Throughout The Woolman Semester, we have been learning about some pressing problems in Global Issues. Whether it was, Child Slavery in the Chocolate Industry or sweatshops all around the world, all have been very interesting and somewhat depressing. One that really resonated with was about food deserts in low-income neighborhoods around America. Neighborhoods like West Oakland, CA, and Gowanus, in New York City have little to no access of affordable healthy food. Instead they have access to cheap unhealthy highly processed foods. One reason this topic really stood out o me is because of this food deserts there has been an uprising of urban farms that offer these and other low-income neighborhoods free healthy organic foods. Not only are the residents of these neighborhoods able to benefit from the rich food nutrients, but also adults as well as kids are able to gain an insight on farming, and are taught how to grow their own food and sustain themselves efficiently. In addition urban farms build communities by involving residents in a activity they can all relate to. Essentially urban farm are turning vacant lots that are commonly used as garbage dumps into farms that the community can use. Not only is there a massive drop in litter but also neighborhoods like West Oakland have seen a substantial drop in crime. Organizations like Peoples Grocery, have inspired me to start an urban farm in my neighborhood. Growing up, I never really felt a sense of community. I feel this can give me an excuse to get to know my neighbors.
Check out our Press Release for the upcoming weekend's events!
Students from the local Woolman Semester School come to the end of their four month educational program spent studying peace, justice, and sustainability. The public is invited to come see the students present their culminating projects for their Peace Studies and Environmental Science classes the weekend of May 17th.
A semester program for high school juniors, seniors, and gap year students, who hail from all over the country, Woolman offers the opportunity to learn first hand about social and environmental justice. Three core classes of Global Issues, Peace Studies, and Environmental Studies explorethe interdependence of the political, historical, cultural, and environmental forces that shape the problems our world is facing today.
In each core class students design and carry out a project throughout the semester. “Class projects allow students to engage fully with classroom material and enable them to carry on their activism beyond Woolman,” explains admissions director Emily Wheeler. In addition, class projects embody Woolman’s educational philosophy of teaching through experience and are the main way students take ownership of their education.
On Friday May 17th at 7pm there will be a screening of peace documentaries, the culminating project for the Peace Studies Class, at the UU Community of the Mountains. The Peace Studies class “examines how we tell stories as a culture and why it matters. We particularly explore how our common cultural narratives can contribute to a climate of violence,” says Peace Studies teacher Grace Oedel. Their ten-minute documentaries enable students to tell stories about our culture in a way that counteracts that climate of violence and builds one of peace.
Documentaries this semester include one on the role of police in our society and another on the Steubenville High School Rape Case. Each documentary incorporate interviews from national and local experts to deepen the audience’s understanding of the issues. All are invited to come see these four thought provoking student-filmed, edited, and directed films!
OnSaturday May 18th at 9am all are welcome for a tour of the student’s Sustainability projects at the Woolman campus, located off of Jones Bar Road. Throughout the semester the Environmental Science class looks at different environmental issues in today’s world and explores ways to solve them. The sustainability projects are a way for students to try creative solutions for pressing needs at Woolman.
“Completing their sustainability projects gives students the opportunity to not only leave the legacy of their commitment to the earth for future students but to also learn practical skills that they can implement beyond Woolman,” explains Environmental Studies teacher Jacob Holzberg-Pill. This semester’s projects include a natural dye garden, a solar dehydrator, and a methane bio-digester!
Both events are free and open to the public. Come see Woolman’s unique education at work and what this semester’s students are doing to make a difference! Visit woolman.org for more information.
For me, People’s Grocery was the perfect way to end our trip. Located in Oakland, CA this small farm is snuggled in between rough brick buildings and right over cement. There is a beauty to be found in the green right around the corner from a highway. Complete with chickens, an outdoor kitchen, and a hydroponic system, People’s Grocery is a perfect slice of sustainable growing, directly in the city.
What made People’s Grocery so much more radical than the other farms we visited on the Food Intensive is its location. While the other farms were undoubtedly beautiful, tucked away in valleys and sometimes right across the street from the ocean, they were arguably unrealistic for a majority of our country’s population. While these farms are vital to feeding America as sustainably, justly, and healthily as possible, they certainty create an “us” and “them”. The “them” are the farmers set up in middle of nowhere CA. It is simply impossible for everyone to follow suit and set up shop on their own piece of land in the rural west coast of the country. If we want more Americans to become self-sufficient feeders, we cannot only rely on the small farms to do it right, but have tactics that allow everyone to be farmers.
The People’s Grocery is not only located in a city that is in desperate need of accessible, healthy vegetables, but it is designed for people, not for profit. Anyone can come snag some fresh veggies, even through the fence after hours, and are often encouraged to help harvest themselves. The ability of so much healthy food to be grown right in the city is not only offering people with lower incomes a way to get food, but is also inspiring to anyone else who wants a farm without moving to the valley.
Over the past week, we have traveled many miles, and learned so many things about food, justice, sustainability, and community. We picked strawberries overlooking the Pacific Ocean while learning about water dependency in coastal California, and supported local economies at the Santa Cruz and Berkeley farmers markets while planning a cohesive feast. We explored the magic of life at the Regenerative Design Institute, and were given a very persuasive lecture about the benefits of genetically modified organisms at the UC Davis labs. At Wolfskill Experimental Orchard, we ate our fill in mulberries while marveling at the potential food supply it could be to the local community.
Strangely, what I’ve been thinking a lot about in the week following this trip is our dependence on sugar. It comes from the tour we took at the Jelly Belly Factory in Davis. It was a fascinating, horrible, amazing and crazy place. I think having spent three to five months prior abstractly considering my sugar intake, reading the book “Sugar Blues”, being counseled by my mother and my dentist, and considering sugar in general. At the Jelly Belly factory we were toured around a large warehouse, where we saw lots of heavy machinery, people working the machinery in white jumpsuits, and lots and lots of sugar! I was surprised and interested when Jacob pointed out to us that all the giant bags of sugar had “Cargill” on it. It was surprising to me that this big company, Jelly Belly, still gets its sugar from an even bigger corporation. It made me sad to see all of the workers who were inside the giant factory listening to loud beeps and clanks all day. And that’s not even going into the political and historical aspects of sugar.
I switched on and off from chanting “Jel-ly Beans! Jel-ly Beans!” and being disgusted and repulsed with American culture. All in all, I really loved this trip and relished the opportunity to look at real life food systems!
photo credit: Haley Jackson
One topic which has surfaced multiple times over the course of the semester is the controversy over genetically modified seeds.
With the emphasis in Environmental Science centered on alternative methods to petroleum-based farming, GMO crops have fallen into a middle classification – not falling into the category of agroecology, yet also being separate from farming methods developed during the Green Revolution. As a result, the trip to the Seed Biotechnology Center at UC Davis during the food intensive provided an informational and extensive viewpoint about how GMO seeds fit into global agriculture today, and what the potential is for GMO seeds in the future. Kent Bradford, the director of the Seed Biotechnology Center kindly gave the semester a presentation on the work that UC Davis is doing in regards to GMO seeds and how that work is being used by farmers. Bradford emphasized the expanding population in his lecture, and how that plays into the development of agriculture. Like many in the semester, Bradford discussed his skepticism about the long-term effectiveness of farming with pesticides and fertilizers that exact a heavy toll on both famers and the environment, but also expressed his doubt that a return to traditional organic agriculture will be able to feed global populations.
What I found most informative about this was his explanation of how GMO crops produce similar yields as conventional farming, but eliminate the need for pesticides and fertilizers by their enhancement which confer greater disease resistance, improves seed vigor and modifies seed emergence capabilities. In the sense that genetically modified crops do not need chemicals, they are grown organically, which surprised me and contradicted my existing viewpoint that GMO seeds are simply an offshoot of petro-chemical farming.
However, Bradford also acknowledged the downsides to GMO seeds and the unease which many people feel about seeds that are genetically modified in labs. There is a possibility that GMO seeds will completely fail, which has led to restrictions on the use of genetically modified crops – regardless of the extent to which they have been tested, and many people have problems with how GMO seeds can be trademarked. Regardless of the opinion which the semester came into the presentation with, and the opinion with which we left, Kent Bradford shared with us valuable knowledge about genetically modified seeds that can be used as long as the GMO seed debate is around.
Mary Jorgensen, cofounder of The John Woolman School, joined students in their newly created outdoor “student lounge” prior to her recent documentary interview. This semester students are producing documentaries on a variety of subjects. Mary was interviewed by a student, AJ Sunmonu about her experience as a Freedom Rider during the civil rights movement. It was an exceptional opportunity for students to meet someone who participated so fully in an historical civil rights event.
The following is an excerpt from a recent press release:
The students of The Woolman Semester School are excited to host a night celebrating environmental and social justice activism by bringing the film, Occupy Love, to Grass Valley on Friday, May 10th.
Both a film premiere and a Change-maker’s Symposium, the evening will start with a reception where students from Woolman’s Activist Toolkit class will be informing and inspiring guests.
The Occupy Love website states, “a profound shift is taking place: humanity is waking up to the fact that the dominant system of power is failing to provide us with health, happiness or meaning. Join the filmmaker, Velcrow Ripper, on a journey deep inside the revolution of the heart that is erupting around the planet, as he asks the question: how could the crisis we are facing become a love story?”
Featuring captivating insider scenes from the Egyptian Revolution, the Indignado uprising in Spain, Occupy Wall Street in New York, Indigenous activists at the Alberta Tar Sands, the climate justice movement, and beyond, Occupy Love aims to show that love can unite as much as greed can divide.
“Occupy Love is directly connected to the curriculum at our school. Whether the lessons are on gift economies or nonviolent resistance, our students are gaining an education that is relevant to this unique time in human history,” says Activist Toolkit Class teacher, Emily Zionts.
The Change-maker’s Symposium will give the young activists a chance to display their plans for creating a more just and sustainable world. Zionts says, “Come at 7:15pm for the film, but come at 6:30pm for a dose of authentic, active hope through poetry, giant puppets, fair trade treats, and more.”
This event is free of cost. All are welcome!
Evening Schedule (all events take place at the UU Church):
· 6:30pm Change-Makers Symposium begins
· 7:15pm Occupy Love begins
For more information:
· The Woolman Semester School: semester.woolman.org
· Activist Toolkit Teacher: Emily Zionts 530-273-3183
· Occupy Love: www.occupylove.org
What are Transition Towns?
How are they working (and playing!) to bring in the new paradigm of justice and sustainability?
What is resilience?
How can we strengthen our own resilience as individuals and communities?
What role can our education systems take in preparing us for peak oil and climate change?
Last week, members of the local sustainability organization, APPLE (alliance for a post petroleum local economy), came in to expand and deepen the conversation that we have been having in Global Issues class around how to weather the upcoming storm of peak oil and climate change. With just a few weeks left of the semester, we are now thoroughly immersed in the solutions and alternatives portion of this course.
At Woolman, the first half of Global Issues is spent analyzing our current global economic model and it's role in creating and feeding the social and environmental crises that the planet is facing. Those classes are challenging and sometimes discouraging as we explore multiple perspectives of topics like Free Trade, globalization, corporatocracy (the idea that corporations are more powerful than governments), and capitalism.
In this analysis we are constantly seeking out potential root causes like greed, systems of power-over, and a false sense of scarcity. Then we moven onto the consequences, such as sweatshops, modern day slavery, ecological destruction, over-consumption, and a sense of separation between humans and each other and humans and the natural world.
That work is frustrating and can lead to sense of despair if not coupled with opportunities for action--which is where our project class, Activist Toolkit, comes in. Activist Toolkit class is a workshop based course where students are introduced to frameworks for activism, skills for creating change, and role models that are out making a difference in our local community. This semester, we studied artivism, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Rights of Nature, the power of poetry to be used as activism, and more. But, we can't just skip past those hard truths. It is absolutely necessary to see how we got to this place in human history in order to create solutions that will be just and long lasting.
These solutions are all around us and the task of revealing them (and visioning others) is incredibly exciting. Over the past few weeks, we have delved into topics including the power of cooperatives, the benefits of community credit unions, Time Banks, local economies, local currencies, cradle to cradle production, biomimicry, corporate social responsibility, Fair Trade, homeless eco-villages, and so much more!
The visit from the APPLE folks gave us the opportunity to see people out in the community who are really living this work. We gained a sense of possibility and an understanding of the joy than can come when people coordinate with their communities to become more self-reliant. A member of our Quaker meeting, Dave Barnett, was able to give us an idea of exactly what effects we may see when oil becomes too expensive for the average person. The president of the organization, Joshua Lichterman, gave us a run-down of the specific challenges that this county will face in the transition, including the fact that we are at the end of the supply chain when it comes to food trucks and other services. Mr. Lichterman also explained a myriad of solutions that Nevada County residents are already working on, too. Finally, Shea Smith, from HAAlo (Health Alternatives for All Locals) spoke eloquently about her experience transitioning out of a 25 year career as an airline stewardess to heading up a nonprofit which utilizes a unique economic model with a heavy focus on barter and trusting relationships. Students were inspired by her advice to not let money get in the way, but to find win-win situations for creating nonprofits and other transition businesses.
In our closing circle, students shared a take-away from the panel, as well as a short description of one of their final projects that they are working on here at Woolman. As the youth listed off undertakings such as bee-keeping, producing a film about "freeganism", building a giant puppet to incite conversations around happiness, designing a methane bio-digester, a 'Zine on open source and community knowledge, growing a natural dye plant garden, and other amazing pieces of work, it occurred to me that a Woolman Education is truly a Transition Education.
The New Economics Institute writes:
"The Great Re-skilling continues the emphasis on re-localization, starting from the position that greater local production will require us to relearn many skills that have been forgotten. From agriculture to manufacturing to the provision of local finance, returning to appropriate scale means equipping ourselves with the means to do so. Becoming less passive in terms of consumption and production we will start to regain our autonomy, which will extend to culture and arts, where we see the beginning of a life-enhancing renaissance. This is not the case only for the economy and for the arts, however; local decision-making based on active participation will be most effective when people are well informed about what makes their local economy tick and what makes public services able to achieve the best outcomes. Achieving consensus requires as full an understanding of these issues as possible."
Whether we are farming in our organic garden, cooking veggies from the seeds that we have sewn, enjoying a night in fiber arts club, working out conflicts in community meeting, or walking like a fox throughout our forest, life at Woolman is an active example of the Transition Town movement. In addition to gaining a political awareness and self confidence in becoming an agent of change, it feels wonderful to know that the youth who come here are receiving an education that is truly relevant to this unique time in history. We can only hope that this model will spread in time to reverse the destruction of "The Great Unraveling". Perhaps that is yet another task for our alumni.
At Woolman, we teachers are often much more pleased when our students leave our class feeling more confused and full of questions than before they came. And so, with that in mind, I leave you with these queries:
- With Peak Oil imminent and the effects of Climate Change already in our backyard, how can we justify education systems that ignore the reality that we are living in a rapidly changing world?
- Will skills for improving standardized test scores serve this generation as they fulfill their roles as active community members amongst these global crises?
- What is the purpose of education in this new era?
- What steps can you take to become more resilient?
Feel free to respond to any of those in the comment section below!
The weeks are flying by, and we are already into the last month of Woolman! The garden is flourishing and harvests are coming in massive amounts daily. With all the interns work, it's no wonder the greens are bumpin'!
For the past couple of months I've been researching and comparing different types of possible organic certifications for the garden. In the end it was between CCOF, California certification and CNG, Certified Naturally Grown. I ended up choosing CNG for many reasons. One, it was the least costly and seemed to me like the most efficient for the small scale farming/gardening that Woolman does. Secondly, it stood out to me as original and in tune with Woolman's values because it functions mostly on a peer to peer network. That is, fellow CNG farms help you through certification and guide you as a mentor, then peer farmers keep in touch and work together on improving their land. There is a CNG farm nearby in Nevada City and I am hoping to visit it soon! I love the idea of peer to peer networking and think that with time, Woolman will embrace it and take it in exactly the direction we are looking to expand in.
Certification is important for Woolman not only for "bragging rights" and advertisement, but also for our own peace of mind and pride as a community in our garden. After all, it is a shared space, where little four year old Althea finds 4 inch slugs and eats all the strawberries while still green. It is also a place where we have all gotten the chance to plant our own seeds and see our own plants grow. With this community interest, it is important to be able to trust in organic practices, and knowing that there aren't things like heavy metals in our soil (we are in a mining area) and so on! In addition, researching the organic practices and trying to emulate them for own own sake and peace of mind is more important than the actual achievement of certification, which I love about Woolman because it is another extension of ourselves and the discovery we do outdoors.
For my sustainability project I am making a natural dye garden, using a technique called hugelkultur. I chose to make a dye garden on campus because I am passionate about using natural materials to create beautiful art, and I wanted more experience working with plants. The dye garden is about 15x15 feet, with over 10 different types of dye plants in it.
Hugelkultur is a German word meaning “hill culture”, and is a design system where you plant on top of big mounds of rotting wood, natural materials, and soil. This ensures that you get lots of microbes and nutrients in the soil of the garden bed.
My first step was to dig up all of the sod in the area where I wanted the garden. Next, I brought over lots of rotting willow logs from the woodshed, and laid them out in the shape of garden beds.
My next step was to layer compost, manure, and other waste scraps on top of the wood, creating a “lasagna” with the decaying materials. Finally I put a layer of compost and soil onto the top of everything, making it ready to plant!
The plants I chose for the garden are Madder, Indigo, Lady’s Bedstraw, Fennel, Cosmos, Dyer’s Coreopsis, Yarrow, Comfrey, Tansy, Hopi Sunflowers, and Black Hollyhock. Many of these plants will not be ready to dye with until later this year, so unfortunately I won’t be able to use them. However, most of them are hardy and perennial, so the garden will hopefully be fairly low maintenance.
There are also many natural materials in the woods and around campus that you can use for dye, including oak galls, toyon, lodgepole pine bark, lichens, sagebrush, and black walnut. Also in our food garden there are many plants which also yield dye, including beets, onions, and rhubarb. I am very excited to try experimenting with these types of wild dye plants, as I have never dyed with them before.
So why use natural dyes? Well, all of your clothes have a story, and you get to decide what that story will say. When you use plant dyes for fiber, it connects you to the natural beauty the earth and encourages appreciation of harvesting color.
Check out our Press Release for the upcoming Spring Work Party!
Nevada City (April 15, 2013)- This Saturday, April 20th, students, staff, and community members of the Woolman Semester School support Earth Day by joining together for a day of work on the 230-acre campus. All are invited to come help out!
A semester program for high school juniors, seniors, and gap year students who hail from all over the country, Woolman offers the opportunity to learn first hand about social and environmental justice. Interacting with the land is a crucial component of their time spent at Woolman and has become an even larger part with the introduction of the Farm to Forest educational program in the spring of 2011.
The Farm to Forest program offers a new way of stewarding land. Instead of managing the garden, orchard, pasture, campus, and forest separately, all units are seen as part of the whole environment that we as individuals are constantly impacting with every choice we make. Now, the care for the land is not left to just the maintenance crew but is taught through the academics to the students as well. One of the main ways the students participate in caring for the land is through two-hour bi-weekly shared work crews.
This Saturday will demonstrate this new holistic approach to land stewardship. Similar to shared work there will be work crews in the garden, orchard, and in the forest. The forest crew this year has been working on an exciting new project that was started by the Environmental Studies teacher Jacob Holzberg-Pill.
This past June Holzberg-Pill received the TogetherGreen Fellowship Grant from the National Audubon Society and Toyota to begin restoring an old mining ditch that circles Woolman’s property. The immediate goal is to create an active swale as well as a road that together will reduce erosion by increasing water recharge into the ground and encourage people to use the forest recreationally. The long-term project will ultimately restore the land damaged by mining.
On Saturday the forest crew will focus on removing Scotch Broom, an invasive species that has spread along the swale. “This day would not be possible without our partnership with the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County, donations from the National Wildlife Federation, and the hard work of our local community members,” says Holzberg-Pill.
Come join the Woolman community this Saturday and see first hand their experiential education at work! Beginning at 9am on the Woolman Campus, located off Jones Bar Road, there will be work crews until noon and all are welcome to stay for lunch! If interested, please RSVP at http://woolman.org/events/2013/spring-work-day.
Last weekend we had a wedding here. With a helpful guest, I mulched a path between the dining hall and the tent, just in case it started raining. Then the tent was taken down, leaving a path to nowhere. So two of our students, Sonja Feinberg and Nicole Mitchell, turned it a path to somewhere with an art installation they've dubbed "Julius." Sonja's poem explains the artwork:
No, that door.
Plane door, cab door, train door, your door.
Slabs of woods, slates of metal, flapping plastic, stone,
If you can open a door you’ll never be alone.
Doors to the skies, that door to your eyes,
An open door will tell you no lies.
Doors are my veins, my paths and my trails,
They lead to my heart, they move me like sails.
Do I need a key?
Do you have a key?
Which key is right?
It depends on which door is wrong.
Handles and knobs, slots and slides,
Hinges that creek are what keep me alive.
The door to my mind opens with wind,
The one to yours is stuck with summer sin.
Hallways and foyers, patio or deck, it’s not the destination,
But still, are we there yet?
How about the frame, the soulless wood square,
Does that count as a door?
Do your lungs count the air?
If I open this door will I like what I find?
It doesn’t really matter if it’s all in your mind.
But what if one day we run out of doors?
Crocked blocked walls, steps, and smooth floors.
We can always go back though the door which we came,
You’ll find that a backward path is never the same.
If I was a door would you open me too?
Even if behind me was a place you already knew?
I can’t give you an answer, a reason, a why,
I just open doors like I swing to the sky.
Put it in front of me and I’ll never resist,
Doors are my hugs, my hands, and my kiss.
It’s common wisdom that the West lacks water. Droughts are increasingly frequent and every summer fires sweep through California, destroying millions of acres of trees, brush, and homes.
But the truth is more complicated; the Sierra foothills, for instance, receive about sixty inches of rain in an average year. It’s just that this rain arrives in just six months out of the year and rushes right through our property, eroding topsoil and rocketing through the Los Angeles watershed. The other six months we have a dry season, an accompanying fire ban, and a mandate from our local fire board to irrigate at least fifty of our property’s 230 acres.
This imbalance is worsened by the effects of human industry. For years gold miners dug our creeks deeper and narrower, purposely increasing erosion in an effort to extract precious metals. More recently, climate change, by melting the snowpack on nearby mountains to far below average levels, deprives our watershed of an efficient, free, natural method of slow-release water storage; instead of having snow gradually melt throughout the summer, we now get short, enormous bursts of winter rain that our land cannot absorb. Although there are indeed regions of the West with very little water, the problem for many land stewards like us is one of water storage. The solution, then, is to trap more water on our property during the winter months, thereby reducing topsoil erosion, mitigating summer droughts, and encouraging biodiverse riparian zones.
Especially after Permaculture Design classes on hydrology with Grace, Jacob, and Doug, we have many options for achieving those goals, but the one that we interns have experimented with so far has been building check dams across eroded creek beds. The EPA has this useful definition of check dams on its web site:
“Check dams are relatively small, temporary structures constructed across a swale or channel. They are used to slow the velocity of concentrated water flows, a practice that helps reduce erosion. As stormwater runoff flows through the structure, the check dam catches sediment from the channel itself or from the contributing drainage area.”
First, note that check dams do not attempt to stop water flow---only to slow it. Because when water slows, it spreads, and when it spreads, it sinks. Second, the middle of the dam should remain lower than the sides---to funnel the moving water through the center, and not where it would further erode the banks. And third, check dams are not a solution to all of our water problems---just some.
Yet the EPA also suggests building them out of logs, stones, sandbags, gravel or straw, estimates their installation costs at between $60 and $100, and asserts that they are only temporary flood-control measures. The check dams we’ve been building are nothing like these. They’re made of willow stalks cut from our own trees, stuck into the gravel creek beds and secured with rocks, and with thinner willow branches woven across for support.
They each cost nothing and take only thirty minutes to install. Furthermore, the willows, which have rather high levels of natural rooting hormone, will hopefully root in the creek bed---meaning that not only will the dams require no maintenance; they may grow us the materials for yet more check dams.
A very large storm last week confirmed our wildest hopes. In this picture, you can see the difference between the slow-moving, muddy water before the dam and clearer water trickling out of the dam. And the sediment gradually building up on the dam provides the willows with topsoil. Together with other hydraulic engineering techniques, willow check dams can help us regenerate the land and its water system.
Check out this great article that Laura Markstein submitted to the news regarding Peacebuilding!
Nevada City, CA (March, 18)- As our federal government currently debates the passage of the H.R. 808 bill to build a Department of Peacebuilding, the Woolman Semester School, a non-profit educational organization located in Nevada City, CA, has been committed to peacebuilding since its inception in 1963.
Each semester high school juniors, seniors, and gap year students come from all over the country to live, work, and learn together in community.Founded on Quaker principles of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality, these values are woven through every aspect of life at Woolman.
The congressional bill, written by California Representative Barbara Lee, was introduced to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform February 25th and is awaiting approval before moving to the Senate. The new Peacebuilding Department will be “dedicated to peacebuilding, peacemaking, and the study and promotion of conditions conducive to both domestic and international peace and a culture of peace” (H.R. 808 bill, Section 101).
“We would be thrilled to see a Department of Peacebuilding at the national level, because that is what we try to model here at Woolman,” says Peace Studies teacher Grace Oedel. Woolman teaches that conflict is a normal and healthy part of life. How we react to conflict is what can make the difference between an opportunity for growth and a violent interaction. The Woolman community is built on the belief that once basic human needs are met, people can use tools of communication to come to mutual understanding and live together peacefully.
Non-violent communication (NVC), a communication practice developed by Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D., is one of the main tools used by both students and staff. Based on the recognition that deep listening and understanding can lead to compassion and connection, NVC is applied to intra and interpersonal issues in the community and to many of the topics that are examined in the core classes of Peace Studies, Global Issues and Environmental Science.
“At the Woolman Semester School student’s studies are linked locally to global issues. They are a generation of enthusiastic change agents who are equipped with the tools to instill peace and social justice wherever they journey through life. We are hopeful that Congress will also accept the responsibility for instilling peace throughout our country and the world through nonviolent activities and by creating a Department of Peacebuilding,” explains Marjorie Fox, Head of School.
The Bay Area Community Exchange, or BACE, is a communal time bank where members offer their services and time in exchange for being part of a community where resources are given and received freely. They explain it as an extended family or community, which you can rely on to support you and to give you support. Because the time bank does not use currency, it helps to enrich lives with things people may not normally be able to afford, like language lessons or massage. This method of using human resources without money helps to shift the mindset of division and separation, thus bringing about new relationships and healthy community.
We met with some of the founders of the community exchange, Amber, Rick, and Megan, at the Noisebridge Hackerspace. They explained how the time bank was set up, and how they used it in their daily life. It was so cool to see these people who actually use it and to learn about experiences they’ve had.
“Timebanks have been helping to rebuild the informal, village economy for over twenty years. There are now over 300 communities in 22 countries that are using this (pay it forward) system to help their communities grow and thrive.”
Eventually, they explained, we won’t need to record hour-by-hour, and will just give our time and trust that it will be returned in full. For now though, the website http://timebank.sfbace.org/ is how everyone keeps track of their hours, and meets new people to work with. I loved learning about this time sharing community enterprise and how to apply it to all of our actions and to all of our lives.
Global Exchange, located in San Francisco, is a non-profit organization with the mission of advancing human rights. Their mission is to promote fair working conditions for citizens all over the world, and eliminating the insane situations that sweatshop workers live with every day.
They work towards this goal by educating people, facilitating reality tours in various countries, and providing consumers with stores and products that are all fair trade items. The reality tours show people how other people with less money live, and the inequality and injustice that corporation’s demonstrate when left to their own devices. Fair trade stores provide folks an alternative option to buying goods tainted with corporate greed and sweatshop workers life.
What I took away from the time I spent at Global Exchange was a new perspective and lots of new information. I really enjoyed getting the opportunity to talk to some of the employees, and hearing Chie, a former sweatshop worker from the Philippians who worked in Saipans, now an employee of Global Exchange tell her story. The horrendous rules that she described were imposed on her and her fellow workers were shocking. Hearing how courageous Chie was to overcome the unjust life she was living was inspiring and uplifting. I am grateful and glad she took the time to speak to me and the Woolman School and I feel all of my time spent at Global Exchange was well spent.
On the Great Turning Trip for our Global Issues class, we went to a lot of amazing workshops and met some really interesting and inspiring people. My favorite place we went to was the Canticle Farm in east Oakland. There we met some very wise, peaceful, empathetic people. Pancho mainly led the workshop. He loves everyone unconditionally and is one of the kindest people I've ever met.
We started off the workshop with a half hour of silence, then played several warm up games. Then we each chose a partner and Pancho gave us three open questions for discussion. The questions were "What makes your heart light up or come alive?", "What breaks your heart?", and "What do you wish to become, learn, be and do?" My partner was Berenice and I don't think I'll ever forget our conversation. I feel like the prompts encouraged you to say things that you were passionate about but maybe wouldn't necessarily voice. We talked about bonfires, making music, picking wild berries, massage trains, full moon hikes, feeling loved and accepted, babies, and good hair days. We talked about child abuse, rape, oil spills, mountaintop removal, fracking, the state of our oceans, extinction, and feeling ignored or unwanted. We talked about one day being mothers, teachers, herbalists, travelers, raw foodies, and learning how to spin wool, make soap, expressing ourselves clearly and confidently, making kombucha, and so much more. I felt so good to talk to someone about all this, and then to hear someone else's ideas.
We then went on a self-tour of the farm and community. I discovered beautiful, sprawling gardens, chickens, a library, many colorfully- decorated homes, community spaces, and a few cats and dogs. Everyone I ran into within the community was so welcoming and kind, and willing to talk to me and answer my questions. After a while, we all met up outside and talked about how their community worked and their philosophy. The community is largely a gift economy, and consensus- based. They are very spiritual, and open to all people- unconditionally loving and accepting all. After this, we all worked together and created a feast. We all ate together, then Pancho led us in a beautiful closing song, and we went on to the next workshop. I am deeply inspired by this place, and look forward to coming back in the future.
The picture was taken in La Casa de Paz (one of the dwellings in the urban community) and states their shared values.
As I am woken by the soft beep of my 6 AM alarm, I look out the window to see the beginning of the sun stretching its arms over the grey pines, and I see that I am not the only one waking up. I pull on my jacket and boots with a yawn and walk over the two bridges and soccer field to the kitchen, the sky is beginning to wake up with bursts of pink and purple and yellow. It is slightly misty today; I startle a family of deer as I reach the dining hall and smile as they bound so beautifully into the blackberry patch.
Today is my breakfast making day, an integral part of the Woolman intern experience.
A fellow intern meets me in the kitchen- we put on ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ as well as hot water for tea and coffee to wake us up as well as the silence of the kitchen. There is bagel dough left from lunch the day before that has somehow risen overnight in the walk-in fridge, and with the oven pre-heated we begin shaping and boiling the dough. After a few choruses of 'Guantanamera' and half a cup of tea, the bagels are in the oven and getting warm and comfy.
Soon enough we smell the rosemary and garlic we had sprinkled on the tops of the bagels and peek inside- they are so beautiful and rising fast! I feel so happy to create something that before I only imagined buying from a store- if I am ever cut off from the world and magically have endless flour it is comforting to know I will not be bagel-less. We ring the meal bell and see the students walking over from their cabins, ready for a day of classes and today, shared work. The sun has risen fully and the bagels are calling me from their baking sheet. I am ready for another beautiful day at Woolman.