Yesterday I taught at the last school on our 2013 California Spring Tour. Children of the Night is both a school and a shelter, rescuing victims of child-prostitution. It was really wonderful to share with these girls how powerful they actually are, and how much they influence their bodies and the world by the choices they make regarding food. After an active 1 hr discussion global food sustainability, we went outside and revived their garden. What a joy it was to see their eyes light up when I put living seeds into their hands. Or to see how quickly the moved from disgust to excitement as the worked the soil, discovering worms and other crawly things. I felt so grateful to our sponsors for enabling us to provide this educational opportunity to these girls.
On Monday and Tuesday, we taught at Bethune Middle School, near South Central L.A. Once we got through the rowdiness that comes from being outside and exploring something new, I found the students to have a surprising amount of knowledge, most of which even they didn’t know they possessed. When I first asked them how we make soil, nobody knew, but as we lead them forward, they quickly remembered the word compost, and learned about what it meant. It was gratifying to see that even in that concrete jungle and food desert, knowledge works it’s way around. After our 2-day visit to Bethune, I hope that the experience and incentives we offered will get these kids to make use of their own knowledge and creativity even more fully.
It has been an excellent tour, from California’s agricultural Central Valley and Delta Region to inner-city L.A. to the well-to-do schools of San Diego and Orange County. I’ve talked with thousands of people and seen lots of areas where fresh healthy food exists only as an idea. As usual though, meeting people, watching them wake up to what’s going in the world around them in terms of food sustainability, and hearing their response to our project, I am once again hopeful. It renews my own dedication and inspiration and I feel empowered and grateful, all at once. In the words of Trevor Triano, “Onward and upward.”
I’ve got two surfboards in the mobile greenhouse. Each time I teach somewhere, some student will ask about them. I tell them John Jeavons’ definition for sustainability, from How To Grow More Vegetables: a system is sustainable when it can “thrive and flourish indefinitely.” I love this definition, because it I think it is much more correct than to talk about a system that can sustain itself or survive indefinitely. It’s not enough to just survive. If only the needs for survival are met, it’s not truly sustainable. Nature, like human beings (which are part of nature) wants abundance. So for my own sustainability, I don’t just teach all the time, even though I love it. I need rest and activity, so I’ve scheduled myself a few days off to rest up and surf.
Also during the rest period I get the opportunity to see what cool things others are doing. Yesterday I visited The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano. It is an amazing place with an excellent team of people who are educating in an exciting and practical way about food, water, shelter, and the environment. It was an inspiring visit and something I hope to encounter more often as I travel through a country that is transitioning to a more sustainable existence.
In the last week I’ve taught nearly 2,000 students. In Lennox, LA, San Juan Capistrano, and San Diego County, Compass Green taught Middle and High School students about important global sustainability issues, and explained what a huge difference an individual can make in their own life and their world environment by growing their own food sustainably. It was an inspiring, exhausting, and totally rewarding week.
One great highlight was giving a presentation to an assembly of 800 at St. Margarets Episcopal School on Earth Day. It is a larger group than I have ever spoken to before, and the silence that surrounded some of the more important points of soil loss and how to create soil sustainability was profound indeed. It was broken only by that Elton John song about making a stand “in an auditorium” playing in the back of my mind.
The extreme differences in socioeconomic statuses and backgrounds in the different regions we taught in really brought home that food is one of the few material commonalities that bind us all, and that the knowledge of how to create a food system that will reverse the great damage that industrial agriculture is causing to the planet is something that is relevant and exciting to all students with ears to listen and hearts that care (and stomachs that rumble!)
We really appreciate all the thoughtful questions we received, and all the work that the teachers of those schools did for our visit, and the work they do every day of the year, despite budget cuts and the terrible (although kindly named) No Child Left Behind Act.
After 11 days of nonstop action, I now have 5 days off until our workshop on sustainable gardening at UCLA on Saturday the 4th. Hurray for activity one believes in combined with well earned rest!
Well, we sure have been busy. We taught at two schools in Antioch, and then this week, drove down the coast to Southern California to begin the second half of our tour. We started by sharing our sustainable agriculture message with the employees of Patagonia, in Ventura CA. Although it had nothing to do with farming, they seemed to particularly appreciate the fact that I spent the night in my ENO hammock, 15ft off the ground in the carob tree which shades their parking lot. Many came up to us over the day we were there, asking detailed questions for their own gardens, and I am pleased to think that the next few months will be all the more delicious due to our visit.
Last night, we slept under the stars on the beautiful organic farm in Ojai, The Farmer and the Cook. The morning brought waves and last minute reconstruction on our rain-water catchment system as we geared up for the Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival.
It was an oil spill in Santa Barbara in 1969 which caused then-senator Gaylord Nelson to establish Earth Day, and we are pleased to be taking part in one of the oldest and largest Earth Day festivals in the country. We’ll have our truck and be giving greenhouse tours the whole weekend, and tomorrow (Saturday) I will be speaking at the Harvest Stage at 4:30. I hope to see you there!