the city’s economic growth was destroyed.
To help with ongoing recovery efforts, GSE sends students to Ecuador to plant thousands of small trees on steep slopes, work in seed nurseries, and develop mangrove forests. Volunteers not only help restore forests but work alongside and learn from local students and conservationists about sustainable practices.
“The region is very poor,” DeSimone noted, “and after the earthquake, anyone who could have left did so. The city needed to change to become more environmentally sound and now needs people to help do the work.”
By 2010, the city had rebranded itself as an eco-tourism site. Recycling efforts, reforestation, and youth education were given high priority. On his second trip in March 2016, DeSimone noticed community groups coming together to implement environmentally sustainable practices and improve agricultural production.
Having spent a summer working on the Urban Farm in Renton, DeSimone has ample experience in sustainable urban agriculture. The Urban Farm, which started as a joint Seattle University-King County project, is now run by a nonprofit and each week provides hundreds of pounds of produce to local food banks.
He enrolled in Wong’s Community Design Workshop in his junior year and researched urban farming coops as options for individuals who are homeless. He also took International Environmental Governance with Professor Tanya Hayes who conducts research on reforestation and land use practices in Ecuador.
Beginning his senior year this fall, DeSimone heads to Santiago, Chile, on an education abroad program to improve his Spanish language skills. Back on campus for winter and spring quarters, he plans to focus on agricultural development practices that take into account environmental sustainability and food justice.