Friday, December 11, 2009

A Prescription for Life

Rosemary Gladstar writes in her book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, "There is no great secret to good health. Despite the bombardment of advertisement from the health and beauty industries that offers an instant pill or cure-all for the woes and illnesses of life, good health is, in truth, the practice of living healthfully everyday (Gladstar 5)". While this is true for some, those in a position to escape the bombardment, many others are landlocked and confused stuck in the labyrinth without a guide; many are children. Many must make due with what they can muster in this unnatural order of survival of the wealthiest. And today, survival doesn't depend on cultures of strength for many low income people. In some cases, the custom of ignorance of health is what chains them to their position of exploitation. Innocent and naive, the children must hear the elders when they speak about healthy lifestyles. We, the people concerned with future generations, must provide a new, culturally competent, recipe for vibrant health.

My philosophy of organizing and leadership has changed somewhat over the years I have been involved in community building. From unerring principles to critical compromises, what has become most important to me as a leader is the participation of the membership. If the membership is proactive and passionate then the leadership has done the work of facilitating democracy in action. Through dialogue, action, and reflection, the membership is simultaneously unified and critical, and capable of reinforcing the strengths of their community. A difficult balance to reach considering all the forces at work, finding local leadership, establishing democratic dialogue, and incorporating activities that push for the progress of the organization, once the balance is struck and cared for health becomes a wonderful byproduct.

As nutrition educators, we must acknowledge the school as a strong community; a great asset. With students, teachers, faculty, and parents all intimately involved, the foundation for strong cultures of health are in place. The demand then becomes the implementation of appropriate curriculum/activities to educate the young and old alike to the possibilities of good nutrition as a means to strengthen minds, bodies, and communities. Seeing the potentials and positive results of empowering nutrition education, a cycle of critical communities begins.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Financial Accountability Experiment

IN light of the recent global economic meltdown, I would like to propose a few new arrangements for corporate agents and the communities which they are a part. I realize that not all corporations played a negative part in the process of devastating our apparent fragile market, but every business (large and small) can only benefit from local attention. These mechanisms must serve to prevent the devastations we have seen since the financial crisis in the future, and promote a more stable and prosperous market for future generations.

1. Citizen's social commission: A report accounting for the social impacts of corporate community members. Through a devised community impact calculus, citizen groups can determine the responsibility and influences corporations have to communities.

2. Citizen's social audit: A committee of citizen's dedicated to overseeing the operations of Randomly selected businesses in the area. This mechanism will serve to ensure positive social and legal practices on the part of businesses. Serving to spread accountability, businesses will be held to certain parameters or face popular criticism and boycotts.

3. Community Capital: A measure to determine social, political, and economic assets held by the community. Through such an appraisal, the community can better offer benefits to members thereby attracting consistent membership and power; determining which members have resources (not only monetary), coordinators can piece together all sorts of teams within the community tasked with achieving some aim. For instance, recognizing that one community member is the media correspondent for a local media outlet and another member is a communications Teaching Assistant at a local college, coordinators can arrange for an informal dialogue around the intersection of media theory and practice and it's affects on community. [Such arrangements can take innumerable forms.]

These proposed arrangements would serve to promote social responsibility and local investment in local-economies. Without diverting too much of the attention of business managers from their work, each citizen can make certain they are familiar with the intentions and implements of their local businesses. In fact, the implementation of this philosophy of democratic participation should not only fall on the citizens but directly should be the task of the Federal Reserve as part of their work is to regulate the financial industry. Much as Dean Baker wrote in the Guardian recently, "The Fed has a large arsenal with which to attack a housing bubble, but the first weapon is simply talk. If Greenspan and Bernanke had used their platform at the Fed to educate Congress, the financial industry, and the public at large about the existence of the housing bubble and the risks it posed, this likely would have been sufficient to pop it." I am suggesting a thorough education of the public in the face of a failure of leadership.

Outfitted with easy-to-use accounting tools, such as social responsibility templates, these groups of citizens will be capable of changing the process of market growth and stability forever.

Furthermore, as I am proposing so much additional work for citizens, let's not forget about those originally tasked with protecting the common good: government. I believe city governments should be tasked with logging popular stories of how this financial crisis affected their populations. It should be made clear through whatever means the city can muster that we will never forget the mistakes of wall street and the "regulators" who were supposed to protect us against these forces of greed and neglect.

Now, what I have not yet addressed is an aspect of politics that monied interests heavily rely upon to have their agenda pursued by policymakers and that is access. THE PEOPLE MUST HAVE ACCESS. Without an avenue to communicate and lobby for our interests, our interests will always be ignored in favor for the interests of those with access.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Philadelphia Food Hunt

Some time last December I wrote a long paper on the implementation by the University of Maryland of sustainable food ways. Meaning, I wanted to know where the University bought its food and how it reached the University's diners. As a UMD student I was curious to know what role my school was playing in the progressive food industry and what next steps needed to be made in order to reach a sustainable model of food consumption and production. Well I did that part and needless to say my conclusion was shocking. While the University was consuming huge amounts of food, it was also working to recycle a great deal of it. Of course, UMD could have been doing more but really I thought the progress already made was a good first measure. What we needed in the future was a plan for future progressive steps.

I am now living in Philadelphia where food is as huge an issue as it is anywhere and I intend to do some of the same research here as I did there in Maryland. My first job will be to determine exactly what my standards for sustainability are before conducting research so that I can remain as unbiased as possible. After conceptualizing a target for food progress, I will decide on a food provider to survey and judge. Collecting as much data as I can I will then put the picture together to construct a profile of the organization that is relevant to my locale. Such a critical look at local food ways is necessary for the upkeep of progressive values and logical health choices.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A New Powerful Myth: the era of men

A vision came to me once tracing my existence back to the beginning. Fortunately the beginning time was the same as the present time. The vision was reassuring, really. I expect the trend will continue into the future.

Until not too long ago popular culture dominated what I thought of my world. Good and Bad was determined by others and passed down unto me where I fumbled with the instructions only to end up more miserable than before. Such a process of personal behavior management--relying upon illegitimate authorities-- is the antithesis of a healthy society. While reliance upon a parent or guardian may be appropriate in the instances where they remain legitimate, too often authority is mishandled and manipulated. Thus, in many ways a style of acculturation dependent on unreliable icons reflects the corporate mentality of insincere community and authority. As such, participation is lessened and communal goals reflect that of the elites rather than the entirety of the population. This process of production and reproduction of customs and ideology is unsustainable and corrupting as many members finish feeling depressed and marginalized because after all it is not the individual determining their customary behavior. Such a perpetuating style of alienating life leaves all of us feeling more depressed than the previous day. In other words, the original structure of authoritarian leadership seen in popular culture perpetrated by all of the trend-setters and their tools of mass deception and politics by our elected leaders creates a system of frustrated community-less people led by a familiar television personality.

Recognizing this trend, we all need a new popular myth. An empowering vision of the future granting all the confidence in the world to demand more form our formal leadership. Played on all the TV screens and computer monitors, this new language of love will only be spoken through the body; the means of self-expression will be granted through no centralized bureau, but wielded for and by each of us. This language of love will not be fixed and stagnant like past icons of popular culture asking for world peace, but must be fought for by all on the streets of the mainstream. Jammed and unforgettable the new popular myth would go defunct directly after being viewed. The new myth empowers all to the means to freedom of thought, speech, and dress; a confidence to think and act for ourselves. The methodology of liberation lies both with the individual and the community to commit to always remember and recognize the need and needlessness of consumption. The new myth cannot be commercialized and sold. In the end, the new myth is the manifestation of the modern good: everything in moderation.

For me then, my new myth is the miraculous transformation of the human character. In the face of the worst kind of tragedy, we see the fragility of evil and thereby manifest the union of bad and good. Such a transformation would accurately portray the complexities of modern life.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Leadership Development and Anti-Authoritarian Organizing

Continued reflection upon an interaction with my supervisor at CCTC (Children's Crisis Treatment Center) continues to teach me a great deal about powerful leadership and the equal and opposite force of imposition upon the followers. A difficult dance to master, the downfall of most leaders is a perceived misuse of power and a lack of popular recourse. A few days into my CCTC training I encountered just such an incident. What has become obvious to me since then is inevitably some of the followership will be offended and frustrated with a superior and without recourse there is no accountability, and without accountability there is no solution to the problem of misused authority.

The players involved in this educational scenario are the supervisor, my peers (total of 5 people), and myself. Essentially, the supervisor who had been training the six of us for the past day and half felt comfortable saying explicitly to me and another peer in front of the entire cohort that the two of us looked 'scared'. I assume she made this determination after telling us of 'horror' stories of past CCTC clients. I also assume she was basing her assumption on my facial expression and body language. The problems with this scenario are numerous. Firstly, she was the authority in the room, which means she had more credibility and power than anyone else so her analysis supercedes any other. Second, she confronted the two of us publicly, no follower interested in being respected desires public ridicule. Thirdly, she made no attempt to further discuss or come to understand why I might have been looking the way I did. Fourth, she made no concessions regarding the power and damage she did. For instance, she could have said something like, "I don't know you from Adam, but this is how you look," such a remark would have entitled me to my past and possibly opened dialogue. I suggest such a skilled remark because truthfully she doesn't know me and for that reason has no context from which to judge me. All in all, the supervisor made a poor leadership maneuver and gave me no recourse to challenge her imposition.

Such an exchange has proven to me that the leadership-followership relationship is a fragile one if communication is not open. Without open dialogue the followership can not engage in the process of mentorship, which after all should be the goal of any sustainable organization. Certainly this process is difficult and requires skilled leaders, but the alternative is exactly the predicament I found myself in: feeling marginalized and internally questioning the legitimacy of the authority. Such a circumstance is not sustainable and will lead to hostility and a non-productive leader-follower relationship.

The myth of leadership figures a lone authority dictating a strategy to the followership; this is the myth of the 'historic moment'. MLK standing at the podium with the entire Washington Mall full of faithful followers working toward a common goal of equality. Now, of course, the ends of equality is justified and inspiring, but the means are delusional and counter-productive. After the climax of the dictation and the crowd calms, MLK remains the authority and the power of hierarchy remains in his hands alone. In other words, his speech did nothing to empower others to act based upon their diagnosis of the problem. This powerful myth of leadership is contrasted by the real power of the anti-authoritarian Shared governance model of leadership where authority is shared equally amongst all members and the duration of leadership is temporary. This model is based off of day-to-day leadership management instead of the 'historic moment'. What must be realized is that while consolidated authority (occuring when group confidence is concentrated with one leader) can produce some desired political/financial ends, in the process the group has also produced a social ends. In the process of giving consistent leadership consistent means to control the agenda of the group, a culture of 'spectator activism' reigns. This sort of activism promotes authoritarian control through the absence of dialogue. Undeniably, every organization has leadership, it is to the detriment of the group not to have a conversation about the sustainability of the organization and it's leadership.

It remains true to me that leadership is so critical because organization (management) and community (leadership) are the keystones of every successful, sustainable, venture.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Integration and Attraction: our way forward

The ambiguity of our leadership and their rhetoric leaves the majority of followers confused and without recourse. In order for common people to exert their power as a whole, the leadership must be involved in the organizing of a dynamic democratic discourse. This discourse would then be the jumping off point for concerted planned action in the name of democracy for the people. I believe within this framework of participatory management and freedom lies the fault of reactionary conservatives who followed the lead of their biased informers and leaders. Democracy requires consistent dialogue and reflection on behalf of the group and individual and therefore reasoned argument and discussion.

There are few organizations which perform this duty because in order to sustain a grassroots effort the organization must be ingrained in the culture of the community. The community must manifest the values of the organization. Thus, the community must trust, value, and lead the work of the organization. But, above all else, the people's organization must invest heavily in the empowerment of the community in order to galvanize and create a transformative environment for community members. In order to empower, the community organizers must make clear that the capacity to change and rearrange community's priorities and assets is dependent upon motivated community members. In other words, if they want to see something done they must be at the forefront doing it. This process requires a great deal of facilitation skill because you have to engage interested participants in group work where together you conceptualize the hierarchy of importance of the subject matter and then make certain you have an opportunity to reflect on the nature of the hierarchy: is it good or bad? Once this has been done and the work plan has been settled upon, the organization must mobilize to see the work through. At this point the role of the leadership is simply to support the next line of leaders to rise to the occasion.

Having done this a number of times I can say with certainty that a consistent presence and a measure of care ensures other participants feel comfortable investing their lives in the venture. From that point on it is the responsibility of the leadership to educate the next line of leaders into those positions of leadership until every feels confident to take part in the process of democratic dialogue and action.

What must be made as clear as possible is that without these measures and rituals of leadership of passing along the song of empowerment we will not attract people into the communities of democracy. As individualism and selfishness manifest themselves through the current popular economic philosophies of our day, all of us will see the degradation of our social lives.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Letter To Those Concerned

In the process of planning future moves into an industry that will sustain me intellectually and financially, I have learned a great deal about what I have to offer and what I am striving for. In fact, this recognition of personal worth has matured through the many conversations I have had with community leaders and followers. All of whom acknowledge that there exists a discrepancy between the supposed capacities of communities and the reality. Ends not meeting in the middle, we hear the far off sounds of community dialogues but all sides aren't covered, all voices aren't heard. It's logic really, often the seats at the table aren't offered to all members, and if they are, not all members know how to approach the table. Thus, seats are left empty, and people are left apathetic.

These conversations most often are needed between parties sharing a poorly-defined power dynamic; in such relationships, stipulations are communicated tacitly. And too often, this ignorance of power develops into a destructive social relationship disadvantageous to both parties. Of course, these power relationships are reinforced or challenged through customary interaction, and without the appropriate moderator, customs devolve into antipathy and shallow expressions of empowerment.

Recognizing these phenomena puts me in a unique position to help establish positive modes of conversation, locate local leadership, and ensure the community goals are embraced and understood by all. I believe this to be transformative democracy; when the followership is engaged in positions of leadership.

Community power is at the heart of transformative democracy and transformative democracy is at the heart of solving modern problems.

Monday, September 28, 2009

To Learn: License, no Freedom

Leaving the elementary school campus after a productive volunteer session I know there lies confusion below my satisfied surface. Satisfaction because I am practicing community investment in local education. Confusion because there appears a contradiction at the heart of the education of these young people: they will possess the fundamentals of adding and reading, but they will not be able to use those tools because of the tacit tyranny of the teacher, and the lack of application of lessons to their personal lives. Exposed to this contradiction and the unspoken nature the tyranny, almost certainly will leave me misunderstanding the hopeful potential for educating young people. The contradiction stems from the improbability of a teacher to engage students in interactive learning activities. The dysfunctional learning is a result: as soon as children recognize the classroom culture to be grounded in discipline rather than learning and group processing. Indeed, as much as individual students have learning styles so too does the group.

In fact, as a teacher we must lead the group in developing an empowering style of learning which will discipline the students to develop respectful interactive behaviors so that they can have fun learning together. The motivation of the students and teacher must be on critical thinking skills in all areas of study because it will reinforce the interests of the individual students to maintain a functional classroom and the interest to learn more about their lives. As it is, the motivation is to appease the teacher/to avoid punishment; it is her wrath and judgement that drives most students to accomplish the assigned tasks.

My mind snaps to attention as I see her ruler smack with a loud 'Thwack!' on her master text. The students report the work to her like cadets to a drill sergeant. Hands pop up and down, eyes remain to the front, feet under the desk, backpack behind the chair, all for the sake of discipline and order. It's this kind of compensation that inflicts the classroom and compromises the minds of the young people. Really what must be either agreed upon or thrown out, is whether any classroom style develops critical thinking or memorization of the material.

But, like an uninvited guest the curricular demands intrude and eat up time. We evade the truth of our confounding circumstance and wonder whether to confront the problem head on: the students are not learning to think. We must move beyond rote memorization to student investment in lessons. How do we encourage students to care enough to invest time and energy? Rooting the lessons in their lives.

I flash to my own experience in school. Classrooms silent except for the frustrated voice of the teacher. Knowing how to add but not knowing why it matters. Excited for the end of class but having no place to go once I was gone. Everyone leaves with less energy and interest in the subject matter than when they entered.

The legacy of permitted apathy begins everyday authority reinforces their control over curriculum and the culture of the classroom. Control must be carefully shared between both the students and teachers.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Unforgivable Power

The full picture, the range of emotions shared between two who were strangers, is where you will find the pride and hope of community. Watch the scene develop. Crop the photo properly. Capture the young together bound by victory, but leave out questions from the critique. Those black men are surrounded by crowds of congratulating whites, motivated by what? Victory. Power. And where is the source of the power? Is it played out on the field? What does the power even look like?

Unfortunately the shot of the power was left out of the picture showing greatness and victory. The power lies with those capable of changing glazed eyes to inquisitive.

Our mind's soil suffers from massive deficiencies and opening minds is not an option we all pursue. Motives are not to grow sustainable long limbs that can reach the sun while holding a strong base in the ground, they are to prove myself superior through sheer size. Inevitably we topple. And I blame it on soil?

Caged by a media that stands above us with water in hand. The eyes are so preoccupied with how best to tap the well that the hand misses our bodies entirely.

Freedom lies deeper in our dirt. Roots intertwined we'll share breathes of long glances and even longer meals. Conversations in the dirt will last well beyond the setting of the sun, but will dip into darker places. We need those talks too.

Slowly, even the most modest of us will find health and prosperity in this shared dirt. In the long memories of that deep dirt we will find pain, and entertainment in that pain. Survival requires it. Joy will come when we value the depths of our roots and the flowers stretched open. Then our seeds will fall on better soil.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Invisible Men

'Yes, sir. That's what the president tells us. You have yours, and you got it yourself, and we have to lift ourselves up the same way.'
'But that's only part of it, young man. I have wealth and a reputation and prestige--all that is true. But your great Founder had more than that, he had tens of thousands of lives dependent upon his ideas and upon his actions. What he did affected your whole race. In a way, he had the power of a king, or in a sense, of a god. That I've come to believe, is more important than my own work, because more depends upon you. You are important because if you fail I have failed by one individual, one defective cog; it didn't matter so much before, but now I'm growing old and it has become very important...' (Invisible Man, 45).

I anticipate a room and a time when I don't have the energy to think about my past. I anticipate thinking how busy I am and how important my work is, how much depends on me. That lack of perspective will ultimately lead to my unraveling. In order for a man to be visible he must embody a power hidden deep in the human records. Forfeiting game upon game he must grow strong with a personal standard for visible power. Not to be confused with self-confidence, this power has depth, like I said. Through the pain of realizing the games are fixed by egos and anger, our better halves fight to survive until the pain is overcome by calm. This is what it feels like when I take back the gold of my soul. A stone finally valued for what it is: unforgivably my own.

This is not an exaggeration of reality, but finally an honest appraisal of the imperfection of our nature. Regardless of flaw all angles of time hold both hope and dismay. Together the two forces press in upon us. And from my experience, this pressing is more intimidating when your attention is not upon it.

As a matter of fact, it is peculiar that so many people are coaxed into ignoring the creativity of their soul, instead diverting energy to maintaining a stable facade of status. Upon a world so inexplicably unexplained besides the myths of religion, we live as drowned fish in a raging river loosening our bodies only when we come to an intersection of waterways. Twisted, our bodies are awakened by the collision.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Submerged above water

How exactly did this happen? How did I reach this clearness of thought. Like being outside on a hot day but feeling only cool breezes blow past, the harshness of my reality looks more like the tranquilty of time itself. To the left you have the young black men of Winter Park finding harmony in a world of bone and flesh, and on the right you have young white men finding that same harmony with different proportions of the same ingredients. It wouldn't bother me so much except that I know the effects of split racial identities. I know what it is like to feel different and see the progress made in a different light. Wait rewind. We need a better approach.

It makes no difference what color I resemble. What matters is an appreciation of time and space, the all inclusive boundaries. Like being able to weigh two adverse objectives in two hands of the same body, the infinity of our universe only allows for a certain number of contradictions. Call them moments of clarity. Where, despite all the evidence to the contrary, a mere human can see the destruction of time and space and remain in the present. To be a law abiding citizen and still see the expansion of Rome as an expansion of the human heart. My point is that we are living, breathing, enigmas. Distortions of time and it's frequency that folds into a napkin. A metaphor for buddha without the slightest movement or stimulus. Everywhere, all day, we exist to see the contradictions and forget them. We do not need a better approach. This one is just fine. Whatever approach can we take?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism; Good man, Bad man

“I’m having a difficult time understanding who was harmed here,” said Richard X. Bove, a banking analyst with Rochdale Securities. “Why is this company being put into court over a series of events that benefited the nation, its economy, its financial system, the shareholders of Bank of America and the bank itself.”

Our nation has much work to do. Our communities have much work to do. Walking through one of Orlando's wealthiest neighborhoods I see and feel the work that must be done. From gentrified neighborhoods, to a degraded environment, such a blisteringly alienated population brings rise to individualism that cannot sustain the community, and sustaining our communities is the work that needs doing. The question is, how do we build sustainable communities? What tools can we use? Who are our allies? Where are the pitfalls? If our communities are to survive the trends toward misunderstood and under-appreciated local resources and opportunities brought about by industrialism and globalization, we must answer these questions on our way to investing in all of our people, our environment, and our businesses. Preferably locally produced, but also locally critiqued and consumed through a more positive culture of consumption.

We then come to the investors in our future communities. In the 21st century we will need greater initiatives from the private sector and the public sector and volunteering citizens to create opportunities for responsible growth and positive progress toward sustainable economies and communities. Often the business world forgets that the foundation for positive commerce is positive communities of consumers supporting a capitalism that perpetuates the same concern for the producers. Integrating new techniques to accomplish this goal of sustainable capitalism should be the next step for social entrepreneurs. Everyone has a role in the process of making sense of the confusing network of forces at play on community members on any given day. Leadership must be checked by followership.

Think about our current situation. Here in 2009 with a ravaged economy, a globe dealing with extreme amounts of environmental pressure, a media system siding with their financiers, and communities of people anonymous to one another, our leadership is organized to perform their agenda but the followership is not. The scale bends as far as we allow it to.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Sleepwalking to the Fridge

Food is becoming more and more of a national issue. Many different organizations with many different agendas are talking food problems and solutions. Unfortunately for consumers of national news and views, food problems are performed and solutions are often accomplished on the local levels. Reported on the national level but worked out on the local, our food system takes on a view of unrecognizable relationships between businesses and consumers and unreliable agents of social and political change. With such a tradition of reporting, our communities cannot take action on their own behalf because there exist no infrastructure for local leadership and education, and because of a custom to national media streams to report on national stage actors, thereby omitting local solutions. Relying on that national discourse to explain an issue such as food policy is the onset of the alienation that ails us and perpetuates the community problem of ignorance. The solution to this problem is to begin forming community organizations tasked with diagnosing local problems and finding necessary solutions. Instead of a reactionary national press reporting on issues concerning local communities, and local communities scrambling to connect the dots, we need systems of education, reflection, and action that will empower local communities to reach their full potential. A quick suggestion: increase the funding to local public radio stations in order to improve the quality of local coverage.

On the front page of Time magazine this past week (Aug 31 2009 edition) is a cellophane package of meat with a warning to consumers reading, "Warning: This hamburger may be hazardous to your health. Why the American food system is bad for our bodies, our economy and our environment--and what some visionaries are trying to do about it." Bryan Walsh summarizes the scope of our current food crisis, putting in perspective the challenge ahead for our communities without directly addressing communities, as being politically, socially, and personally more costly than the price tag might let on. The article does not segment the problem, but grants our food system a seat at the head of the table with a great deal of analysis of the real cost of cheap food. Walsh even sidesteps the pitfall of ignoring the role of ordinary citizens writing, "Whether that happens will ultimately come down to all of us, since we have the chance to choose better food three times a day... But what we eat--how it's raised and how it gets to us--has consequences that can't be ignored any longer," (37). But, he fails to report on the underlying threat to consumers: disorganization.

The solution to the problem of poor food quality is bigger than changing the rationality for factory farming and industrial agriculture (although that is a piece). The solution to our problems of food, health care, environmental degradation, education, etc. is the resource the national press cannot help but forget about, the sleeping public. Mobilizing the local community into 'people's organizations' is the solution to a discourse dominated by narrow interests and attended to by a minority of foodies. Walsh plays directly into the recognition and dependence on a national leadership base that cannot know the intricacies of culture on the local level. They cannot know the reasons for the popularization of local customs supporting these destructive national forces of food-profiteering. Thus, the sleeping public must be awoken.
Some Americans are heeding such warnings and working to transform the way the country eats--ranchers and farmers who are raising sustainable food in ways that don't bankrupt the earth. Documentaries like the scathing Food Inc. and the work of investigative journalists like Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan are reprising Sinclair's work, awakening a sleeping public to the uncomfortable realities of how we eat (33)
A sleeping public. The public, our local communities, are the ultimate solution to our woes of uninformed choice. Through the linking of our shared narratives by sharing food, time, and fun we can empower eachother to value the action of upkeeping customs of positive community relations. Food is only the latest symptom of a larger problem of rampant consumerism, and the choices only begin with our food. As the article indicates, this issue extends into our health care, our environment, our jobs, and our politics. Thus the power we wield as communities must take center stage. The article goes on to read, "What we really need to do is something Americans have never done well, and that's to quit thinking big, (37)" But what we really need to do is start thinking organization. What we really need to start doing is thinking of the public's option to dialogue and understand the resources the public has.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Morals behind Organizing: An inquiry into values

Man must be provided with an opportunity for a healthy, consistent reconciliation of morals and behavior or he will be forced into a pathology of rationalization. (Reville for Radicals 94)
Evidence of a culture of community disorganization exists in every community lacking the infrastructure for public exchange (community centers, public parks, sidewalks, etc.). Due to this disorganization there is little opportunity to reconcile an interest in a public life with a completely private behavior.
The rationality of organizers are often hypocritical or counterproductive especially when the organization is marginalized or counter-cultural. This tendency exists because many organizers see the tools used to make the masters house as being oppressive in themselves. I argue the contrary. These tools of organization should not be chosen or discarded on account of their prior use. Instead, the organizers rationality should be to use the tools for the sake of a dignified movement. Do not put down the axe because it can be used to destroy and kill but instead put the axe down at the root of the problem: evil rationality.
The evil rationality is easily seen in the corporate structure. Like a crushing human pyramid building upon itself by recruiting more to it's foundation through promises of trickle down wealth, the workers suffer under the weight in order to survive. With the Keynesian dream motivating the cubicle nation, this process of organization changes the rationality of leadership and work to an evil bend. With such a pervasive mentality regarding our system of capitalism it is hard not to see the conflict between big-business and it's pursuit of profit at all costs and community organizers' pursuit of solutions to community problems, one of which is that same mentality. The maniacal psychology of corporate profiteers puts our communities at risk of alienation from natural resources, personal wellness, and a complimentary psychology of submission.
Thus, every community organizer is faced with the difficult decision of choosing the tools with which to start an organization. Do I build an effective organization through a rigid hierarchical structure placing a high premium on self-interest? Or do I reject that structure entirely and invest in a philosophy of anti-authority? The process of running to the opposite side of the spectrum in order to avoid the pitfalls of hierarchical (corporate) organizing can be just as fruitless as the prior. The key to networking and organizing those networks is finding ways to assign people to tasks that power the engine of organizing to it's greatest potential and then empowering them to determine their ascendancy. Structure, organization, leadership, and authority must be used and used wisely if the organization is to succeed in producing critical thinking members, who mature into personal leaders who render the original structure obselete. If this is done well, then hierarchy will prove to be the illusion it always has been.
If we strip away all the chromium trimmings of high-sounding metaphor and idealism which conceal the motor and gears of a democratic society, one basic element is revealed--the people are the motor, the organizations of the people are the gears. The power of the people is transmitted through the gears of their own organizations, and democracy moves forward. (Reveille for Radicals 46)
Thus, when organizing the recognized leadership must be ready to incorporate new people with new talents to the established organization. Providing structure for those new members gives a strong supportive base. The established leadership then must be able to provide opportunity for leadership to arise out of a supported followership. As the member matures and grows into their role, they will inevitably grow too large and impressive for their role and must be given the ability to grow in whatever direction they choose. Offering room for development is key. Such freedom of hierarchy allows for a balance between an industrial and organic rationality of organizing.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Filling Space on the Front Page

7.56 million cartons of milk, 50,203 thousand rolls of cellophane tape, 944,643 reams of white copier paper. These numbers shock the senses. Coupled with pictures of pallets covered with boxes and Industrial-scale warehouses, they suggest big-time consumption. They are the predicted yearly purchases of Central Florida's school systems. Already the story has big implications for this area explaining it's front page coverage in Sunday's Orlando Sentinel local In-depth section. However, the article read more as a quaint reminder of the beginning of the school year than any in-depth look at what these numbers suggest. Certainly the peculiarity of the story makes it interesting but what exactly is the goal of the journalist compiling the numbers on school consumption? I hope the goal, in this time of global warming and massive ecological footprints, would be to report on the problems of having to produce so much stuff or perhaps recounting the efforts of industrial innovators to produce such quantities of goods in an environmentally sustainable fashion. Unfortunately, judging by the substance of the article such is not the goal.

Thinking about this article requires a kind of rereading. "Back-to-school shopping is a supersize event at Central Florida's school warehouses. When your mission is to keep about 350 public schools stocked, you deal with supplies by the case, pallet and truckload--because schools use a lot of stuff." Now certainly schools do use a lot of stuff and their mission is to keep their facilities stocked, but is this really news? I've reread this article to be pure fluff with no substantial interest to my life besides the concern I have for local news reporting.

It's about time local newspapers understood the importance of their role in the community. They are assets, not handicaps; they are our sentries, not bystanders.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Teacher's Intentions

Close to a year ago I was approached on the University of Maryland campus by a TFA recruiter looking to convince me that my best option after college was teaching. She knew my experience leading numerous social justice organizations, my passion for learning, and that I had a concentration in Education. She quoted statistics regarding the sad state of US education (Although she didn't need to. I spent every Friday afternoon at a local elementary school. I knew the state of US education.) and how vital this movement for inspired teachers is. She asked me bluntly, "If you won't teach, who will?" At the time I patiently explained to her that I knew the kind of responsibility teachers must shoulder, the energy they must have, and the skills required to hold the attention of any group of young people and teach them. I told her that while I possessed most of these qualities, I was not ready to be a teacher. I assured her and myself (because at this point the intensity of the moment reached a fevered pitch) that in the future I would be ready to teach. In the future I would be ready to look the state of US education in the eyes and add my shoulder to the millions of other teachers filling the breach. I told her when that time came TFA would hear from me.

The future is now.

My father was a teacher for thirteen years so his advice is almost priceless. When he tells me to foster discussions in classes I know its true. When he tells me to integrate fun into the curriculum I know its true. And reflecting on my own experience either under the tutelage of a good teacher or even think back on my limited teaching time, I know the best lessons/activities planned and run were the ones when the teacher's role evolves from dictator to moderator. The worst lessons are learned under a teacher who wrest authority from their class never to give it back. Lessons rooted in insecurity instead of creativity and fun too often fall on deaf ears and potentially do more harm than good. I seek to teach now because in the last eight months I have grown to know better the burden of inadequate education held by students.

I seek to join TFA because I know I can help young people become critical listeners and thinkers. I seek to join TFA so that I might empower our young people to take their education into their own hands and work with teachers instead of against them. I feel passionately about these facets of education because critical thinking and empowerment changed my life not too long ago. There was a time in college when I was completely ignorant to the power and freedom granted by education.

Originally entering college I was a Math major because among the list of majors it was the only area of study I recognized (obviously I hadn't yet committed much to my higher education). I stalled in my studies, I didn't see the application of the field I was studying to my life. I couldn't own my education until I developed an understanding and appreciation for the real world. Then, like a flash of lightning, the books I was reading for class began making sense of the world around me. And I cared. Not to become a number in a huge university, I saw my time from that point further as an opportunity to create my own theories and get involved with other people who were thinking and caring about the world around us. Whether they were teachers, peers, or local activists I had a new culture to believe in: education.

Since my introduction to critical pedagogies and action-oriented curriculum I changed my major area of study and have been across the country living my educational experiences amongst my peers and the real world instead of relying on textbooks to color my conception of the world. From Mississippi to Texas, I have applied my mind to real world problems that after critically studying, discussing, and acting out now seem ageless. But, no matter what the city I was in or the problem I was looking into I relied on critical thought and activism to solve the problems. The problem I am now looking at is one concerning American education. Only this systemic problem is a personal problem too; a problem close to my heart. I want the opportunity to invest myself, to change young peoples lives in the same way my life was changed through education. My success as a potential corp member is dependent on my ability to mentor my students and empower them through critical thought and discussion. A classroom infusing these ideals of education might show younger people a different way to enrich and understand their lives.

If I were to hope to accomplish anything through TFA it would be to do for other young people what was done for me through education. That kind of education is my luxury; it is my platform. Its a powerful motivating force that is matched only by its own fragility. If I could inspire my students to a high level of education and create a classroom culture of support to encourage each and every mind to pursue their educational interests I would consider myself a success.

The dreams of our young people are the future of our communities, nation, and world. If I have anything to do with it, future generations will be taught to reflect, discuss, and act. I'll teach them to think for themselves. Such is a future I can believe in.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The World As I KNow It

"With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch.
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch.
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings.
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things."
-Rudyard Kipling, The Gods of the Copybook

I believe the invisible hand of the free market has landed on my house. Well, not my house but the house directly behind my parents home here in Central Florida. I can hear the whispers of the 'F' word throughout the neighborhood. Foreclosure. Money lost with little understanding of where exactly it went. The market is mysterious like that. They tell us there are ups and downs.

Thoughts of the market are a luxury.
Until a few days ago I was living in a Trailer lacking reliable electricity and water, not to mention lacking a working refrigerator.
The market is a poison.
Beside my trailer lived 4 Mexican men lucky to have work. We spoke rarely because of the language barrier. We didn't have to say much. The market lived in their minds too. On the first day I arrived, the first question they asked me in broken english was: how long are you going to be here? Sizing up the competition.
The poison colors my world.

I spent about 4 days on a farm in Southern California working for a manager with no management skills. I spent 4 days on this farm and saw more of our broken system than ever before. At least two of those young men living next to me ran the border to live with their father here. In a meager trailer no more than 25 feet long and 7 feet wide I at my last meal on the farm and learned about courageous men who knew the hand of the Market better than me.

Later that day I was sizing up my trailer. Marking the smells of mouse piss in the shower and along the kitchen drawers. As thrilled as I was to be working on an organic farm, I knew Pigs couldn't fly. I knew my phone wasn't working and my boss was using me. It was only the first day so I had not started wondering what the Mexican guys were thinking. My mind was racing thinking of the work to be done.

I woke up early the next day hoping to get some early morning work done. I stood before the strawberry patch planning my point of attack. Looking for some tools to use I searched the barn, the road, and the field and found two buckets. I felt a little sick. My eyes began to burn. This might have been the first time I doubted my decision to uproot my life and commit myself to working this Southern California farm. The burning stretched from my eyes to my throat.

After close to half an hour I had a few trays full of strawberry runners ready to be propogated. I set up in the shade to start transplanting the delicate greens. There was no work station so I sat cross-legged and mixed the loose dirt I dug a dozen feet away with some manure and transplanted. I was working like this for about an hour or two before my boss walks out of his living quarters. I ask about my work but he seems uninterested. Pointing out loose potting soil on the ground a few feet from me he picks up a handful and tosses it at my feet. My future lays with the dirt at my feet. I didn't bend down to collect it. My throat tightens.

I see the farm for what it is: a disaster. I cannot work under these conditions and achieve anything besides burying a dead venture. I am not spending my time digging anymore of this man's dirt. The burning has reached a fevered pitch. I feel doubt: a new doubt I had never felt before. Like some meaningless product used and forgotten, I never again want to feel so cheap.

The burning resurges to my face and I begin to cry. My tears remind me of my dignity. I know then that I can stay no longer. I search out the owners and tell them I intend to leave as soon as possible. I have a hard time listening to either of them express their regrets. Even retired hippies can be utterly out of touch.

I leave early the next morning, thanks to my parents.

I arrive home Wednesday afternoon feeling mixed up. My chest no longer hurts but my mind rages with paranoia of failure and guilt. I do not know what I will do next. Farm? Not on any farm like the last one. I distrust anyone wearing overalls. Luckily my parents greet me with nothing but support. I knew I could count on them.

After a shower and a shave I feel a little bit more like myself. I intend to go to sleep early but stay up late talking with my brother of the world as we know it and the poisonous market. I dreamed of revival and relief. My parent's spare room does not smell like mouse piss.

I wake up Thursday morning and spend most of the day tying up my parents tomato plants and weeding in the back yard. I peek my head over the backyard wall a few times to look at the foreclosed property. My mom plans on buying it and turning the extra space into a garden area for me. With the Florida housing market being what it is, the house could go for as little as $100,000 dollars. Quite a deal. I could have my very own urban farm in the heart of Orlando. The market returns to its anointed position as the liberator it is.
Quite a deal.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Thoughts on Consumerism

There are days when you come to see what side you are on and today is that day for me. It is easy to suggest moderation when the conditions are right for a non-extreme position but when you read articles detailing horrific motives and potential catastrophe what else can you do but take a stand. I feel that way now. Reading of foreign investment in cheap agricultural land ( because of a perceived growing population and a resulting growing demand for food, I feel like my life is not of my own making. People must eat. This reality doesn't take into account the intricacies of the food system. Such a reality doesn't take the consequences of such investments and changes on the consumer into account.

As an organic farmer I implement a mentality of stewardship and sustainability when strategizing the creation of my food, but having left my Northern California farm two weeks ago to live with my parents here in Florida for close to a month I have been reunited with the non-organic, unsustainable, food system billions of people depend on and I am regularly disappointed and scared for the future. More to the point though, I have been reunited with the blind-consumerism that propels our economy for better or worse.

With a short term, individualized, perspective the consumer can be convinced that their actions have insignificant consequences, this of course isn't true. Consumerism plays a monstrous role in our political, social, environmental, and individual lives precisely for the fact that it is a mentality or attitude instead of just a practice of increasing consumption of goods. It is a mentality of entitlement to any and all products that might satisfy the individuals needs and wants. But as Wendell Berry wrote in Fatal Harvest, "And so we can say that the industrial economy's most-marketed commodity is satisfaction, and that this commodity, which is repeatedly promised, bought, and paid for, is never delivered." Why is it then, that consumers are not only not given a choice to be more sustainable but are encouraged to consume without regard to their needs? I suppose because there exists no organization with the credibility to show consumers the rest of the story of their stuff without seeming and present an alternative. So, who will paint an alternative picture?

The survival of the individual, their communities, their cities, and nations depends on a balancing of interests and investments. The alternative to the blind-consumer lifestyle is one of co-production and an amalgamation of the individual with their larger communities. Lucky for us, this change in culture extends beyond consumerism and individualism. Ironically such a change (many call the amalgam the "glocal" community) has its roots in a philosophy of satisfaction and quality of life.

The highest standard of living has little to do with material goods but with dignity, honor, and creativity. Resources are nothing but idle tools without the right minds to put them to the right work.

Friday, July 31, 2009

our stars pause mid sentence

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”
-Audre Lorde

Walking through the grocery store I felt no connection to anyone, many other customers moved around me without a smile or anything. I looked into eyes and saw hurry and impatience. There were people who shared brief pleasentries, just not enough to leave me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. I hope I dont think about this when I get back home. Oh well...

Its dangerous to realize that a slight at the hands of a stranger could change my behavior for an entire day and perhaps longer. (The bruise spreads from your voice to your ego to your memory.) Once I recognize a larger perspective to take I realize its important to set aside time to understand myself and the context of the embarassing and/or insulting event before it becomes a permanent fixture in my mind. Of course, I cannot ignore the moments of great victory and peace when my world makes sense.

Taking cues from Lorde's quote I imagine the most important thing to me. I think of it in my head. I ask myself questions. What is most important to me encompasses many things including something like what Lorde referred to: speaking to how I feel. So how do I do that? I thread my scattered thoughts using motivation as the lines in my coloring book let the reckless coloring push past the lines and out my mouth. But, as important as verbal self expression is
you can't exclude any other form of self-expression from minute to enormous. From a slight smile showing from the eyes of an old man holding a ripe cantalope fresh from California to a startled old woman forgetting the appropriate response to my exiting 'good night'. Regardless of extent of self-expression, I imagine all of it is equal to the fabled expressions engraved in history. Those big and small shows of humanity are all we collectively have to show for an evolution we have done together. I think sometimes we forget to think that we didn't arrive at this point alone despite our wishes for the contrary. We are forever linked to one another. Genes stretching unimaginable lengths, they weave there way through space and time and arrive at a family trying so hard to envision a majesty as powerful as their own story.
I am not exempt from this same naivete. I perform mundane tasks and don't appreciate the value. And it is not until someone can slow the stretching of time and space for you that we clearly see the value of the gestures of honesty. Regardless of form, honesty's good or bad side proves the paradox of our imbalanced lives: the good and bad existing side-by-side in the mind of our common dreams, our common god.
Such integrity and honesty is and always will be the foundation for any worthwhile exchange between two persons. Like a spark, it lights the world we built in the dark. Inevitably then such a trusting relationship becomes the foundation for converting the angry language of a mob into that of a people. What is the difference? A mob's core values are destructive confusion, whereas a people focus their energies to maintain chaotic peace at the midst of the group's orderly nature. That decisively trusting relationship uniting a mob into a people is truly the only saving grace for a species seemingly determined to break all guiding lights.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

You fear what you dont know. So, get to know me.

"A good city street neighborhood achieves a marvel of balance between its people's determination to have essential privacy and their simultaneous wishes for differing degrees of contact, enjoyment or help from the people around. This balance is largely made up of small, sensitively managed details, practiced and accepted so casually that they are normally taken for granted," (Jacobs 59).

I have come back to Florida to live with my parents for only a short while, but during that time I have made a few observations about the city and neighborhood designs and the apparent social consequences. I am writing under the assumption that the social codes I have ignored here in Central Florida are phenomena of documented social theories (so I have intellectual basis). The theory espoused by Jane Jacobs copied above deals with the intricate social system that must balance itself if social harmony is to exist. Unfortunately, without long-term experience in my current environment I cannot appropriately appraise it, but I did get to thinking. Is it possible for a negative or disadvantageous harmony to form in an environment? Could social roles be filled, that while are necessary for the society to continue to function as it has been, do not positively contribute to the members of said society? I think such a set up would be called disfunctional. And I think that what I have been overlooking is the inevitability of harmony. I suppose then that what our communities need are harmonies that enrich and satisfy the members. Harmonies that are self-correcting and based on the true needs and desires of the members. Well, whether you are here in Central Florida or California or Nebraska, such cohesive communities are difficult to plan for and even harder to formally and informally maintain. Not only that but the difficulty to garner a well-rounded city neighborhood can only be outdone by the ease by which an imbalanced neighborhood becomes a reality. After all, a balance will be struck.

Furthermore, Jacobs goes on to address an underlying assumption made about the "ideal" neighborhood "turned inward on itself":
In a town of 5,000 or 10,000 population, if you go to Main street (analogous to the consolidated commercial facilities or community center for a planned neighborhood), you run into people you also know at work, or went to school with, or see at church... Within the limits of a town or village, the connections among its people keep crossing and recrossing and this can make workable and essentially cohesive communities. (115)

The fact that a rational person could become so entangled and confused because of the people influencing them is such a terrifyingly sobering thought. But at the same time those entanglements and endless webs of people can provide the social contact we all crave and rightfully need to disprove popular convictions that the public cannot be trusted, but instead must be feared.
'Togetherness' is a fittingly nauseating name for an old ideal in planning theory. This ideal is that if anything is shared among people, much should be shared... The requirement that much shall be shared drives city people apart.
When an area of a city lacks a sidewalk life, the people of the place must enlarge their private lives if they are to have anything approaching equivalent contact with their neighbors. They must settle for some form of 'togetherness,' in which more is shared with one another than in the life of the sidewalks, or else they must settle for lack of contact. (Jacobs 62)
This passage from The Death and Life of Great American Cities accurately describes the reality that balance must also exist between the members of a society and the systemic nature of the environment. Another phenomena of modern city populations Jacobs points out is one directly related to the creation or bearing of a local culture of

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The stronger the community, the stronger a nation

The importance of the community unit is becoming more and more recognized by all who view our world as the sum of its parts. With our environment facing peril and our economies proving to be unsustainable, we need strong communities to produce strong people because as we now see our survival depends on our ability to adapt, think, and act. But as this unpredictable equation plays itself out we cannot forget people exist as individual variables; parts of a collective variable: the human race.

The evidence of the effects of our race on our planet have mounted. Our advancing technologies create infinite avenues of possibilities no equation can measure, this phenomena might also be our greatest hurdle. An over-reliance on technology to save this planet ignores the fundamental catalyst or change-agent needed to moderate our cultures, politics, economies, and environment: us humans (the only variable we cannot measure). What we need now is the convergence of a culture focused around unity and advocacy, and a practical design of urban and rural settings prioritizing the balance of public and private space. The overwhelmingly public rural space needs more private landscaping work, while the extremely private urban space needs public works to mark informal meeting places.

The issue is founded on the recognition that a strong community is of mutual benefit to both the individual and group. The stronger the individual, the stronger the community and vice versa. Thus, we must work for the strength of our communities thereby strengthening our nation.

How do we calculate the strength of our communities? Or better yet, why should we? Because inevitably the direction of our nation is determined by the direction of the strongest communities. There exists an infrastructure or blueprint for strong and weak communities. What each of us must do is determine our roles in this calculus because after all humans are the variable on which the entire equation depends.

This equation plays itself out everyday and hinges on every mundane or dramatic moment of interaction between community members. Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, describes it as such:
In speaking about city sidewalk safety, I mentioned how necessary it is that there should be, in the brains behind the eyes on the street, an almost unconscious assumption of general street support when the chips are down--when a citizen has to choose, for instance, whether he will take responsibility, or abdicate it, in combating barbarism or protecting strangers. There is a short word for this assumption of support: trust. The trust of a city street is formed over time from many, many little public sidewalk contacts...
The sum of such casual, public contact at a local level--most of it fortuitous, most of it associated with errands, all of it metered by the person concerned and not thrust upon him by anyone--is a feeling for the public identity of people, a web of public respect and trust, and a resource in time of of personal or neighborhood need. The absence of this trust is a disaster to a city street. Its cultivation cannot be institutionalized. And above all, it implies no private commitments, (56).
Our communities have reached the point where our peers are anonymous. There rarely exist connections enough to establish communication let alone trust. What we all must understand and embrace is the requirement to develop a trusting relationship is an investment of time and care. The return for all those individuals looking for reciprocity is a community invested in you.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Competing dreams: Make our common dreams the American Dream

Wendell Berry in Fatal Harvest writes of the needs of our industrial economy. He begins, "One of the primary results -- and one of the primary needs -- of industrialism is the separation of people and places and products from their histories. To the extent that we participate in the industrial economy, we do not know the histories of our families or of our habitats or of our meals,"(7). The underlying assumption is that if and when people are reconnected with the culture of their stuff and themselves, they will reject the industrial model in favor of a more culturally relevant one. But this picture is too simple. We must recognize the source of our problems is both systemic and personal.

Our lives have become crowded and convoluted with competing ideologies of what exactly we want from our economies, our governments, our communities, and ourselves. We leave behind tolerance and rationality in favor of convenient results. When was the last time we worked together to make our lives better? When was the last time our leaders in education, government, business, etc. ever worked with the consumers, the lay people, the followers to develop their own opinions of leadership. We cannot deny that our lives are enriched and threatened by our connections to the systems surrounding us. What we must seek is balance.

Americans stand on the streets of chaotic cities. Built on the dreams of our past we are confronted everyday with what the American dream has developed into. What it has become is a city designed not by the imagination of you and your neighbor but by our reclusive leadership. Our streets are lined by tortured trees and shrubs and alien buildings. Our culture has become a pattern of irrational consumption and anonymity from history. And our problems are deeper than bank bailouts or healthcare reform. The inevitable problems and inevitable solutions lie with each one of us. Each and every system making up the American infrastructure is a mere tools for the operation of an agenda: growth and profit. Those same problems and solutions are a result of the inevitable conflict between the American dream of individual wealth and the common dreams of peace and security, and equal opportunity, and meaningful participation in our society. What each individual needs to do is understand our liberation our success our survival lies with the integration of individuals to communities dedicated to a better life not an easier life.

The redesign of our cities will not be easy. We will have to temper our reliance on the industrial perspective of standardization and instead invest in individual expression and culture as assets to the public instead of a threat to the private businesses. It is for each and every political, social, and economic stripe to realize industrialism isn't going anywhere but neither is ecological sustainability, agrarianism, socialism, etc. Fortunately for us though we are going somewhere.

Following our dreams above the dim of the city streets, we will reach our lofty dreams. By the embrace of the leader below you instead of by the death of the follower above you, we will build a new and better American reality. Borne upon the backs of our country's history, our American dream is an American future where we do not turn to fear in the times of crisis but our hearts and minds. What dreams may come.

"The strength we need will not come from the White House, but from every house in America."
-Jimmy Carter, 'Crisis of Confidence'

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Collection of Stories Shared and Treasured

I believe there is no place for irrationality in food: how do we produce a quantity of food enough to feed every hungry person there is, and yet temper our consumption so that we do not sacrifice sustainable production. Because we must not ever forget the stories of our stuff. Whether it be the story of our food or the story of our bodies, the histories of our lives and the lives of our stuff dictate our futures. This issue of blind consumption is bigger than food. Our blindness reaches into every corner of our economies and cultures. Unfortunately within our capitalist system there exists avenues to neglect the public for profiteering in the name of consumption and growth: a cover-up for irrationality. But what we all must ask ourselves is at what price do we seek growth? Is the price of our growth our habitat or our minds? If so, we must change our ways. If so, we must take back what we first sacrificed.

The issue at hand is bigger than food. The issue at hand is the recognition of culture as a critical factor in the evolution of our communities. Culture balances profit because of its ability to unite people around a common thread of remembrance. If you believe communities to be the interaction of a group of organisms within an environment we can say that our communities (whether nationally or locally) are for the most part growing weaker and weaker: we are not interacting as much or as meaningfully as we had in the past. Where I once saw investments of time and energy in other people I now see investments in individualism. The balance is lost and the result is a gluttony for immediate satisfaction. That is a cultural anomaly that can be witnessed whenever someone chooses profit over people. The solution? Human confrontation.

So, as much as food is a vital part of the puzzle of human culture and communities, the real change we need must be found in ourselves. Recognition that a mindless dependence on extreme industrialism and globalization to provide for us is unsustainable. We must change our ways, and the evidence is everywhere you look. Health care costs, war, and economies collapsing are all evidence of weak communities due to unsustainable growth.

The food system is just one other glimpse of the changing social conception of communities. The change back to localized, sustainable, organic farming proves people are dissatisfied with the current system that they are willing to vote with their forks and change the paradigm themselves. The change of diet and priorities in many parts of the country back to a concern for quality instead of quantity shows improvements in other portions of the food infrastructure: access to food alternatives, investment of time and energy in planning and preparing meals, commitment to a different kind of interaction around food, etc. The bottomline is we made sacrifices when we chose the industrial scale of production; we sacrificed culture. The cold rationality of fast-paced, efficient, production has it's negatives as well as positives and now we are feeling the stretch of gluttony. Just in time too.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Reasonable Creatures

'There is value in any experience that reminds us of our dependency on the soil-plant-animal-man food chain, and of the fundamental organization of the biota... Civilization has so cluttered the elemental man-earth relationship with gadgets and middlemen that awareness of it is growing dim. We fancy that industry supports us, forgetting what supports industry,' (Leopold, A Sand County Almanac).

These days you might be convinced there exists no food chain at all besides the one from the freezer to the microwave to your stomach. But of course taking the time to look beyond the brief time of pseudo-production in the kitchen or the approach to the fast food counter, you will see that not only is the food chain changed in a very unnatural way, so is our cultural relationship to food. The dream of the melting pot has come to fruition and in place of cultural meaning, the food industry has injected a certain Oz-like eating environment where you don't ask whats behind the curtain. But, do we really want to know.

Certainly, if we push ourselves far enough we might rationalize or reason our way to eating the most processed and artificial foods possible. No muss, no fuss, and no questions about the food behind the curtain besides how quickly can I buy it and leave. What difference does the changed in food culture make really? It has certainly made finding food easier. But for all the progress of convenient eating, haven't we sacrificed something? My experience tells me yes. My experience tells me that if we resurrect our most heartening food cultures only at our most prized times of celebration, why not bring them to the table more often? Much like Leopold wrote, we fancy that food alone supports us, forgetting what supports our food: conversation, cultural design. Eating food is not a time to fill your stomach as quickly as possible but an opportunity to share something with others.

So, ask yourself if there exists a fast food culture? What makes leaving the care and comfort of home and company for the individualized serving sizes and squeaky clean table tops of the local burger joint so appealing? Consider how little you know about processed or fast food, and yet you are willing to ingest it. (Considering the protocol of perusing a clothing outlet and the thorough examination of a pair of jeans or sunglasses, we probably spend more time considering our fashion then what we eat.) We rush out to eat food that has no apparent connection to any recognizable food source and have no second thought about it. Or do we? Patrons of a McDonalds or Burger King probably are as satisfied as they care to be after eating. On the other hand though, most of those same patrons have no ability to judge the experience against anything else. I can remember moving through the line of my middle school and high school cafeteria with no reason to think of the other foods I would rather be eating or the other ways I would like to be eating them. The course is laid at our feets to follow: schools feeding thousands of kids everyday, and parents too tired or busy to prepare a meal. And so there emerges a need, a demand, for the gadgets and middlemen to come peddling there convenient merchandise that will make feeding our young people a corporate tradition (whats for breakfast? Kelloggs or Quaker?) rather than a cultural one.

We can reason ourselves into anything. Faced with someone criticizing our diets we will cast them aside with a great moral indignation and will feel righteous for it, but we will never reason ourselves into questioning our culture's obsession with immediate gratification. Next time you are faced with a hot-pocket or a hungry man dinner, reason what came before the packaging and chemical synthesis and reason whether you might not want an alternative. Do not rely on the reasons laid out before you by commercials or experts. Instead use what usually supports your reason: morals and care.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

As lowly as a worm

Today is the second day of constant rain here in the valley of Northern California and it signals perhaps the last rainstorm of the season and a great relief to farmers across the land, especially here on this Kiwi farm. My host here recently said herself that it was almost perfect timing that it would rain just before the trees began pushing flowers and pollinating as it would provide a badly needed bump of energy for these thirsty trees. That is the luck of the orchard here, my luck is a little different but not completely. I get a badly needed rest. Time to repair tired arms and hands that had been working for too many days straight to count on two hands worth of fingers (it seems parallels certainly can transcend species on this little farm) and to read the many books that had been piling at my anxious fingertips.

Interestingly another cross-species parallel occurred to me while reading Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma this rainy morning. Immersed in the book and its tales of food culture and the warriors involved, I happened to glance at the bookmark sticking out from the pages and read the script 'Oroville Bookworm' (a local bookstore) lining the top. I wondered to myself 'what ought I make of this seemingly innocent intersection of nature and human culture?' The Bookworm. I had heard the phrase often through my life (not often referring to me) but had never saw a reason to put much thought to it. But, now sitting here on this farm surrounding by thousands of earthworms in the gardens and fields (hopefully) I felt a greater connection to the imagery produced on this thin and apparently meaningless placeholder. Was there anything to this strange hybrid creature wearing glasses but with the body of a giant green worm? I thought more about it. What is the purpose of a typical earthworm? Well to begin with, as it moves through subsoil it aerates, mixes, and digests organic matter improving soil fertility thus adding a great source of energy for plants to derive energy from. Literally any plant species living surrounded by earthworms is better off because of their presence. Then I began thinking about how an avid reader can act in a similar fashion. Turning seemingly dead ideas into inspirational actions making life a little easier for those around them. Those people invested in actualizing timeless themes can change the world by pushing it to feel things it had forgotten it had access to. Thus, we manifest the instinctual thematic life of an earthworm everyday and I have the bookmark to prove it. Coupled with the intention to improve the lives of those around them anyone wielding a sense of personal moral clarity and a willingness to openly converse with others will help create a culture of tolerance and dialogue which has no enemies besides the book burners.

I find this coincidental mixing of natural lore and culture to be a good foundation for human health. If we all remembered that our ancestors worked with the land to foster a loving environment rather than manipulating it to further efficiency we might all humble our selves to realize we may be no better for the planet than a lowly earthworm.

It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organized creatures
-Charles Darwin

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Time to Feel for the Farms

Walking past olive trees you must be careful not to stop paying attention to where you are walking because indulging too much might lead you directly into a limb of the next one. Catching a particular color scheme displayed on forking limbs you will inevitably walk into something big in front of you. So this time I stopped. I stopped in my tracks. Pulling my head high, I followed one of the low lying branches as it snaked through the canopy and protruded on the other side with its silver leaves. (Silver on green with a pattern that convinces you some corporate sports team already stole it, patented it, and has it on display in every sporting goods store in the state.) One giant olive tree standing at least 30 feet took my breath away. Another no more than 15 feet seemed so powerfully confident with its wide trunk, below ground its feet must be planted firmly in the earth; a sentinel to Gaea's Garden. My eyes roam the ground and bodies of these trees for morsels of color to enjoy...
I come back to my senses. Remembering I was doing a job, I resume walking on down this dirt road framed by beautiful dark olive trees, my mind was lingering somewhere in the olive trees. How many years has it looked this way? How many other majestic places exist where nature is given space to make itself a home? The light shines through the canopy and catches my eyes. I wonder how many other farmers walked this same way and felt something similar. I relax my mind and begin working as I had set out to do.
The romanticism of farm life begins and ends with the intimate connection between man and nature and lasts for as long as man cares to please the land that hold his feet. Rationally I believe the separation from nature and the need to embrace it are both plausible human impulses. Why care for nature? How can a human 'care' for nature? But as reasonable as those two ideas are, the reverence for nature and it's pervasive human qualities can appear obvious. Human themes of pain and joy flood these fields every season. Capturing a crop here and there you feel the vulnerability that comes along with caring for a land seemingly founded on human customs, but then again not. Nature is not polite, the land unfolds in a trail of poetry from the crying eyes of God. Inevitably this force transcends time and we can trace it through literature dating throughout human history. Documenting tragedy and delight, we sip wine and savor the tastes of great meats but ought to remember nature can not be bound.
Human history too is full of genuine forces that remain unwavering. Human ambition, for instance, has not changed over the thousands and thousands of years we have been alive. We are asking the same questions as before. I wonder how civility factors in practically--does it imply progress? My wonder stems from the fact that I do work that is little different from the farming work done long, long ago. Or even the pride I feel... is it unique? In other words, have we progressed at all or are we more similar to nature's genuineness than we realize: unwavering. Can we learn from history not to indulge in materialism or to treat our bodies and minds poorly? Is such an exercise futile given our predilection to unending cycles? I do believe though that we can learn (on and individual basis) to diagnose recipes for disasters often manifesting in social anxieties. Our health becomes a question of not just a solitary pain to be treated by drugs but a more holistic look at what is missing in your life. I believe our culture is a map to finding the diets leading to unhealthy lifestyles. Like caring stewards we can creatively analyze warnings of dis-ease and work to alleviate them by finding the natural deficiency.

Our lifestyles are the result of millions of interactions predicated too often on competition. But while in nature competition is only natural, we humans can suffer from excessive amounts. Michael Pollan addresses the issue of biological health in his book Omnivore's Dilemma. Working the land of Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley he heard much of how 'In nature health is the default. Most of the time pests and diseases are just nature's way of telling the farmer he's doing something wrong,' (221). I see a great overlap in philosophies of healthful farming and healthful living. You mighr wonder how such a connnection can be made across species and disciplinces, but I have experienced it myself. Reaching a symbiosis with your environment is essential to clarity. We exist as parts in a whole and if we completely separate ourselves from a complex system we depended on in the past we are invariably sacrificing what might have healed our bodies and minds in a different time.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Look at the world out there, my God, my God, look at it out there, outside me, out there beyond my face and the only way to really touch it is to put it where it is finally me, where it's in the blood, where it pumps around a thousand times ten thousand a day. I get a hold of it so it'll never run off."
(Fahrenhiet 451, 162).

It is a connection we all pursue. Wherever we live and work, we most probably live and work on the edge. Close to trouble, we sometimes lose balance and control over our own little worlds and we fall. We fall until we find that connection, that piece of the world that puts passion in our eyes and motion in our legs. And then we fall some more. We seek the courage to relax our defenses and sit in our personal garden of passion and love. The dirt moves from the ground around us and soaks in through our nose and eyes until we feel it moving our arms and legs begging for more action, begging for a little more room to grow. That desire to find our center is what drives us to the lengths of our garden. Keep that centered feeling with you. Know that you must save the garden for it to save you. I think we can all agree it is not the way that you fall that matters but the way you land. Remember to land in your garden.

A few days ago, here in Northern California, the temperature reached the high nineties and maybe pushed through the triple digits. It was so hot, in fact, that I could not bare to sit in the sun past noon because it was burning the energy right out off my body. Then I got to thinking about the power of sun and how we, as well as millions of other life forms harness the sun for energy. Whether ruminants eating the mini photovoltaic cells that are grass or the tomato ripening thanks to the process of converting sunlight into energy to grow, that bright and amazingly hot ball in the sky can either literally burn us to death or warm and sustain us. And then I realized its potential had more to do with our intentions for its heat than the heat itself.

A few days ago I made a choice to see the sun as a warming hand (perhaps the benevolent invisible hand) guiding the food system and biosphere I was tending rather than a blazing fire pistol burning away my chance at working the land. I wanted to work with the sun rather than against it to save my little piece of the garden. I reminded myself while walking in from the larger of the two gardens that nature and this enormously complex natural energy system was simply tending the land as I hoped to. So, I stepped back, bowed to the man waiting at the door and walked in out of the heat. I was saving myself and the land some badly needed time to reflect on the past day and strategize a way to save more garden space. I thought all this before stepping into a cool outdoor shower to wash the dirt from my hands and face, but not before it had its chance to make a garden out of my body.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Out of sight but hardly out of mind

Walking the aisles of Gaea's Garden farm you notice things. Movements around your feet and ankles, birds flashing down from the canopy overhead only a few feet away from you, or a jack rabbit dashing swiftly off opposite your direction, you realize you are not alone in the jungle of green surrounding you. Feeling anything but vulnerable to this mysterious place, you feel dynamic and human. As much as I don't want to come off as a green snob blaming industrial society for all our dis-eases, I do believe that a palpable connection to the earth is a life-changing relationship with great potential benefits. After all, modern industry has all but taught humans that through innovation we can achieve more than earth, or perhaps whichever god that created earth, imagined possible. (Do you know the legend of Hercules and Antaeus?)

Spending a short time in the orchard leaves you feeling curious to what exactly is moving or growing by your feet. So, you bend down and have a better look. Curiously you find that what many people might have referred to as grass in a past urban life, is actually tens of different varieties of grass with a life and history of their own. Think of it, a small seed falls from the flowering heights of a weed grass and drifts through the air, coasting on it's hair-like wings, until coming to rest somewhere down the row. If the seed is 'lucky' it will have fallen in a fortuitous position (it's all about location, location, location) where after time it will be covered, root, and sprout from it's base to take on life and it's wild course. But, of course, only time will tell. Ahhh, the wonder! God is in the small things.

It is impossible not to see the interconnections of nature and our human lives. Stories of heroics, bravery, and love with themes to match any of our races greatest storytellers happen outdoors. In the orchards of our farms, and the backyards of our cities alike, nature speaks our language of survival and deceipt. But, are we open to listening? The next time you get an urge to hear a great and genuine story, find yourself a garden to walk through and wonder to yourself what is moving about my feet? I hope your imagination is powerful. And while your at it, ask yourself what man would do in order to have the power to grow energy from his body?

Intro: Chemistry

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A room of his own: life under an olive

Most mornings I spend a long and therapeutic half an hour walking the periphery of the garden to see how the plants have faired through the night. Stretching my back, I'll bend to look at the green tips sprouting from the ground. From small seedlings reaching from the ground only a few inches to towering vines of green going to flower, each plant responds to the morning light in their own way. And like the plants I wake up and slowly shed my dreamy imagination. A natural man living amongst a natural kiwi forest watching out for God. Living here you hear often that out in the kiwis is where God is lurking. I dont know what to believe. Regardless though, certainly living here I have found myself thinking in a more spiritual fashion than ever before. It seems that once I made connection with this place, time and space as concepts have become almost dependent on life spawning from my fingertips. Placing seeds smaller than pintips that will grow to be as big as me. I can't help but find metaphorical power in the process on this farm.

Most of these early April mornings I have been spending at least an hour in the orchard weedeating around the base of the trees. While this might sounds like a simple and haphazard exercise of running a machine through the low grasses of the orchard , sometimes it takes on mythic proportions of stewardship. Walking down the long aisles of trees surrounded by green, I feel centered and powerful. Focused and silent like so many million farmers before me, I take on the task of protecting this majestic land. Protecting and thereby surviving by the breast of the earth; this is the most salient point and power of natural beauty. In our uniquely ego-centric worlds, many humans are convinced of their supermacy to all others, but once I am confronted by the perseverance of the land's bounty I realize a personal existentialism.

Silence is one of the most potent affordances here in rural California. Whereas in an urban environment we all have countless stimulaes, here I have fewer intrusions into my minds space. After working for 6-7 hours in a day I will retreat to the northern end of the farm and sit with a couple books and just think and reflect on ideas, themes, and myths, and the ways I live them every day.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Fast Food Graduate Turns Slow Food Worker

As inevitable as eating food is until a short time ago I never put much thought to the role food played in my life. Whether under the supervision of my parents, my community, or my university, the cultural, political, and environmental facets of the food I put into my body seemed a distant and irrelevant part of the food chain far from the end I occupied. Simply put, I was indifferent to the world of food. But recently I have been talking, thinking, and working around food every chance I get. First at a local coop in Philadelphia (at the encouragement of my mother), then at an organic food coop on my university campus, and now on an organic farm in Northern California. To say the least, my journey has been full of what most peoples life is comprised of: love, hate, and confusion. The only difference is I live those emotions out on a farm. Every morning I wake up looking out my east-facing window to see the sun climbing; its rays pulling my eyelids up and I feel love. Waking up with the sun leaves me feeling ready to work with the earth to create what we all inevitably need: food. In other words, using the power of the sun and the earth to energize my mind and body, I can cultivate energy for others.

Apart from working and learning to operate and tend a farm, I look forward to investigating and exploring the natural systems of life all around me. Whether it be my food and the ground it grew from or my own body I hope to see more clearly the infrastructure of the biosphere I inhabit and the infrastructure of the biosphere that is my mind and body. Recently it dawned on me, if 'you are what you eat' and I have no hint as to how my food is produced, how much do I really know about myself?

Having graduated college 3 months ago I found myself with most of the same questions about food and a golden opportunity to get to know the rest of my food system better; first hand. Amazingly, with my newfound experiences I have found myself with all new sets of questions regarding the way I had been eating/living and how some of my favorite foods were created; sometimes by scientists rather than a gardener or a butcher. Needless to say, my journey on the farm may have begun 2 months ago but it stretches far into my past and my future.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Crafting a Free Mind

"Believing in people, the radical has the job of organizing people so that they will have the power and opportunity to best meet each unforeseeable future crisis as they move ahead to realize those values of equality, justice, freedom, the preciousness of human life...Democracy is not an end but the best means toward achieving these values," (Reveille for Radicals xiv).

This passage directly relates to my theories on principles and a principled life. More to the point, I believe those people living within a democratic system not living by these principles are hindering those others they come into contact with to reaching or sustaining their investments in them. Listening to a radio pundit like Rush Limbaugh I have found myself truly angered by his bias. I am not sure whether he intends to ever reach journalistic principles of balanced news but he seems to only give his listeners a constant slant. With such reporting going on (and he certainly is not the only media host with a slant), the consumer must be even more adept at finding the truth within all the sound bytes and techniques to keep you tuned in. The question is: how can consumers become more informed and thereby find an opinion of their own, without resorting to the news outlets with a political bend?
Our democracy depends on informed citizenry. Thus, we need people capable of reaching and maintaining ab 'informed' status and being capable of acting based on it. This is, of course, the free mind we were granted at birth. What we must all rely upon and really cherish is our free minds and look forward to developing our minds into a nourished home for millions upon millions of strange and beautiful ideas.