Cross-Breeding Education, Agriculture, and Stem-Cell Therapy

James Bowe/CC BY 2.0

The University of Nevada currently runs one of the country's few university-owned teaching farms, Main Station Farm, in Reno. In addition to providing educational opportunities for students interested in agriculture, the 1,140 acre farm is also one of the last green spaces in the state of Nevada.

The University of Nevada's Board of Regents recently voted to sell off and rezone 104 acres of the farm for commercial development. Opponents to the decision believe that not only should we be preserving this farmland, but that rezoning one part of the farm sets a dangerous precedent for slowly but surely selling off more and more of it.

Petition to Save the Farm

Wendy Baroli, who is a small farmer from Reno, recently started a Change.org petition that has already seen over 10,000 signatures. The petition is addressed to the governor of Nevada, the Reno city council, and the University of Nevada Board of Regents, among others. The goal of the petition is to put pressure on the Board of Regents to reverse their decision by showing how much support the farm has.

As Bartoli points out on the petition, "America already loses more than one acre of farmland to development every minute." At this point in time, when we as a nation are seeing an upsurge of interest in small, sustainable farming, a university farm like this one (one of only a handful in the country) is integral in helping to educate the next generation of farmers.

Another Layer of Complexity

But that's not all there is to it. As a university farm, Main Station Farm also engages in activities that go beyond the bucolic small farm experience that some of us (including yours truly) envision. When I was researching this story (after a contact at Change.org reached out to me about the petition) I came across something that gave me pause:

"Sheep on site contribute to internationally recognized research that is expanding the potential of gene therapy and stem-cell research in humans. By injecting human stem cells into sheep embryos, scientists have created partially humanized organs in sheep. Though there is no visual difference from other sheep, the goal is to develop the potential for treating birth defects and an array of human diseases and conditions."

This is from the Main Station Farm website. And it leads us to the crux of my own personal moral dilemma. Here it is, in its simplest form:

1.) Small farms are good.
2.) Small farmers rock.
3.) University farms (including the Main Station Farm) help educate the farmers of tomorrow, while providing green spaces and other benefits to the community.
4.) Oh -- they do genetic experimentation on animals. While I believe in the value of stem-cell research, and I understand that this is how many advances are made, I still don't like animal experimentation.
5.) Less inclined to support the farm now.
6.) But it is still a farm, and farms are important. I am absolutely pro-farm.
7.) Stare into space, arguing with myself.

While I stare into space, I'd like to turn the question over to you, fellow TreeHuggers:

Tags: Activism | Agriculture | Animal Welfare | Farming