Woolman Blog

by Ben Kercheval, student - October 2, 2009

“A Pipe Dream Revolution” is a portrayal of a young person’s quest to be a sustainable farmer, to live off the land and with integrity. It’s representative of a surging movement of idealistic 20-somethings who are abandoning their urban lifestyles, sometimes forgoing college, to help spur agricultural change in the United States. With nothing but a dog-eared copy of the Omnivore’s Dilemma and an insatiable hunger for the smell of compost in the noonday sun, these brave individuals are embracing a radically different way of life in order to follow their happiness.

Living off the land.
A dream.
Idealistic though?
As idealistic as any dream.
So I’ll learn to compost,
Delve into the literature.
Omnivore’s Dilemma,
Joel Salatin,
Permaculture in a Nutshell.
But is this real learning?
Let’s drown our feet in the fertile loam.
Start adventures in raising backyard chickens
Fresh eggs, orange yolks.
Smell the clinging aroma of the purple tomatoes.
Uncover the writhing worms beneath the sentinel rock.
Find an ancient wheelbarrow,
Rusted with years of experience
and the wisdom of two generations.
On Craig’s List.
It’s enchanting.
But we need to move forward,
Seek a mentor.
Aged like a fine cheese.
A centenarian of the soul,
A sage of the land,
Always taking the time to do things right.
I’ll learn where strawberries go in the winter,
and why manure is so beautiful.
Get my hands pricked on the raspberry bushes.
Become an intern on the sage’s farm,
relish the solitude of the night
with a cup of tea, listening to the crickets.
Paint myself tan with solar energy.
My monthly stipend is passion, experience
and dirt under my fingernails.
This is more than the Prius and Whole Foods mentality.
Autumn arrives with relish,
Full of summer squash, cover crops and cold frames.
The time has come to journey onward.
A year has concluded,
higher education calls.
Registration, anxiety, elation.
“Environmental liberal arts”
What community,
What like-minded beings.
“The Ethics of Agriculture”
“Intro to Rotational Grazing”
It’s all food for thought;
Theories, concepts, and philosophies.
Graduation draws nearer,
A sling-shot into a different life.
A life of living the concepts,
A life of harboring connection,
and decomposition.
Once this day day has passed,
Student loans and land distress
creep over my skin.
Prickling, tickling.
Poking, stroking.
Devouring optimism and fidelity.
Paths to land, capital and resources
are obscure, overgrown and scarce.
Fresh paths must be cleared,
trailheads erected,
maps published.
On recycled paper, of course.
But perhaps part of the attraction to
this way of life
is the lack of maps,
the bush-whacking involved.
My future is uncertain,
independent from concrete,
windows and elevators,
Dependent on humus,
crisp air and the prairie.
I’m ready and willing.

by Jeremy Delaney-Peterson, Student - September 30, 2009

While eating brunch as a community, I watched the cows cross campus as they do every day, with Jerome following behind. Having decided to take him up on his offer to milk a cow, I finished my meal and ventured to the barn. With a warm and inviting welcome, he told me to come on inside…
To really appreciate this story, one must know a bit about Jerome. He’s a dairy farmer who runs his Cow-Op on our school’s pastures (in which members buy a share of the herd and receive a weekly supply of milk in return). He’s middle-aged, with the wisdom of one older than himself and the energy of someone half his years. He’s got short gray hair, a torn T-shirt and a kilt. His diet is 95% raw milk, with the occasional fresh fruit from our orchard or the meat from a cow he once knew. He’s healthy, he’s happy, and he cares about all that he does more than anyone I believe I’ve ever met. He is always willing to hear about others lifestyles, and share his own. He never seems defensive or offended by an opposing view, but rather interested by it.

While he usually milks the cows by machine, he had offered to allow anyone who was interested to milk by hand. Just as the first cow was finishing up, fellow student Lily joined us in the barn. Jerome showed us how to prepare for milking, then Lily began, while Jerome and I watched in amazement (she’s incredibly fast, as she regularly milks goats at home). I followed in an amusing attempt to repeat what she did, resulting in a weak and inaccurate stream at first, and a better feel for it within a few minutes. Still, no comparison. Jerome showed me how to attach the milking machine (this particular cow produces about a gallon and a half a day, so completely milking by hand would take a while), and explained how it works. We talked about his philosophy on his diet, his experiences that have brought him to this lifestyle, the science behind it and also against it, about the day to day operations of caring for the herd. He took an interest in our work here as students, our views, and thoughts. He thanked us quite sincerely for taking an interest in his work, and we parted ways after a few hours of conversation.

Needless to say, I’ve been impacted by Jerome – his energy, his passion for his life and work, his openness to others’ ideas, and his devotion to his own. Each has left a mark on me, and I hope to emulate many of the same characteristics in my life. A mutual respect and interest, coupled with the wisdom that what is right for oneself is not always right for another, is probably one of the most powerful tools in appreciating others, in learning, and in teaching.

by Marc Lichterman, Student - September 30, 2009

A Wednesday morning unlike any other. We began with the trek toward the UC Davis slaughterhouse, anxiety obvious in many of our faces and in our strained laughs as we descended towards what was to be an important event for many of us. For the meat eaters, a test of our conviction that eating the flesh of a once living creature is something we can deal with. For vegetarians, possible conviction that they are right to abstain from consumption of meat, but also a test to see if they can endure the death of an innocent creature. For all of us, a test of our stomachs and conviction to a greater understanding of food systems.

As we witnessed that morning, the prime goal in any industrial pig’s life is to die, hopefully in a somewhat humane manner. This focus on death, prevalent in today’s society, ignores the benefits that we can reap from an animal during life. Examples include manure for our crops (which is extremely underutilized) and permaculture ecosystems that may benefit from living creatures such as pigs and chickens.

Farming should be an inclusive activity, with animals, plants, and humans all living in community providing for each other’s needs. Our current system of segregation between the different parts of what should be a single ecosystem is wrong, and allows us to rationalize things we would never allow under normal circumstances. The industrial food system is just one of many problems caused by rampant greed, and cannot be done away with unless the underlying issue is addressed as well.

by Malka Howley, Student - September 30, 2009

During the Food Intensive we visited the cattle feedlot at UC Davis where we talked to a Ph.D. student named Kim. Kim was pro-feedlot, pro-cornfed cattle, and anti-organic grass-fed cattle. To her, factory farming was the best way of producing meat. Kim argued that the growing global demand for meat (something everyone can agree exists) meant that the only way we would have enough space to produce sufficient quantities of meat for everyone was if we raised animals in feedlots. Grass-fed cows take up much more space than corn-fed factory cows shoved together in a pen. When asked about the environmental problems associated with feedlots, Kim rejected the idea that people could eat less meat to help solve the problem. That won’t be necessary, she said, since feedlots are a perfect solution. Contrary to what the media may say, feedlots are entirely carbon-neutral and produce no waste, since all the manure goes back to fertilizing corn to make the feed, according to her.

The problem of increasing global demand for meat is real, but there are disagreements on how it can be solved. Others say that the way we raise meat in feedlots is inefficient, requiring way more calories to produce than we get out of it. They point out many side-effects of industrial meat production, including pollution, antibiotic resistance, and contaminated meat. Many people see solutions in grass-fed livestock, vegetarian diets, and small-scale production. Although I disagree with her perspective, talking to Kim, and other people we met on the food intensive, was a great experience because it showed the variety of opinions and arguments people have that differ from my own.

by Lily Elder, Student - September 30, 2009

Throughout my learning career, I have noticed the connections between everything in the world. It bothered me that in conventional education, subjects are split up and interconnections are not shown. This interconnectedness has become even more apparent to me in this past week of Woolman classes.

The subject of nitrogen is a perfect example of something that has been brought to light for me in this past week and is now a very important issue in my mind. In our garden on campus, the nitrogen cycle is perfectly balanced. Legumes fix the nitrogen from the air, other plants pick up the nitrogen from dead legumes, the nitrogen eventually ends up in the compost pile to be reused or is released back into the air when the plants die. In conventional agriculture, fossil fuels are burned to create energy for the synthetic fixation of nitrogen from the air. This chemical fertilizer is then sprayed on the farm fields in copious amounts, much of which of which runs off into the nearby water systems causing death and destruction of aquatic life. Thus this natural cycle, that takes care of its self so well on its own, is now causing global warming, water pollution, and ecosystem imbalance, not to mention the infinite other issues created by the crops that chemical fertilizer is used to grow. This is just one example of a connection I have seen between what I have learned in Global Issues class, shared work, and Environmental Science.

In just one week of classes here at Woolman, my education has gone from being a set of separate and unrelated classes to one large life education and world view. After four months of this, I can only imagine the scope of my understanding of world issues and their causes and implications in every aspect of life.

by Jeremy Delaney-Peterson, Student - September 26, 2009

Some time ago, I became aware that every person that enters one’s life, if only for a moment, has something to offer.  Sometimes, it’s as simple as a smile or a laugh.  However, if you search for it, they often have something much deeper to give.  We, too, have something to offer everyone we encounter.  What each of us has to offer is different, and what another person has to learn from us often varies based upon their own needs and experiences.  For this reason, I’ve come to tolerate people who I may not always care for.  In fact, it seems that it is often those who are most different from us that have the wealth of insight which exists in our encounters with one another.  In sharing and embracing these, we have the ability to share this wealth.

Knowing this and actively attempting to give and gain from everyone we meet works for the benefit of all.  I believe that it has the power to better us as individuals as well as remind us of the intrinsic value of every person, regardless of their similarities or differences from ourselves.  We build upon this non-material wealth that lasts a lifetime and is vastly beneficial to the betterment of our own lives, at the cost of sharing something that we do not give up in doing so.

This idea came to me before I came here to Woolman, but it has since proved to be true on so many occasions.  In class discussions, every person that speaks participates in sharing their perspective and interpretation of an issue, providing a new perception to all of those who may think in a different way.  Outside of class, I find it much the same.  Just the other night I stopped on the way to my cabin to exchange a few words with Michael, a teaching intern at Woolman.  What started as a brief chat turned into a conversation that lasted two or more hours.  It is truly amazing to realize that people have as much going on in their own lives and minds as you do!  When this is realized, it seems so obvious that this wealth is out there, in the minds of all who surrounded us, and that we all have access to it if only we take the time to seek it — and what a powerful thing it is to simply take the time to share such things, to listen to people, and give what we have to offer.

by Ruby Brinkerhoff, Woolman student Fall '09 - September 25, 2009
After a clay-fight in Ceramics Class. Photograph by student Jeremy Delaney-Peterson, Fall '09

Students are asked, weekly, to reflect on the connection between Global Issues class and their other four courses, Environmental Science, Peace Studies and Humanities & Ethics.  This reflection was written by Ruby Brinkerhoff.


It has become apparent to me.  The world is not divided into five subjects, which each have their own little projects and papers and which are all on such different levels that it is nigh impossible to relate them at all.  The globe, this spinning ball of humanity, is more complicated than that.  Everything that we know and do is woven in a fine web.  Every strand connects to one another.  I realize this more and more as I take part in the classes here at Woolman.  In Global Issues, we explore many themes and ideas that are also a part of Environmental Science, Peace Studies, and everything else we do here on campus.

One such theme is sustainability.  In Global Issues, we have read articles and talked about what it means to live in a sustainable society.  Sustainability can involve environment, energy, food, water, conservation, population, and a number of other things.  We also reflected on how to create sustainable solutions to significant problems that we face.  This directly relates to Environmental Science because that class also brings up the idea of sustainability and what it means to live that lifestyle.  We talk about conservational tactics and the grotesque excess of the industrial food chain.  The waste and toxins exuded from the system are a perfect example of an issue that requires a sustainable solution, which goes back to our knowledge from Global Issues.

Another connection that I found to be particularly profound was one between Global Issues and Humanities & Ethics.  In Humanities & Ethics class, the whole lot of us did a group drawing.  A sheet of paper covered the entire table, and the group circled around it.  We had different colored pastels to draw with, and we would frequently move to different spots on the paper and add to other peoples’ drawings.  When the piece was finished, it was a plethora of different colors, shapes, shadings, and scribbles which came to create a whole new meaning.  The ideas of individual people were mixed, piled and all jumbled up to make one big picture.  In Global Issues, I feel like that is one of the major points.

We need to know the problems, the people, and the places on a singular basis, but we must also see how everything overlaps and ties together in the end.

by Hannah Jeffrey, Admissions - September 9, 2009

On Friday I sat in on the Environmental Science Class while the students discussed Wallace Stegner’s When the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs.  The essay they read was called, “Sense of Place,” wherein Stegner makes the point that there are those Americans who are “placed” and those who are “placeless.”  Stegner’s point proved controversial for the students and so the teacher posed the query, “Are you a placed person, or an unplaced person.”  It got me thinking…of my placedness.

As a child, I would have belonged to Meachum’s Creek, the long gravel drive, and the grape vines all in rows.  I belonged on the dock at the pond, and on my neighbor’s wrap-around porch, and in the Ashland Library.  I belonged to the snow peas and the Hanover Tomatoes in my mother’s garden.  I belonged to a pretty town with a pretty railroad and pretty crepe myrtles.

And I grew…and I belonged to Gandy Elementary that used to be the black kids’ high school.  I belonged to the train stop with two doors, in front of the Henry Clay Inn, that used to read white, colored.

And I grew, and I left…to Greensboro, a town that still brings new meaning to other-side-of-the-tracks.  I belonged to the city of churches, and sweet tea, and all-night diners, and the Woolworths, and many, many displaced people.  They are not unplaced.  They do not lack culture or history as Stegner claims of unplaced persons…Liberian, Sudanese, Latino, Montagnard…they brought their places with them.

Because I cannot forget…that is why I love the South.  Amnesia is easier the further I get from Dixie.  But the South compels me never to forget her body built on the backs of slaves, the heartbreak of her downfall…how she rose again with prophets like Ella Baker and Dr. King, and how she falls again now, as the many displaced people of today are denied a pursuit of happiness.

A friend once wrote to me, “In Spanish the verb recordar, to remember, comes from the latin root re-cordis. Directly translated it means to return to the past by way of the heart.”

by Josh Merchant, student and Hannah Jeffrey, Woolman Admissions - September 4, 2009

The Greengrocer by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

My Food Manifesto

Growing up in a house where the refrigerator isn’t always full,
I pretty much go for what I can,
whatever my wallet can afford,
whatever my taste buds crave,
whatever is closest to my destination at the moment,
whatever I feel like trying for the first,
for the second, third, fourth, and fifth time,
whatever I can obtain in order to turn my stomach into an upside down rainbow,
filling my belly with lucky charms until its time for me to drop off some gold in the pot,
I can rock with vegetables if that’s all I can grab,

I can kill my self slowly with McDonalds if a dolla and nine sense is all I had for the day,hell,
I can even stay in the house eating cereal all day
…If I’m lazy enough.

In between discussions of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and When the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs by Wallace Stegner, Jasmine Smith’s Environmental Science class takes a moment to record their “Food Manifestos” manifestos. Spoken word (such as Josh’s above) and other forms of poetry along with songs, rants and contemplative reflections emerge.

Under the influence of new ideas from Pollan, they replace “corn” with “zea mays” and playfully rip about how Americans are “corn-chips with legs”. Stegner’s essay, “Sense of Place” heats the tempers and passions of the students so that conversations boil over and out of the classroom, spilling into the dining hall and their cabins.

The writings of both Stegner and Pollan serve as an introduction to the students’ upcoming Food Intensive Week, where they will visit small organic farms, large-scale farms, an industrial organic factory and hear from an expert on genetically modified foods at UC Davis, where they will also visit the agricultural school’s slaughterhouse.

by Angelina Conti, Teacher - September 4, 2009

I teach a class at the Woolman Semester called Humanities & Ethics. My joke has become that the title of the class is a little bit of a misnomer – it’s not about the traditional academic disciplines of humanities and ethics that you might encounter elsewhere in college. Rather, it’s an experiential (read: no homework) class about our own humanity and our own ethics. The goals of the class are processing, introspection, storytelling and story-listening, and discernment. It’s about exploring who we are, what we believe, what we are experiencing at Woolman, and how we are in relationship with the world and the people around us.

I’m planning to incorporate a query, in the Quaker tradition of queries, and a quote into each class, often as journaling prompts. Queries are searching questions used for individual or corporate introspection and discernment – sometimes meetings will use queries at the start of worship or in yearly meeting sessions, other times in the context of worship sharing. Quotes will be a way to introduce students to a wide range of voices – sometimes it will be poetry, sometimes prose. Rumi and Rilke are on deck for upcoming weeks.

I’d hoping to make a habit of posting queries and quotes here weekly. Feel free to answer them in the comments, or to suggest other resources.

So to begin:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
- Howard Thurman (writer, educator, theologian, civil rights activist)

Query: What makes you come alive?

by Dorothy Henderson, Head of School - August 26, 2009

Friday night, August 21s, the 12th Woolman semester began as we gathered around a fire circle (with no fire as this is the season of high fire danger) to tell our stories of arriving at Woolman. Although staff and interns had been preparing for weeks, and students had begun arriving from the East and Midwest the day before on Thursday, the real beginning of the Semester seemed to take place that night. We sat on log benches in the woods, with the frogs competing for air time, telling their stories. We told each other our journey to this place and our hopes for this time together. The heat of the day gradually gave way to the cool mountain air of the foothills, the sky produced one, then two, then a million stars and the pines around us and overhead gave a serenity and strength to our beginning.

This land we inhabit at Sierra Friends Center holds us as we embark on a new adventure at Woolman. There have been many changes over the summer. We have three new teachers: Emily Zionts is our World Issues teacher, Jasmine Smith will teach Environmental Science, and Angelina Conti will teach Peace Studies as well as Humanities and Ethics. They have each arrived with a wealth of talents, experience and enthusiasm for creating a sustainable, peaceful world in community. We feel blessed to have them.

Similarly, our new Woolman Community Intern program has begun with a resounding success: Kiira, Bridget, Ravahn, Emily and Lavinia (with Anna soon to arrive) have each brought a spirit of generosity and a can-do attitude that is already making a difference in how it feels around here. Apple picking, cooking an awesome lunch, packing for the Wilderness trip, organizing a game of Jugs on the soccer field, teaching yoga under a tree, offering to help in a myriad of ways…we are blessed once again with these new ones.

Our Admissions office has grown as well this fall: Samantha Summers and Hannah Jeffrey have joined Kathy, thus expanding our outreach possibilities. They are both already contributing to the sense of new possibilities that feels so present on the campus as we begin.

On a different note, we have lost our office manager, Susan McGuire, who has been with the John Woolman School and then the Woolman Semester for the past 20 years. Susan was an essential part of the transition for the high school to the semester program and has been a stable presence through it all. We still see Susan on Tuesdays as she comes in to play Scrabble with Lynne on Tuesdays, and to help us out as we adjust to life without her.

With what may be our biggest change, Jenny Gray has become our kitchen coordinator, replacing our kitchen manager of the past three years, Benjamin Rose. Our kitchen has now become a bustling center of community activity. Students, staff, volunteer staff, faculty and interns are all taking turns helping to prepare scrumptious meals. Jenny, who has had many years of experience in the food service business, is providing coordination and oversight. This change took place just at the time that Benjamin and the Center were honored with the Golden Carrot award (from Washington DC based Physicians for Responsible Medicine) for excellence in vegetarian cooking. We are committed to carrying on the high standards and ethical food practices that Benjamin helped put into place in our kitchen and excited to be able to share that with the wider community of residents and students.

Finally, but of course, most importantly, 18 awesome students arrived on our campus and seem quite ready to lead us on a most meaningful adventure this fall. We have grown to using cabins on both sides of the campus, and to needing two sections for classes, to ensure that the classroom size stays seminar-small. And yet, the larger numbers do not seem to have altered the sense of close community and care that was already evident as they headed out for a week in the Wilderness. Helping Azure get her backpack on right, making sure that Eugene’s shoes would stay on, finding that extra water bottle in the free store (“Woolmart”), it is hard to believe that most of them did not know each other before last week.

Rooted in the solid foundation of the Quaker elders who founded this school and held in the wisdom of the land that sustains us, we begin anew.

by Dorothy Henderson, Head of School - June 17, 2009

What would get a two-year-old to plant seeds in the ground (with Mom’s help), a five-year-old to shovel manure into a wheelbarrow and deliver it down the hill to the garden compost pile, a 17-year-old to show up for breakfast at 7:15 am and go to work pulling nails out of old lumber so it can be reused in building a shed, a 35-year-old to cook breakfast for 50 early risers, and a 65-year-old to climb up on a two-story roof to put in insulation? And what would make it possible for all this to happen at the same time? The answer is Family Work Camp at Sierra Friends Center.

This year for the first time, the Woolman Semester alumni reunion has joined the Sierra Friends Center Family Work Camp. Last fall two Woolman alumni, Cassidy Gardner and Jesse Bradford, talked about wanting to give something back to Woolman as part of the alumni gathering, perhaps working on a project together. Those two notions, giving of oneself and working on projects, led to combining the Woolman Semester Reunion with Family Work Camp, which has been described as the Woolman Semester without the homework. In actuality it is much more.

Family Work Camp at SFC has a long history that began with work camps for the John Woolman High School before it was a school. Folks camped at Mel’s pond, cooked at what is now the Hedrick House and helped to build the school buildings that we now enjoy. The work camps have always been multi-generational affairs, with 70-year-olds and 3-year-olds literally working side by side. Some people at work camp today have been coming for over 30 years, and there are young adults here now who have grown up with this week-long work extravaganza as the family vacation.

Vacation?! How can living in a tent or a cabin for a week and working for several hours each morning be considered vacation? This is the very question we pondered during our morning work camp meeting. What is work and how can there be such a thing as a work party. Isn’t “work party” an oxymoron? We did not come up with the definitive answer but we had some musings. It seems that when people come together because they want to, not because they think they have to, they have a different idea about what it means to work. Cleaning the irrigation ditch of all the debris that collects over the year, walking through mucky water with rakes and hoes becomes a party when you volunteer to do it and your friends do the same.

Friends are a big part of what makes work camp a vacation. Friends who come back each year, rekindling relationships while making soup for the luncheon meal, planting seeds in the ever-expanding garden, or putting a new and improved roof on the Redwood house. Of course, the work does not go on all day and night. There are the evening sings with “Rise up Singing” and the late-night conversations that bring us back in touch with each other’s lives year after year.

There are always the new arrivals too, people who are here for the first time but become part of the family by the end of the week. These are folks who come from around the world to give of their time and skill because they want their lives to make the world a better place. Then there are the new arrivals who aren’t really new. Annie and David and their daughter Sophia have joined us for the first time. But Annie was a student at the John Woolman High School from 1976 to 1979. Annie remembers the Dining Hall deck before it had the wisteria covering and Madrone Hall when it was a dormitory for students. Now six-year-old Sophia has worked in the orchard, painting the exposed limbs of the apple and pear trees that were getting too much sun. Perhaps Sophia will find her way to the Woolman Semester some years down the road.

So when is work not really work? When it is done with friends, with purpose, with a spirit of giving, and given freely. This year the SFC Family Work Camp and the Woolman Alumni Gathering have come together for a week of working and playing together …and wondering about the difference.

by Carl Sigmond - June 16, 2009

For me, coming home is bittersweet. I remember the first week after graduation, I would wake up and wonder why I wasn’t in my cabin. I would wonder where my classmates were; where Jerome’s cows had gone. Then, as I began to settle in, I started to accept the changes that confronted me when I returned home. The end of high school fills me with a sense of completion, knowing that I will apply what I learned at Woolman to the rest of my life fills me with gratitude, and the loss of my father fills me with sorrow.

Almost four weeks have gone by since I stood on that stage, delivered my graduation speech, and received my diploma. So much has happened since all thirteen of us were on that stage. There are so many feelings and so many memories. As I thought about how to conclude this article, my mother walked in with my Woolman transcript. I read it, remembering each course in vivid detail. I miss Woolman, but I know that it will always be in me. I will always let my life speak.

by Dorothy Henderson, Head of School - May 17, 2009

Graduation is here. It is a time of saying goodbye, of looking back at the beginning when we didn’t know each other and looking forward to how we will keep in touch with the family that has been made in these four months. On Saturday, May 23rd, thirteen students will give their graduation speeches and become the Woolman Semester Spring of 09 alumni. In writing this last eWitness for this semester I want to take you to a brief moment in the life of these students just a week and a half before graduation.

On the day of the Mock Trial in Environmental Science I walked over to the Dining Hall and sat at a table with the early risers who were eating breakfast. Around the table were Jenna, Nora, Alma, Muhammad, Grace and Carl. Several were eating scrambled eggs and potatoes with hot sauce or ketchup. In the center of the table was a vase filled with an assortment of the wildflowers that bloom in profusion this time of year and are especially plentiful this season because of the late and abundant rainfall we have gratefully received.

I sat down and said “good morning”. Muhammad looked at me and said a baleful “good night,” letting me know they had all been working hard to prepare for the big event of the day, the Mock Trial. The Mock Trial is held every semester toward the end of Jess Castleberry’s Environmental Science class. It is just one of the creative teaching strategies Jess employs to help us understand the complexity and urgency of our environmental situation. As the culmination of the section on climate change, the mock trial charges the people of the industrialized world with contributing to global warming and thus to ecological damage to countries such as Bangladesh that are poorer and without voice. This day, Bangladesh is bringing charges against France. Ironically, France, as one of the industrialized countries that is to be lauded for signing the Kyoto agreement, is being charged with human rights violations for not fully complying with the agreement.

So here we sat, just a few hours before the event. The group of future prosecution lawyers and witnesses was questioning, coaching & encouraging each other. Alma coached Jenna across the table: “How many Bangladeshi will be displaced by rising sea levels?”-”40,000,000″. Carl, one of the prosecuting attorneys, answered a question from Grace, a carbon emissions expert. As I sat with this budding group of scholar/activists, I listened with one ear to their conversation, but mostly I just took in the gestalt…the flowers on the table, the food in the bowls and this group of Woolman students sitting with the rising sun and cool air of a spring morning, getting ready to take what they are learning into their lives to make our world a better place.

by Your Friendly Camp Counselors - February 17, 2009

Who better to ask than those fearless, faithful, fanciful, fun and fantastic folks who have done it before! Here are a few thoughts from some of our fabulous former counselors:

“Being a counselor at SFC, I’ve found that it’s a place where I can feel good about giving to other campers what I had been given as a child when I attended Shiloh Quaker Camp for 5 years. It is a place to come to and let go of whatever turmoil exists in your life, and give the best of yourself to deserving campers who greatly take in all the beauty of being there with you.” ~ Carolina McCandles (2005, 2006)

“For me being a counselor was a great opportunity to explore myself as a role model and a friend. It helped me to develop key skills for the real world both socially and in the working world. It was wonderful to create for others what has been so important to me as I have grown up. I met amazing people and my experiences and growth from my summer as a SFC counselor will be with me always.” ~ Emily Schwartz (2006)

“Working at Sierra Friends Camp really inspired me, and changed me in ways I never expected it to. Learning about Quaker camps after I was too old to attend made me feel deprived of a wonderful summer, so being a counselor gave me the opportunity to experience the love, gifts and community that come along with Quaker camp. I found being a counselor to be rewarding and spiritually fulfilling, and it gave me the strength I needed to explore and express myself in the world outside of Sierra Friends Center. Not to mention we had SO MUCH fun being outside and seeing the world!” ~ John Stitzer (2008)

“I’m not great with the written word, but I’d like to say that I learned so much during my time at Sierra Friends Camp. It was truly one of the best experiences I have ever had. You learn a ton of leadership skills and I will always remember my time at Sierra Friends Camp, and it will be an experience that I will treasure forever. I learned a lot not only from my fellow counselors and staff but also from the kids. I think it is important to be ready to give 100% and enjoy the experience and take as much away from it as you possibly can. It is by far the most valuable experience I have ever had in my life and is definitely the best learning experience I have ever had in my life. I think that it will be something that is extremely valuable for anyone who decides to be a counselor.” ~ Ben Kewman (2007)

“Being a counselor at Sierra Friends Camp was incredible; it was unlike any experience I have ever had. I loved the creativity, the beautiful environment, and above all, the strong sense of community at SFC. I will never forget leading campers on a backpacking trip through the woods, being the ‘Morning Fairy’ and waking up campers with a silly song, doing art projects, singing, and participating in meditative meetings for worship. If you work at Sierra Friends camp, you will come away with not only wonderful memories, but make lasting connections with SFC community.” ~ Maddy Anderson (2007)

If you would like to be a Sierra Friends Camp counselor, visit our web site and download an application. The priority deadline for applications is March 15.

by Dorothy Henderson, Head of School - February 17, 2009

We were ready to head out early. The white van and trailer led the way and the blue van was close behind. We headed up Woolman Lane at 8:45 am on Monday morning the 26th of January. The thirteen students of the Spring 2009 Woolman Semester (and six staff) were on their Orientation/Wilderness Week to Jug Handle State Reserve. As with every trip of our program, this one proved to be unique, and not just because we left ahead of schedule!

From Woolman, we headed due west on Highway 20. The trip across the state is a study in diversity of microenvironments, from the foothills where we live, across the rice fields of the Sacramento Valley and delta, past the Sutter Buttes, around Clear Lake, over the coastal range, and on to the Mendocino Headlands and the Pacific Ocean.

Jug Handle State Reserve is a registered National Landmark on the California Coast between Mendocino and Fort Bragg. The reserve is an ecological staircase of five terraces created over a million years. Adjoining the reserve is the Jug Handle Creek Farm and Nature Center where we spent the week.

At Jug Handle, the semester was launched with a diversity of activities and experiences. We spent a perfect half-day in canoes, heading out from the mouth of the Big River where it flows into the Pacific and heading up river to a resting spot to eat our lunches while our canoes floated lazily, then heading back down river to the ocean. The perfection was granted by the synchronicity of the timing of the tides and the timing of our trip. The current of the Big River at the place we set to in our canoes is controlled by the tide of the Pacific, coming in or going out. We just happened to take our canoe trip when the tide for the first half of our paddle was coming in, which meant the current was with us…and for our return trip the tide was going out, so the current was with us again. According to the folks at the canoe rental, this only happens once or twice a month at that time of day.

So with lots of energy left, we returned to the Farm and began our first of three “shared work” periods which allowed us to experience the fun of working together and the satisfaction of contributing to another organization caring for the earth. Over the course of the week, we renovated their compost system, thoroughly weeded the garden, transplanted and started native plants in their nursery (including baby alders and Douglas firs), and split logs. We also spread the good will of Woolman; the high spirits and conscientious work ethic of our new group of students impressed everyone who came in contact with them. The canoe folks commented that they rarely see a group of young people clear out the canoes on their return. The folks at Jug Handle said we had made a huge difference in their efforts to keep up with all they are trying to do and they asked us to come back every January.

The week also included hiking, playing at the beach, and lots of games in the evenings. But the center and perhaps the purpose of the week came when each student was led out to a solo spot that had been previously chosen by Jess and Lara just for them. After careful preparation, packing, instructions and a ceremony, each student was taken in silence to their solo and for the next 24 hours they spent their time alone, in the woods, without contact with others. We prepared their food and left it for them at designated spots, thus checking up on them without disturbing their solos.

On Thursday evening we led them back in silence to the Farmhouse where they told the stories of their experience and what it meant to them. The stories included climbing a tree, sleeping in a tree, exploring the forest at night, writing poetry, being terrified of mountain lions, spending the time sleeping and reading, hearing the birds at first daybreak, waiting for dinner to come and falling asleep, seeing the stars through a tiny window in the tall, tall trees. When trying to understand what it meant, one spoke of letting go of the almost daily contact with a close friend in order to be at Woolman. Another spoke of finding the strength in himself to spend the night and the day alone. Another spoke of her love of dirt, of the earth, of just being connected to the cosmos.

by Meaghan McCallum, Kitchen/Garden Intern - January 17, 2009

The Spring 2009 Woolman Semester is in its first weeks and the campus is reawakened with young ideas and fresh energy.

The campus, nestled among pine and manzanita, is in the process of reinventing itself with expanding student enrollment, creative gardening practices, and an evolving awareness of community and consumption.

The garden manager, Malaika, is overseer of soil enrichment experiments, or, variant compost techniques. One notable project is tea composting- a process where composted organic matter is submerged in water in a large outdoor tub and oxygenated with fish bubblers. The tea is then sprayed directly onto the soil and stimulates a rich nutrient base for growing plants.

Most exciting, in my opinion, is a new irrigation system that will run on timers! This means water schedules will be an automatic process and our focus will adjust toward cultivation, maintenance, necessary repairs and revisions to the existing garden.

Adjacent to the garden is an empty chicken coop. There are also two or three hearty free-range chickens that continue to exist, despite dwindling numbers. This is so because, as Lara, the World Issues teacher suggests, they pull switchblades on the hungry, drooling cougars.

In other garden news, Karen, a kitchen/garden intern, trapped a rat that was routinely feasting on baby buds in the germination station. She drove that rodent off with a one-way ticket to the Yuba river in a pickup truck. The transport was graceful and now all parties walk along safer soils.

In other news, the stars are out! It’s a grade-a planetarium out here- the dark skies are an astronomer’s dream. Of course, rain and fog take their place intermittently, and all provide mystic appeal.

The kitchen, or dining hall (DH) and community gathering space, though closed the last week in January due to the student wilderness trip, opened with a caloric bang. Lots of pizza, fresh salad bar, hand smashed guacamole, thick and pretty mac & cheese, and other healthy/delicious comfort foods (oxymoron?) welcome students and newcomers and remind staff and community members of the bounty and (quite possible anatomical expansion) that occurs here at our hearth. Instead of injecting our food with hormones, we massage love into our creations (corny but true).

As for myself, a recent migrant from the Northeast, I am unabashedly thankful for the warm winter California air, crisp evenings, not very eco-friendly but cozy wood-burning stove and this opportunity to experience and contribute to a community that projects a mindful awareness that is cultivated from within.

The Woolman Semester, with exceptional faculty, staff, community members, students and interns provides us all with the opportunity to openly question, consciously act, and cultivate awareness of our interconnectedness here on earth.

by Matt Stenovec, Teaching Intern. Christian Hannah, Rachelle Ruiz, and Ramon Franco, Students - December 17, 2008

During the Democracy Intensive in October, Woolman students broke into five small groups to research different issues affecting our nation. Here is what the group looking at the current economic crisis wrote:

Our group dissected the economic crisis into four bite-sized chunks: the mortgage crisis, the credit-default swap market, the commercial paper market, and HR 1424, popularly known as the “Bailout Plan.”

For research, we conducted man-on-the-street interviews with citizens of Nevada City, as well as listening to radio shows and calling congressional offices. Most of the people we spoke with identified the economy as the largest single problem affecting our nation today. However, most people felt that they were tragically uninformed of the details of the situation. Our group discovered that although the sub-prime mortgage issue catalyzed the current economic crisis, many events worked in concert to deliver our fiscal system into the mess it’s in.

Banks used the debt of the sub-prime mortgages as structured investment vehicles with very competitive rates of return. When those assets tanked as housing prices dropped, the banks “broke the buck” and started giving negative returns on short-term commercial paper market loans. As a result, banks refused to continue funding the commercial paper market, effectively freezing our economy for a short amount of time. HR 1424 was penned in response to this crisis. The idea is to inject enough capital back into the market in order to keep the short-term commercial paper loans going, as well as keep the banks afloat.

According to Paul Krugman of the New York Times, there are two main options for injecting this capital back into the market. The first is the Paulson plan, which, “calls for the federal government to buy $700 billion worth of troubled assets” no strings attached. Essentially, the government would have to assign arbitrary values to worthless assets in order to buy them up at a reasonable price. The plan Krugman supports is called the stock injection plan. Krugman feels that, “if the government is going to provide capital to financial firms, it should get what people who provide capital are entitled to – a share in ownership, so that all the gains if the rescue plan works don’t go to the people who made the mess in the first place.” However, this idea smacks of socialism and is found unsavory by many conservatives.

Obviously this issue is much more complex than we presented here, but hopefully now you feel a little bit more informed about our economic state.

(We’d like to thank Ira Glass, Paul Krugman, and The Long Johns for unwittingly giving their support to this project.)

by Dorothy Henderson, Head of School - December 17, 2008

As I write this message, the stars are just fading in the chill December morning. Out my window I can see the outlines of the Ponderosa pines framed against the barely lightening sky. Graduation for the sixteen students of the Fall 2008 Woolman Semester is just three days away. On Monday, the final projects of the semester, their Citizens of the World research papers were presented to the community in the Meeting House. Now the students and teaching staff are all enjoying a three-day retreat before graduation. This is a time to celebrate together what has transpired over these past four months. As have I watched these students work in groups and alone, it is hard to believe that most of them did not know each other last August.

It is tempting at this time to focus on what the students have gained by being here, by making a commitment to move out of their known experience to join us in a great experiment of activism, education and community. And yet I find myself wanting to share with you something of what we have gained by having them here with us. I want to speak specifically and personally to give you a sense of the actual experiences. The following are some of the interactions that have been particularly meaningful to me this semester:

Joining a group of staff and students weekly for “Deep Dinner”, taking time to connect with each other about our spiritual lives. This came about because Keenan, one of our students this semester, asked to have more opportunities for spiritual exploration. He is clear that this is one of the motivations that brought him to Woolman. Perhaps a Woolman tradition has begun.

Talking with Sol about the process of decision making at Woolman. Sol is a serious scholar and strong advocate of democratic education. In a Wednesday evening conversation when I was on homework duty, Sol questioned how empowered our community meetings are to make decisions affecting the daily lives of the community and students. He posited that perhaps we have a “representative democracy” rather than a true one. Students making the decision to come here agree to certain expectations; how mutable are those expectations once the students arrive and begin to assert their own views?

Talking with Christian about life here at Woolman, why he came, what he is getting out of it, and what choices he truly wants to make to create his own educational experience while he is here. In our conversations, I hear Christian trying to discern when his actions are responding to pressure from others and when they are truly coming from his own inner wisdom. This discernment may be a more valuable life lesson than any other that Christian gains while he is here, and his willingness to wrestle with it strengthens my own similar efforts.

Finding Ryann in the office early early one morning working on her Citizen’s of the World project. She had just finished an interview with a professor from Yale who had written a book about genocide. Ryann came to Woolman with a great concern about Darfur, and she has called us all to action to end the genocide there. Her dedication has pushed me to begin to educate myself. I have begun reading “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families,” by Philip Gourevitch, which documents the failure of the international community to respond in time to avert the genocide in Rwanda in 1992.

The sky has turned pale blue and the sun has hit the Ponderosas as I have shared these moments with you. Space does not allow me to recount more, but of course there are many. It is hard to limit myself to these.

A spiritual emphasis, experience of brotherhood and rigorous and sustained intellectual and creative work: these were the original ideals articulated by Josephine Duvenek in the founding of Woolman. These ideals are alive in the students of the Fall 2008 Semester. As we celebrate the graduation of these sixteen students, I am grateful for the teachings they have offered. It will be hard to let them go…and I feel a little more hope for our world that they will be out there.

by Dorothy Henderson, Head of School - October 17, 2008
The students and faculty have returned from their week-long “Food Intensive” in which they toured many different types of farming operations in Northern California. Their trip culminated in the big day when all that they learned was put into practice as they prepared a meal of local foods for our semi-annual Local Foods Banquet. The dinner time conversation was alive with descriptions of and reactions to what they had witnessed and learned on the road. The tour of Amy’s Organics food processing plant was illuminating. One student said he had never seen a conveyor belt with workers in an assembly line except “in the movies”. Another spoke of watching the burritos being shaped by a machine with a worker adding the cheese over and over at just the right time-”that just seems so boring as a job!” “But at least they have a job” was the rejoinder from another.

A second conversation focused on the ethnicity of the workers and managers of the various businesses they visited. Two of the students observed that most of the workers were people of color; most of the managers were white. One student stated that this was not necessarily true and pointed out businesses where that did not hold true.

A third conversation centered on the visit to the meat laboratory at Chico State University where the students witnessed the slaughter of a steer. One spoke of how upset she was to see this and said she was considering changing her peace project to work on Animal Rights. Another said that she believes that everyone who eats meat should see a steer being killed. And a third student commented how impressed he was that the slaughter was done with great respect for the animal.

These snippets of conversations around the dinner table give a flavor of the ways in which we are all challenged and enlightened by the educational experience of life and learning at Woolman. The students have read Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan in their Environmental Science Class. Pollan writes about the three principal food chains currently feeding us today: the industrial, the organic and the hunter-gatherer. He follows each of these chains from beginning, the plant or group of plants, through to the dinner table. In doing so, he makes it clear that eating is not just a biological act that nourishes our bodies or even a biological and social act that sustains our cultures. Omnivore’s Dilemma makes it clear that eating is also a political and ecological act. Pollan calls on us to become more aware of the political and ecological ramifications of our relationship to our food, and suggests that we will serve our planet, our cultures, and our physical health, not to mention our sheer pleasure in eating, if we do so.

That night we undoubtedly took great pleasure in eating. We were the recipients of generous donations of food from numerous local farms: Ten pounds of beef from Nevada County Free Range Beef; potatoes, cucumbers and hot peppers from Bluebird Farms; red peppers, zucchini, radishes, yellow squash and eggplants galore from Mountain Bounty Farms; tomatillos and snap beans from Naked Farms; wheat and teff from Grass Valley Grains; potatoes from Loma Rica Ranch; a gift basket from Olala Farms; a $25.00 gift certificate from Briar Patch Natural Foods Community Market; and herbs from Wild Woman Farm. All of this was in addition to the produce from our own Woolman gardens.

Those of us who shared this local feast had a “whole foods” experience; a meal that delighted the palate, challenged our cultural assumptions, enhanced our sense of relationship to our earth and its inhabitants, and called on us to eat with mindfulness and gratitude.