Alumna recalls experience farming Panama jungle

Anyone who knew Harper Simpson in high school knew she would make the world a better place.

“Almost from the very start I could see that Harper is the kind of person for whom rivers of passion and concern for others run deep,” said her Humanities teacher, Ms. Galson.
Simpson, who graduated Glenbrook North in 2014, is currently a junior at the University of Vermont. She took some time off school between her sophomore and junior years to farm in the jungle of Panama.

With no showers or electricity, Simpson truly connected with nature. She interned at Kalu Yala to help build a sustainable agroforestry system within a greater town building project.

“It was really, really hard,” Simpson said. “It taught me resilience. It rained every single day. I lived on a wood surface, but everything around me was basically mud. I bathed and did my laundry in the river.”

Simpson said the most rewarding part of her trip was syncing her body clock with the sun.

“You wake up with sunrise and go to bed with sunset,” she said “I even did an independent project about the psychological benefits of being in nature. I loved being without electricity; by the end of the trip I didn’t want to look at my phone ever again.”

Although Simpson doesn’t see herself being a farmer in the long run, she said the trip helped form a vision for her future.

“I was studying social work before the trip, but now I’m studying environmental studies and food systems,” she said. “I’m focusing on the human-nature relationship. I know I want to be able to support farmers and sustainable agricultural practices.”

Simpson is currently putting together research on how women in Vermont are leading their local food movement and interning with an organization that helps women overcome employment barriers in the food sector. 

“I’m interested in blending social justice with the need to mitigate climate change; connecting people closer to their food source; and connecting people with nature,” she said. “I’ve thought about a long-term goal of starting a therapeutic farm.”

Asst. Principal for Student Activities, Dr. Mike Tarjan, said Simpson left a memorable impact at GBN – especially while she was president of the Student Association Board. 

“Harper is an outstanding person,” Tarjan said. “When working with her on projects, her concern was always focused on others and what was best for them. It doesn’t surprise me that she is stretching her arms to impact the world. I wish the best for Harper as she continues to bring people together to make a difference.”

Where will she go next?

“I see myself ending up studying in more impoverished countries,” Simpson said. “I’m applying to go to Kenya to study women’s education and community development. My experience as a leader at GBN has really affected how I go about leadership now, and my Humanities class really drove my interest in women’s studies.”

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Alumna recalls experience farming Panama jungle