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Tisch College scholarship helps student tell a story through photography

With support from Tisch College's Citizenship and Public Service Scholars program, Nora Chovanec, A10, toured farms in Mexico and the American Midwest this past summer for a documentary photography and oral-history project on the lives of farmers who plant and harvest one of the world's staple crops—corn.

Citizenship and Public Service Scholars receive funding and guidance for self-directed research on social change, organizing and overseeing projects that set an example of citizenship for the Tufts community. Chovanec was asked to describe her trip and some of the striking images she captured along the way.

"The impetus for this project grew from the two areas of interest that I had been working in throughout my three years as a Tisch Scholar—understanding the people and work involved in food production and the creation and promotion of socially conscious art," she writes.

"Having the opportunity through the capstone project to focus on a subject that may not necessarily be considered 'news' by the mainstream media, but is a very pressing subject relevant to our society, allowed me to create a platform to discuss, and hopefully spark a dialogue about, the state of our current food system and the people invested in it.

"I was going to tell a story of what it means to be a farmer in North America—touching on issues of global warming, confrontations with seed companies, people not understanding where their food comes from, and farmers being romanticized as a last beacon of production and as the few who know what it means to be connected to the land. But, instead, what I found was that the lines here are not so mapped out and clear. Life is not so cut and dried when you actually go and meet the people face to face.

"Some farmers believe in global warming, some don't. Some farmers love seed companies like Monsanto, some farmers wish the companies would collapse. Some farmers buy all of their food from the Hy-Vee [grocery store], just like people living in the city, and some farmers still exist growing corn solely for subsistence, for both themselves and their animals. Some farmers love government subsidies, or want them more than anything, and some wish the system was never created. Some farmers have profited heavily from the switch to commodity corn and monoculture, some farmers are barely surviving, and some farmers don't even know that this shift occurred.

"Confronting these blurred notions of farming culture, I realized I could not create work that existed solely to tell one story about the people within the industry. Instead, I worked to provide a journey of exploration of corn country, looking at the relationships of the people and the animals that inhabit this space, and what it means when the land, and an industry, is in a constant state of growth."

To learn more about supporting the Tisch College's Citizenship and Public Service Scholars program, contact Melissa DeFreece at