Thursday, April 26, 2012

"It All Turns On Affection"

Most readers of this blog have probably heard about the Building Healthy Communities work happening in Del Norte and the Adjacent Tribal Lands (DNATL). The BHC initiative is a project of The California Endowment, a private foundation dedicated to improving health in California. After many years of funding clinic initiatives and other one-time investments in many communities across the state, The California Endowment decided to try something different. What if, they asked, we invested heavily in a place for ten years? What if we worked with people living in that place to help them take ownership and view their place in a new way? What if a healthy community was built from the bottom up? What if, in other words, health became part of daily life in this place: of the people, by the people, and for the people? That is what Building Healthy Communities is all about: creating healthy places and healthy people.

One of the longtime champions of healthy people and places is the poet and essayist, Wendell Berry. In his essays extolling the love of a place and the people who care for it, Wendell Berry follows the path of one of his mentors, the writer Wallace Stegner. While Stegner created iconic works of the American West peopled by ranchers, miners, and pioneers, Berry's place is rural Kentucky and the people closest to his heart are small farmers tied to land for generations stretching back through time. His writings about the effects on community when small farmers are put out of business have affected my own understanding of farm communities for a couple of decades.

This is a very long way of saying that my heart skipped a beat this morning when I saw a headline that read, "Wendell Berry, American Hero". It sounded too much like a headline for an obituary. I'm not ready for Wendell Berry to die and, luckily, it was not the title of an obituary, but an article praising his ideas, his body of work, and the man himself.

In reading it, I learned that Wendell Berry was recently honored by being named the 2012 Jefferson Lecturer by the National Endowment of the Humanities. His lecture, entitled It All Turns on Affection, was delivered earlier this month. I have been reading it in between other tasks this morning and am in awe of his ability to weave so many ideas, literary and ecological works, and histories into a single, coherent argument for the need for more affection in our lives.
In arguing for more affection, Berry does not just mean affection between people, although he does argue that we will more readily solve our community's problems when we have genuine empathy and caring for our neighbors. But he also means affection for our place and the trees, rocks, animals, and soil that create our place. In his Jefferson Lecture, he writes:

"For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it. To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it. By imagination we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it. By imagination we recognize with sympathy the fellow members, human and nonhuman, with whom we share our place. By that local experience we see the need to grant a sort of preemptive sympathy to all the fellow members, the neighbors, with whom we share the world. As imagination enables sympathy, sympathy enables affection. And it is in affection that we find the possibility of a neighborly, kind, and conserving economy."

No-one could argue that DNATL doesn't have a unique character. How many places in the world bring together our beautiful rocky coast, redwood forests, wild rivers, and the spaces that live in between these habitats? For many decades, the economy in DNATL did, in part, survive by destroying a part of its unique character: the cutting down of the redwood forests. Through the Building Healthy Communities work, will we be able to imagine a new way of making a living from this place without destroying it?
Wendell Berry consistently makes a case for long-term caretaking of the earth, one small place at a time. His generations-old family farm tenure no doubt informs this view and he speaks in his lecture about the difference between "boomers" and "stickers". Boomers, in his view, are people who are always looking for the next prospect, always on the move, always searching for profit for the bottom line. Stickers, in contrast, "are motivated by affection, by such love for a place and its life that they want to preserve it and remain in it."

I have only been in DNATL for about two and a half years, but I have met a lot of stickers here. People who smile at the ceaseless rain. People who can tuna, smoke salmon, gather and dry or freeze wild mushrooms. People who fight to keep Point St. George lighthouse from crumbling into the sea. People who work to make this place better for themselves and for their children. Some people are stickers because they have chosen this life because of their love of this place and the life it offers. I have met many others who are stickers because they have no escape; people who have lived in poverty for so long that leaving the county is financially unimaginable.

Our community will be stronger, better, and healthier when all the "stickers" are stickers by choice. If we can build a healthy community that offers opportunities for all residents, then our young people can stay here because they want to live HERE. Health can happen here, but "it all turns on affection". Can we, as a community, come together with enough affection for each other, for this place, and for our communities that we can build a local economy that honors that affection and creates a place for everyone?

That is the challenge of Building Healthy Communities. For decades, Wendell Berry has written about what healthy communities are and need and provide. As he nears the end of his eighth decade, if he has decided that affection is the key, I will walk down that path with him. In his lecture, he quotes his mentor Wallace Stegner to define stickers as "those who settle, and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in." That is surely what we want here: that everyone loves the life the make and love that their life is made in DNATL.

May it be many more years before I really do see a headline for Wendell Berry's obituary.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Fare Thee Well, Food Blog

This is the last post of our "40 Days of Blog For Lent." Well done, Laura and Angela, and I'm well aware that that is definitely not the name of our Lent blog-streak.  Not only is it my last blog post, but it's my last action as CAN's First 5 ServiceCorps VISTA, which means that today is my last day as a VISTA for CAN.  I will be extending my service as a VISTA, but I'll be moving on to new work up in Gasquet, CA with First 5 Del Norte.

I've never been a man of many words, so as succinctly as I can put it: This year of work has changed my life, and changed who I am, undoubtedly for the better.  I continue to be amazed that one year of work can so drastically change my previous perspective of a community, a perspective which had been cultivated over the previous 23 years of my life.

Most importantly, I want to thank Angela Glore, my supervisor and friend.  Credit where credit is due: every single accomplishment of my last year should have a footnote to give Angela recognition for the unwavering support she has given me in the work I've done.  The knowledge and experience I've learned from Angela will always be useful and always be carried with me.  She is a true friend and a true asset to this community.  Thank you Dr. Glore.

Ok, that wasn't really succinct at all.  But c'mon, it's been a year!

Anyways, I've decided to encapsulate my last year of VISTA service in the form of poetry, the ancient and often-overlooked form of Haiku:

1. Wellness Center Garden Build Day
    Fire Baptism
    Community Organized
    Inspiring Work

2. Homeless Prevention Alliance
    A Lot of Meetings
    First Elected Position!
    Help Those Who Need Help

3. Del Norte Community Gleaning Project (also here)
    My Best Work, I Think
    Keeping The Best Food Local
    Fresh For You, And Them

4. "Healthy Starts" Community Garden Conference
   It's Diff On The Flip
   Hmong Woman Torched A Squirrel
   Conferences, So Fun!

5. "American Community Gardening Association" Conference (also here [thanks Hegelmeyer!])
   Great Trip To New York
   Seriously... Conferences!
   Alone, Made VISTA Worth It

6. Point In Time Count
    Surprised It Was Such-
    -A Learning Experience
    Truly Hope It Helped

7.  Gasquet Community Orchard Planting
     Looks To The Future
     Plant Now For Fruit, Years Ahead
     Gasquet, Here I Come!

8. Gasquet Community Garden Build Day
    Cut My Teeth On This
    Hung With My New VISTA Buds
    I Miss Those Faces

9. Growing Up Gardens Sub-Committee
    Honestly, Rough Start
    My Second Elected Post!
    Awesome Potential!

10. Elk Valley Community Garden
    These People Inspire Me
    Just Go Take A Look!

I hope you've enjoyed these last 40 days of blogging, and if you've learned something, tried something, thought about something, or read something new, then we've done our job, and I sincerely hope you will continue to read this blog.  Posts won't always be as frequent, but they will always be worthwhile!

Connor Michael Caldwell

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Haiku: Call to Farmers and Ranchers

age-old farmers till
till in death they're under earth
whence will new life come?

Statistics show that farmers are aging. That for every farmer or rancher under the age of 25, there are 5 over 75. More on that here. The USDA has developed programs to recruit the young farmer - because what if the young don't take over food production?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Get Creative With Gardening

Spring is fully here in Del Norte County.  Even if the weather isn't exactly agreeing with that right now, it's still time to be thinking about gardening and getting yourself ready for the season so once this rain stops, you'll be ready to go.  Not everybody is lucky enough to have a garden plot at home, sometimes because they lack the resources to build nice raised beds, or they don't have the space and soil conditions to plant directly in the ground.  However, there are a lot of different clever ways to give yourself gardening space at home, it's just a matter of getting creative and thinking outside the box (or raised bed).

Lately I've been looking at different ways people re-use old materials to create gardens for themselves and I've found quite a few good ideas.  If you're looking to garden this year and just aren't sure if you have the space and resources, check these out and think about giving them a try at home, or maybe they'll inspire you to come up with your own creative ways to make a garden.

Here's the garden that inspired me to investigate clever garden ideas, and to write this post.  You could try this out if you're ever replacing your gutters at home, and for space you really only need a South-facing wall.  Here is the website where they talk about this project in more detail:

Another good idea, and this one is probably even cheaper than the gutter, especially if you have found a different way to organize your shoes and want to do something with the old shoe rack.  This one was shared with me by our friend Melissa Darnell, and here's the link to detailed instructions:

This one seems like the easiest model to me.  Especially since you can get pallets for free at Julindra Recycling (you can also get pallets that are a little higher quality for $5, also at Julindra).

And finally, here is a link to my friend's pinterest board.  She has collected (pinned??) a huge amount of clever garden ideas that utilize recycled materials; everything from old bathtubs to old tires.

Monday, April 2, 2012

TED: Lots Of Food For Thought

TED experts talk food
What can you learn from their words?
Lots of food for thought

And here's another path to food for thought. Food movies! (I really just wanted an image for "food for thought".