The last seminar of every unit in our TBB curriculum is about how to create social change. We talk about the theory of social change movements, we look at who primary stakeholders are and what we can do to influence change among them and we look at our personal responsibility and how we can start to create change in ourselves. For the last seminar in the sustainable agriculture unit we had the students talk about someone in their life who they consider an agent of social change by describing what they do and why they look up to them.
Students shared stories about family members, former teachers, and heads of non-profits. And then it was my turn. So many people I know out there working to create change but the first person who popped out of my mouth was my friend Mimi.
When we think about agents of social change, I think we often picture big heroes such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi. And of course, why wouldn’t we? They are people to look up to for great revolutions that led to massive social change. Yet in a way I think it is dangerous, this “heroification”, when we are taught that social change leaders are an exception to the rule instead of people we meet in our daily lives. In a way, it creates a sense of passivity. I think my students sometimes struggle because they believe they should see results from their learning overnight, that they should immediately be able to formulate their opinions and know what comes next. And yet no change is immediate. We know Rosa Parks did not spontaneously decide not give up her seat on that bus in Montgomery but was part of a planned and intentional movement that had been in the works for years. Anyway, since we were focused on sustainable agriculture and creating change it made me think of my friend Mimi.
Mimi has been growing organic vegetables for years on a beautiful 5-acre piece of land in Marshfield Vermont. It is where I fell in love with farming and farmers and our rural communities almost 9 years ago. Every year for the past 10+ years she hires apprentices to help her grow food for a 150 member CSA. This is a financial necessity. Apprentices are willing to work extremely hard for very little money because they want to learn. And every year, Mimi turns out new farmers. I never thought of this as a particularly revolutionary idea, and yet when I think about our current agricultural system and the very fact that most young people are fleeing our rural landscapes for urban centers and the average age of farmers is something like 55, then in a way, this is quite revolutionary. We have not stopped to think about who will be our future farmers. Maybe because some believe so strongly in technology or that with GMOs we’ll need less labor. I don’t know, call me a hippie (and believe me, my students do just that!) but this is soulless. I feel depressed and doomed when I think about Monsanto taking over our fields. Our current system is too large and it’s too industrial and we still have over 900 million people suffering from malnutrition and hunger in the world. It needs to change.
When I moved to Mimi’s farm in 2004 I finally felt connected to the world in a way I had not before. It made me reflect on my suburban upbringing, on our increasingly homogenized world, about a certain loss of connection. Do we know our neighbors? Do we get up from our couches on a regular basis to confront them and our communities, not only to organize but also to have fun? No wonder we don’t care about our food, about the ways cows are raised to get us our hamburgers, the countless pounds of pesticides sprayed on the vegetables we eat or the conditions workers endure who spray those chemicals. Why don’t we care?
And this is the question I struggle with every seminar 10. If we know what ails us, why can’t we change? Are we that addicted to consuming? Are we just too accustomed to our world the way it is, not really wanting to put in the effort it will take to create a fundamental shift in our consciousness and our behavior? We continue to rate countries’ progress based on their GDP but is this all that matters? Sure, people need to survive and I don’t mean to diminish that, but I do think there are other ways we can shift our thinking when we think about progress. Are we more connected to our community? Are we happier and more fulfilled? Do we have love? Are we kind and compassionate? Our current paradigm is killing us…literally, with more stress, more cancer, more pollution, more disease. Are we really progressing?
I received a letter the other day from Mijal, one of my students from last year. In it she told me how she has changed her major from education to sustainability and how she currently dreams of becoming an organic farmer in the future. Well, I can’t tell you how much this warmed my heart. This gives me hope. Mimi gives me hope. All the people I know out there who work day after day to better our communities give me hope. They are true agents of social change. I want my students to see that change is slow and cumulative and it takes all of us.
I want to end by acknowledging and thanking some of my farmer friends who have been an inspiration and continue to be. Thanks for making a small piece of this world a better place to live: Mimi Arnstein – Wellspring CSA; Paul Betz and Kate Clamente– High Ledge Farm; Richard Wiswall and Sally Colman – Cate Farm; Beth Whiting and Bruce Hennessey – Maple Wind Farm; George Gross – Dog River Farm; Joey Klein – Littlewood Farm; Chris Jackson – Maple Hill School or wherever you are teaching permaculture these days; Theresa Snow – Salvation Farms (gleaning program)
Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts and ramblings…xoxo