Maria Balcazar is pursuing her Master’s in Biological and Agricultural Engineering at North Carolina State University. She is a member of the Focolare movement and has a passion for yoga and philosophy. 

There are many reasons I could mention as my motivation to attend the Teach-in. In a way I think they would all boil down to the very same simple thought. A thought I have had for a while. A thought that has evolved to become the foundation of what I try to practice in my everyday life, relate to others and understand the world around me. Anything and everything in this world boils down to either love or fear.

It sounds absurdly simple, right? But I remember the exact moment in time when I realized and truly understood this concept. This realization came at a particularly hard moment in my life, and allowed me to realize what was important. Looking back, I now understand that introspection and observance of the self, through yoga, meditation and prayer, is what allowed me to reach this conclusion. Love or fear. It clicked! Since then, I continue to go back to what has almost become my mantra. Deliberately choosing Love over fear. It has cleared my vision and allowed me to see others around me for who they really are. Human beings who ultimately want the very same thing: an opportunity to be loved and a sense of belonging. That to me is a synonym for community, compassion, and understanding.


Maria Balcazar yoga


This understanding of Love or Fear has driven my actions both personally and professionally. Love for those around me, and love for the environmental system that supports us has translated in my passion for sustainable agriculture and food systems. Through my studies and research I have come to realize that, in general, food has a strongly embedded social component. When we talk about issues in food systems that seem entirely technical, such as the methods for food production, input requirements to accomplish a certain food yield, or management of generated waste, we ignore the fact that these issues have key social aspects that are often overlooked when adopting a solution. The web of relationships and interactions built with and around food sourcing, production, and consumption is not only incredibly complicated, but fascinating to look at. I personally think that historically our efforts and proposed solutions have often been based solely in our technical knowledge. Looking at the problem with social lenses has rarely been done, which consequently has limited our ability to foresee the implications of these adopted solutions at a social level. We tend to compartmentalize parts of our humanity, and only see the problem from a science or engineering perspective when searching for a solution. Consequently, we often do not realize that solutions based solely in technical knowledge may not be the most ideal for a problem with both technical and social needs. Identifying the problem with a wider scope and addressing all the needs in place, both technical and social, is the first step in developing the holistic solutions we truly need.

Understanding the problem from both a technical and social perspective drove me to complete a double bachelor’s degree in Biological & Agricultural Engineering and Philosophy, with a minor in Environmental Engineering. Currently I am completing my Master’s in Biological & Agricultural Engineering with a minor in interdisciplinary studies, highly dominated by sociology courses. My interest lays in waste management and the possibilities of renewable energy production from pig waste in North Carolina, the second largest pig producer state in the US.

On a personal level, I choose Love through community involvement and service. This work provides insightful information on my community and the various challenges it faces at different levels. Throughout the years, whether it is volunteering in a local organic farm, leading yoga and meditation classes or working with a local non-profit organization interested in eliminating food hunger in the area, choosing Love has allowed me to get involved, learn from others and support my community.

Yoga, meditation and prayer have proved to be catalysts, both in my community involvement as well as in my personal development. I have found that as my understanding of issues in our food system and agriculture increases, the more invested I become. This is not only out of curiosity, but also out of understanding the complexity of the situation and desire to get involved and help. Current environmental global issues and social realities, as well as future predictions on water, food or energy can easily become disheartening. It is in this context where I think bringing a sense of greater purpose, God and Love have allowed me to continue my efforts in doing the best that I can today, to bring about more harmony. Yoga and meditation give me the beautiful tool of mindfulness. I am able to practice discipline, and work with my body—particularly with the breath—in order to calm the mind and become an effective agent, through my actions.