As we drive through Bolinas looking for a permaculture learning center it was foggy and beautiful. We arrive to see a sprite old man with a top hat and a very Wizard of Oz like coat. He introduced himself as James Stark, one of the founders of the Regenerative Design Institute. As we gathered around him, he told us about RDI and their Philosophy behind creating this place. RDI, is a permaculture design institute where people can come and learn about various topics such as: Permaculture, Herbs, Nature Awareness, and Ecology Leadership. As I look around I see lush trees with fruits on them, chickens wandering around, goats climbing a hillside, a trailer with political bumper stickers covering it, tents scattered across the meadow and a goat milking station.
James explains that permaculture is about living and having fun within the land and in balance of the land. That as you take care of the land, the land will take care of you. The land is a living breathing organism that needs to be taken care of. Everything that you do to the land has an effect on everything surrounding it. Everything that is on the land is coexisting together working and breathing together. We also talked about the mainstream American lifestyle. He said that it takes 10,000 chemicals to get through a day in the life of an average American. As we walk through life it is always greener in front of us and browner behind. We are living in a constant soap opera of our lives constantly self judging ourselves, we think about it so much our own self-judgements become our reality. “We are all screenwriters of our own lives, if we don't like how the story is going we can write another one.” James promptly says. We need to compost our past in our knapsack and plant a new green loving garden. “We should judge not our bodies; our bodies are ferraris and we treat them like wheelbarrows” he explains. We pull our bodies along through life judging and criticizing them when really they are magical and mystical bodies of passion that are a miracle.
At this point I had drank the Koolaid and wanted to stay forever. I was hooked. We left the parking lot and walked over to the chicken coop/orchard. He explained that the chickens and the orchard have a symbiotic relationship where the chickens eat all of the bugs at the base of the tree and poop to make fertilizer on the ground. We then make our way into the gate of the garden, it was very much like walking through the closet to Narnia. We saw a gorgeous house surrounded with flowers and vines. Next to the house was a pond that attracts wildlife to the Garden and is used to bathe with in the outdoor bathtub. The water gets pumped into a heater where it is heated with a wood burning fire. It was the coolest outdoor bathtub/shower I have seen. It seemed so mystical and magical. We make our way up to the garden where a small amount of food is grown that they can sustain on. We make our way around to the greenhouse. We see small students housing and outdoor tables for classrooms. We walk through a tunnel of vines to get to the greenhouse. Inside the greenhouse we see the small pond that they are experimenting having fish in as well as bananas and other tropical fruits.
We end our visit with a question and answer with James. He shared his conclusion that in order to feed the world we need to revert back to the land where families had small farms where they produce their own food. Only 2% of people in the US are farmers and the majority of the food grown here is food for livestock. As we wrapped up our conversation and tour I realized there was still so much I wanted to see there. I wanted to talk with James and some of the students that were living there to gain a perspective on what the school was like. It was an incredible experience seeing the spirit of the land and the spirit of James Stark. I hope to go back someday and maybe be a student. I know that James Stark inspired me in a lot of ways. I know that in a lot of ways RDI is a somewhat of an Idealist world and that not everyone wants to be a farmer, but the philosophy with living within the land in a sustainable and thoughtful way is something that should be implemented through life. I hope to see you soon RDI.
As a great kick-off to our social-justice-filled week, we had an extremely well-done “Wake-Up” from Generation Waking Up (GenUp). Joshua came to the home in which we were staying and went through an engaging presentation in the living room. It began with GenUp’s mission statement and ended with an action item that we can take charge of in our own lives.
On that sleepy morning I woke up in my tent at the top of the hill in the Trueblood’s backyard. I slowly unzipped my tent, climbed out and down the hill to the kitchen where breakfast was in full swing. A frenzy of people were crammed around the kitchen counter making bagels and pouring granola. There was cream cheese and jelly everywhere.
Joshua arrived and we all piled into the living room with our bagels and coffee in tow. He was a wonderful presenter and from DC like me! Generation Waking Up’s mission is to “ignite a generation of young people to bring forth a thriving, just, sustainable world.” They strive to to “awaken, empower, and mobilize” young people across issues and across the world.
The presentation included many videos. I found the one featuring a wombat most helpful. Mr. Wombat was straightforward about his message. This was also the first day of the government shutdown, so I was inspired to send (almost spam) congress with this video. That project is yet to be accomplished, but a post on it should quickly follow.
After much discussion and group activities we came together for one last activity. We each were handed a tri-fold pamphlet. In the first fold we wrote about what we loved. On the third side we made a list of what breaks our heart. In the middle we used the two outside columns to influence a “my purpose zone.” From this, we each wrote down an action item that we could accomplish in the near future.
We closed with a circle, a unity clap, and a song.
I was inspired. Generation Waking Up was one of my favorite workshops and I want to take it home to my town and spread the knowledge I learned in our wake-up. I plan on attending the training that is taking place in DC in the spring. I have a thirst for social justice work. I fill myself with it to the point of overflow but I just can’t stop. Generation Waking Up definitely woke me up.
On Wednesday night of our Peace Studies trip our group got into our cars and drove to Berkeley to see some Slam Poetry at The Starry Plough. Having grown up near the Bay Area and being someone who loves slam poetry, I was excited to hear we were going to my favorite slam poetry place. When we walked up to the small building I couldn’t stop smiling as I was reminded of the life this small building held. I immediately felt an overwhelming amount of love, passion, joy and close to every other emotion I have ever felt radiating from the people inside. Our group settled in front of the stage, some of us choosing to sit on the floor right in front and others finding open seats. My mind had been on a constant run all week as information from the workshops we had been to swirled around in my head. But as I sat there I felt it all just pause and grow quiet as I readied myself for the first poet.
The night was nothing short of magical for me. Each poet had a story to tell, an image to paint, and reached deep within themselves taking emotions inside and speaking them out to people. That strength gave me strength and I felt as if I were feeling and experiencing parts of who they were. We had spent a lot of time that week talking about racism and looking at how it still exists all around us today. The night just came together when their special guest for the night spoke on many pieces that related to racism. We were able to see its effects on someone and hear it through their powerful words.
As it grew later and we all started to gather outside to get ready to leave for the night and head back to where we were staying a beautiful woman who had performed that night excitedly introduced herself. Her name was Ahlaam and she finished off our night with sharing a little bit of her wisdom and excitement for us as young people in this world. She made it clear that it was important we love ourselves for who we are and recognize the beauty we each have. I was moved that night and I am still moving.
The Woolman Semester class of Fall 2013 was first introduced to Jeff Duncan-Andrade by a TED talk. He spoke of the school system and a teacher's role within it. His view on teaching and schooling completely blew us away. We thought what Jeff had to say was incredible and we wanted his way of thinking to be a part of our lives. During our peace studies trip we had the amazing opportunity to meet Jeff and have one hour to discuss anything we wanted to with him. With curiosity and passion the Woolman Class prepared themselves for this journey, and after one hour with Jeff Duncan-Andrade our lives were changed.
Jeff Duncan-Andrade is an Associate Professor of Raza Studies and Education Administration and Interdisciplinary Studies. He is currently taking a sabbatical but works in East Oakland, where for the past 18 years he has practiced and studied the use of critical pedagogy in urban schools. During his hour with us he told us a story of his teaching experience. In his story he was fired three times from a public school and those three times he was granted Teacher of the Year awards. Jeff approaches school in an alternative way than what society has made school out to be. Jeff prioritizes his students needs before their test scores. Because of this, he was fired by the higher powers but always put first by his students.
Our society has created this idea that school is all about getting good grades, being the teachers pet, behaving and acting like little angels. It has set an idea that you need to go to college to be successful in life. Jeff explains that yes this is all important, that graduating high school and college is necessary, not the way he would like it to be, but that it is. But first, we need a school system to support us. Before the student receives a good grade in their class, they should be taken care of. Food, shelter, clothing and safety are taken care of first and then the grades are considered. This is Jeff's dream, a dream that is not a part of our current school system and a dream we all love nothing more than to see.
Jeff gave us a quote by Socrates during our time with him, “All great undertakings are risky." He expressed the utter importance of doing what you love to do. That “it will never be considered work if you love what you're working for." We were told to live our passions and to be prepared that it might be a difficult journey but it will always be worth it and work itself out. Jeff followed his dreams and expressed to us his undying love for teaching and his love for his students. That he never feels like he has worked a day in his life, that he even does this for free! He described how it's not always satisfying and somedays you feel like quitting, but at the end of the day you feel blessed to be doing what you know you love.
The students of Woolman listened to Jeff with respect and gratitude. Most of us walked away with excitement, passion, purpose and realization of what we want. Everything Jeff talked about was something we are all going through. The school system brings us down and Jeff's way of thinking brings us up and beyond. Teachers who love, people who follow their dreams, and a society where passions are accepted are what the students of Woolman hope to see in our lives. We thank Jeff for all his knowledge and compassion and will take away his time with us in our hearts.
The Truebloods' living room is humming with friendly chatter and chewing, and then seeped in silence as an author enters the room. Laura Magnani introduces herself, author of Beyond Prisons. She is the director of the American Friends Service Committee’s Bay Area Healing Justice Program, working with people of many backgrounds to transform social tensions and systems to promote peace.
She begins her workshop by introducing the themes of what is to come, which includes mass incarceration, race, and solitary confinement. She first hits us hard with statistics. She talk about who makes up the prison population and the actions that put them there. But then she makes it stick: she talks about the systems that put them there, and how they are only perpetuating the problems. She informs us that an increasing number of prisons are privately owned, and their funding comes from their occupancy. This promotes a motivation to fill them up. The jails become crowded because most can’t pay the bail, so more money is spent providing more prisons instead of funding programs that redirection criminal behaviors at the root. Thus, there is no effort to keep people out of these prisons. But even that isn’t enough. There is a public fear that released prisoners haven’t changed, so a law was enacted called the 3-strikes law. If you are arrested once, then twice for serious felonies, if you are ever arrested again you are locked up for life.
Laura lets this settle. Students shift uncomfortably in their seats, feeling powerless at the feet of this unjust system. She then hits home with visuals. She introduces a brief film on what prison is actually like, focusing mainly on solitary confinement. Solitary confinement is a punishment designed to give criminals the time to reflect on their actions and an opportunity to change. With the ever-harshening judicial system, what went from days in solitude becomes decades trapped in small windowless cement rooms. Not only does this system neglect to heal, but can literally drive a person crazy and worsen their condition. She conducts our anger to mezzo forte, and then gives us a small release: the hunger strike. The people in prisons are not powerless. Through making their protests known, they are able to win small rights like possession of calendars.
Laura has positioned us like balloons: she has filled us up with injustice, directed us at the system, and then hands us the pin. It is our fight if we make it. I don’t know if she heard the conversations that followed after she left, but as she walked down the front steps I hope she patted herself on the back for sparking 30 young activists, and inspiring, not just with her message but also by her example, to fight for justice.
Students have just returned from a week in the Bay Area, where we worked with numerous social justice organizations and activists as part of our combined Peace Studies and Global Issues trip. We'll be posting students' reflections on the trip over the next few days. To kick us off, student Lillian Karl writes about attending the Berkeley Poetry Slam:
After a day of being cooped up inside the beautiful Truebloods house, we were set free into the wonderful Berkeley atmosphere on Wednesday night of our Peace Studies trip. My car, nicknamed “Big Sug” traveled through the streets blasting Baby Bash’s “Suga Suga” until we reached our destination, the Berkeley Poetry Slam.
As we waited outside of the doors, we sang, danced, and even spit a few rhymes. When all the cars arrived, we entered the welcoming warmth of the Starry Plough. My body instantly felt at home. The small Pub was packed with laughing people and had that coffee house vibe to it, where everyone seemed to be content and ready to have a good time. The air was filled with mouth watering smells and soft orange light. I settled into a floor snuggle puddle in the front row and prepared myself for a great show.
I was not disappointed. Poet after poet, walked on the the stage and delivered fantastic work. They alternated between funny, sad, political, and everything in between. Each poet had a different voice and gave a little bit of themselves to the audience. The poets didn’t just read their poems; they performed them. Thier words flowed through the air painting visions in my head that made me step back and really think about the issues they were discussing. Some artists let their bodies become their words as they moved in an almost dance-like way. The poets represented a large range of our society and came from every background imaginable. Among them was even my own roommate, AJ!
When it was time to go, I almost refused to get up because I wanted to watched the rest of the poets perform. However, as we walked out of the doors we were greeted by several of the poets, including the featured artist Javon JohnSon and a beautiful individual named Ahlaam. We talked to them for a while and even got a few extra performances. Overall, it was a wonderful night that made me laugh, tear up, and think hard. It really made me feel at home and hopefully gave a taste of what the Bay Area (my hometown) has to offer to the rest of the students.
I woke up early (at least early to me) T morning, and was greeted with my usual granola and yogurt breakfast. It was our first full day of our peace studies/global issues trip and I had no idea what to expect. I was kind of shocked when a handsome guy in his late 20’s/ early 30s came in. I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t him. As soon as he started talking, he grabbed my attention. You could tell he was passionate about his work. The generation in that room was about to be woken up.
First, he asked us four questions: who are we? Where are we? What has to change? What do we do now? Those are some immense questions with a lot of answers so he helped us delve into them. We took it one question at a time starting with: who are we? We are the global generation. The generation of the internet and consumerism. More than 50% of the world is under 25 and we are the generation working towards systemic change. Or at least that's what I got out of the incredible video he showed us. The next video was addressing: Where are we? This one was a little harder to watch. It was brought to our attention that we are in a place of global environmental destruction with 75% of the world's forests destroyed. There is an ever-widening gap between the rich and poor. Our own children may never be able to see a lion, or tiger, or elephant because of mass extinction. We are in a place where 83% of the world’s population doesn’t receive basic needs. This was eye-opening and difficult to hear. We are all aware of the problems in the world but many of us (at least this is true for me) turn the other way because it's too hard to hear and we didn’t think that we could make a change. However, our workshop leader was here to tell us otherwise.
Next we changed our thinking and watched a video that addressed: What has to change? Everything is connected, and everything depends on everything. We need to change the idea that private profit is more important than human profit and health. We need to understand that we can’t have peace on earth if we don’t have peace with earth. So what do we do? We wake up. We need to switch our thinking from probability to possibility. There are over 2 million organizations in the world who work towards social and environmental change. There is a lot of good news in the world, we just aren’t exposed to it. We just need people, like our workshop leader, to wake the rest of the world up.
As we entered the room where we would be meeting Jeff, I looked around at the wide clean space with strategically placed couches and coffee tables. It was all so formal looking that I expected Jeff to come out at any minute wearing a suit or some formal attire, so when I saw him wearing normal everyday clothes I almost didn't recognize him. As soon as I realised that it was Jeff Duncan Andrade and noted his informality, I began to feel comfortable and the excitement within me began to rise. We had all watched his TED talk before coming here ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CwS60ykM8s) and so we all already thought that he was an amazing guy. In the TED talk he spoke of the school system and how oppressive it can be, his work as a teacher and how the graduation rate has gone up since he started paying attention to the individual children and investing in them, and much more. When we first learned that we were going to see him we were ecstatic.
With an air of excited anticipation we all gathered around him, some of us pulling up chairs, chitting in couches or sitting on the floor. Then we began asking questions. Before each person asked their question he would ask their name, and then re-ask the name of the people who had spoken before them. His answers were long and detailed and more often than not had a story woven in it. One of the things Jeff spoke of was how he treats each of his students as people and tries to get involved with their life. If they are without food or home, he wouldn’t give them an F on their paper, but rather he would buy them a sandwich or try and help them find safe shelter. Along with stories he gave us much advice, one important piece of which was telling us that if we find what we are passionate about then a day of work will never be work, and finding the inner compass is crucial.
I appreciated our time with him so much. Jeff is a man who is actually out there doing things everyday, living what he believes. He was so passionate about what he had to say, and in the hour he talked about so many important issues, each of which he explained from his point of view. Some things I loved about what he said was that he would back it up with a story of where he was coming from, also he treated us all as special, important people even though we only entered his life for an hour. Teachers, and people in general, rarely show this much interest in the growth and safety of so many individuals and it was an honour to meet someone with that amout of awareness and caring.
I work at an urban farm called Seattle Youth Garden Works. It’s an organization that runs an organic practicing farm and hires homeless and underserved youth. My boss starts every day with yoga and then splits the crew into groups for harvest, farm work and cooking. They’re all therapeutic to me. I’ve made so many wonderful friends this summer just by working side by side with people and hearing their stories, especially the hard ones. The people I’ve met have come across the country hopping freight trains, survived Seattle Public Schools, been through the justice system system and lived without houses to sleep in.
I’ve been learning throughout my life as a student about the prisonization of schools and In my life and about how people on the streets are treated. Every day I see how people mistrust the homeless community or disregard people because they look different and ask for help with cardboard signs. I was reminded of my job when a woman named LJ came to one of our Peace Studies classes and told us about her work. She does homeless youth outreach in East Oakland with an organization called At the Crossroads. Four nights a week they go out, supplying people with food, condoms, socks, cooking kits and friends to talk to. They also run counseling and outreach to youth 14-29 years old and stick with clients until their mid 30’s.
LJ told us about a man she’s met who said no one had asked him how he was doing for 3 months. The more I think about the way our fellow humans are being treated every day, the more grateful I am for the people that ask me “How are you doing?” If it weren’t for those simple conversations I wouldn’t have gotten to hear the stories of my co-workers and I wouldn’t be able to really know them and love them. Friends and people to talk to are essential parts of human life and it fills my heart to see people going out to support each other, hear each other’s stories and ask them if they need help or if they need a friend. Everyone has a story and makes rational decisions based on their situation. At the Crossroads provides judgement-free counseling to respect the lives and stories of people who want support. And anyone can help anyone just by listening to someone with a smile and without judgement. I’m glad it’s happening where I’ve been and where I live.
Walking into my peace studies class, bright and early on Monday morning, I thought it was going to be a typical class, but boy was I pleasantly surprised. My class got the opportunity to meet Lauren Johnson, an outreach counselor from At The Crossroads.
The mission of At The Crossroads is to reach out to homeless youth and young adults in San Francisco. Lauren’s job consists of one-on-one counseling with clients, collaborating with other outreach programs if it's needed for the clients, and nighttime street outreach. Four nights a week, Lauren and one of her co-workers walk the streets of the Mission and downtown San Francisco bringing help to their clients so they don’t have to go to them. They provide their clients with warm clothes, food, candy, condoms and safer drug supplies. At The Crossroads emphasizes meeting their clients where they are and not pushing them into anything they aren’t ready for emotionally and physically. The only person that is going to make that person change is himself or herself.
Learning about At the Crossroads shed a new light on the issue of homelessness and what some alternative solutions to this issue are. Lauren was a great closer for the peace studies trip!
Early Thursday morning (October 3rd), after waking up and having a nice breakfast at the Truebloods' house, a speaker named Laura Magnani came to educate our class on the brutality in and around our country's prison systems.
The start to our discussion concerning these issues began after filling out a questionnaire regarding how many people we believe to be in Californian prisons and whether or not there have been laws set in place to help change the system we now have. Once finishing the questionnaire, Lauren supplied us with accurate statistics stating there are currently around 80,000 people being held in long term isolation nationwide and over 14,000 of the inmates in long term isolation are in California. Lauren also explained how in the past thirty years, incarceration levels have sextupled, and that the U.S. Supreme Court has recently required California to reduce its prison population by 35- 40,000 by the end of this year (2013). After learning this, I began to wonder: if over 35,000 people can be dropped out of the system on a whim, why are so many people in the prisons if there are is no need for them to be? I concluded that there is little if any need for so many individuals to be kept in a cage for our safety, and that prisoners are really a form of currency, which is explained by the entire mean of privately owned prisons. For example, privately owned prisons are constantly receiving tax money for providing space for criminals to reside, but also from states violating their contracts with the prisons, which state that that particular prison must be fully occupied by “residents” (prisoners), and if not the government is to pay them for the empty rooms. This then in return causes cops to feel pressured by the government to pick more people off the streets and charge them with silly things that add up and soon leads them to court, where there too a judge may be feeling inclined to resort to a longer prison sentencing than needed so the organization writing his or her paycheck comes from (the government) will be pleased by the judges action of helping to prevent more money going out the door in the long term. Resulting with around 35,000 people charged to serve too long of a sentencing in bars for their minor offence.
Throughout this workshop, we also discussed how ironic it is that while the funding for prisons has increased, the funding for higher education has decreased. I find this rather humorous that the one system set in place to help all individuals improve their lives so that they won’t have to resort to working on the streets and taking part in illegal activities to obtain enough money to sustain life is becoming harder to afford, as well as receiving less funding from the government to help improve it. I believe if the government were to care more for the welfare of individuals in our country rather than simply hoping to obtaining more wealth, it would become very apparent that if more money would be spent toward improving education systems, the affect would trickle down into improving all walks of life and leave our country with a lesser need for providing prisons with money to help support the lives of so many unnecessary prisoners.
Overall, I really enjoyed this workshop lead by Laura. I appreciated learning about the reasons for our current prisons from her point of view, rather than the position traditionally taught in classrooms saying how wonderful everything is since all criminals are located in one central area away from law abiding citizens.
Additional facts discussed during our workshop:
Alcohol is the number one cause of deaths yet we still focus on the little things that aren’t legal and lock people up for whatever it may be
There currently aren’t systems set in place to help inmates being released adapt to the real world so they don’t pick up old habits that are familiar to them again
Many prisoners are placed in solitary confinement for days, weeks, months and years at a time with little to no interaction with people
Recently, there has been a number of hunger strikes for simple things like hats in the winter, calendars with pictures, as well as larger issues such as being locked up in solitary confinement for gang affiliation
Books and movies recommended:
Beyond Prisons (book)
Brew Baker (movie)
On Saturday September 23, many Woolman students and staff made their way to multiple locations along the Yuba River to participate in a day of restoration and clean-up. Over 500 other local volunteers also joined the effort and the entire day of service resulted in the removal of over 11,450 pounds of trash and recyclables from the Yuba and Bear River watersheds. In the afternoon rain and hail began to fall from the sky, yet our students insisted on completing a full day of work. In addition to the clean-up, Woolman community members participated in a stone-skipping contest and got to know many of the friendly residents of Nevada County.
Read more about this day of service here.
Pictures from the Yuba River Clean-Up
All photos provided by Oz Willett.
As a part of their Environmental Science course, Woolman students left campus in mid-September and headed for the Bay Area where they spent a week on their Food Intensive trip, one meant to expand and challenge their views about food systems. They visited farms that practice social responsibility, natural agriculture, medium-scale organic farming, and permaculture design. In addition, we saw distribution hubs, experimental feedlots, a seed repository, and GMO labs.
Places visited: Bi-Rite Creamery, Swanton Berry Farms, Shumei Santa Cruz Farm, Berkeley Farmer's Market, Veritable Vegetable, Regenerative Design Institute, Santa Rosa Heirloom Festival, UC Davis' Feedlot, The National Clonal Germplasm Repository, The Jelly Belly Factory, Seed Biotechnology Center at UC Davis, & Full Belly Farms.
Farmers markets are a sensory experience. As you walk down a closed off street you smell mint and basil from one stand while you gaze at the gorgeous ripe red apples on your right. As you continue there are samples of garlic cheese and pesto cheese to your left and a person ahead of you handing out samples of a melon you have never heard of before. Not to mention it is crowded and busy with people buying fresh veggies for dinner that night. On our Food Intensive last week this was precisely the scene and we fit right in. We ran from stand to stand quickly trying to plan a dish for the meal that night. We were split up into groups and given $40 per group to plan and make a dish.
At first my group was going to make small pizzas. There was a fresh bread stand and fresh tomatoes and cheeses. It seemed logical. But after bumping into other groups and realizing that at least three of four groups were doing the same thing, we decided to go with something a little different, a smoothie. We went to the Full Belly Farms stand and talked with the man handing out samples for a while about what would make a good smoothie. We settled on watermelon, grapes, and the melon that we had never heard of before along with the strawberries we had picked the day before. As we traveled from stand to stand we learned about their practices and ethics of their farms. We asked questions about how honeybees were treated at the honey stand and about workers and systems used at Full Belly Farms.
I have never been let loose in a farmers market and told to plan a meal before. It was a new experience for me to have to plan out what I wanted to make out of what was offered at the market. We thought of ideas like pasta and burgers, but where are you going to find burgers in a farmers market? It is a learned skill to be able to make something out of what you have and starting in a place where the options are plentiful was helpful.
Last week, students arrived home to Woolman after a whirlwind Food Intensive. We'll be publishing their reflections over the next few days. Here, Whealon Costello writes about their first stop: Swanton Berry Farms.
Right now my stomach is full of strawberries along with all the stomachs of my fellow students and mentors on the food intensive trip. The juicy red beauties were once in a box in my hands and before that they were on one of the Swanton Farm’s raised beds. Most strawberry farmers don’t use raised beds because they lower the amount of space that can be planted. Swanton used raised beds to protect the backs of their berry farmers who they treat incredibly well for any agricultural business. We were given a tour of the farm and the opportunity to pick berries by a man who said himself that strawberries are a ridiculous thing to grow. They taste good but they have few natural defenses and are susceptible to most problems that can affect small weak berry plants.
The most notorious strawberry pest is called versilian wilt and it can live in soil, killing plants, for up to 25 years. To deal with this humans have been fumigating crops with methyl bromide, a neurotoxin that the U.S developed during the second World War to kill people. Unfortunately along with killing people, it rips apart our atmosphere’s ozone layer. It’s no fun for anyone, especially workers who are spraying it.
By some miracle, the founders of Swanton found a perfect alternative. Broccoli gets rid of versilian wilt with its own natural defences and if it’s planted in rotation with strawberries it can protect them without the use of poison gas. In 1987 they became the first certified organic strawberry farm in California.
The berries are delicious and organic, which is great, but that’s only a small part of what Swanton does. Their primary focus is workers' rights. As I said before, raised beds are used so that strawberry pickers don’t have to bend over far to reach berries. The farmers are also paid by the hour which is rare for strawberry pickers. In traditional agriculture, pickers are paid for how much they pick, which pushes them to work harder than is healthy. On average people can only go for about six years like that before they can’t keep up and get fired. When pickers are paid by the hour they can put more focus into the quality of the berries they choose to pick and can take better care of themselves. Swanton workers are also paid above minimum wage, given health care benefits and a small retirement plan as well as the right to unionize. Swanton became the first organic farm to join the United Farm Workers Union in 1998.
It may be a little while before I can eat more berries or more of anything. My mouth is red and I feel like a strawberry pie balloon. I would like to sincerely thank Swanton Berry Farms for this feeling and Bear for the wonderful tour. Organic strawberries are the only ones I’ll be eating from now on and I’m happy for it.
Our Woolman community is only a microcosm of this vast, ever-changing world. Yet in our garden and orchard, in our classrooms and at our tables, we strive to build a community that can embody and model the transformation that we so desperately need. Our pursuit is not solely about advocating for solutions, or understanding injustice. It is about becoming—creating the change that we wish to see beneath our feet and in our hearts. We are, quite literally, working together to live a dream.
This dream has brought many new faces to the Woolman community this semester: twelve interns, three teachers, and twenty-five students with a diversity of experiences, yet distinct commonalities that seem to have drawn us to this place. There is Jennifer, our Peace Studies teacher who has arrived after teaching English and Youth Activism in The Bahamas. She came “…to live and teach resistance and dreaming simultaneously, with reality as a firm foundation to stand upon while imagining, reaching towards, and believing that another world is possible.” She sees Woolman as an institution that will give her a platform to do exactly this.
And then there is Valentine: a seventeen year-old Quaker from the Big Island of Hawaii who arrived here in mid-August elated to receive an education that aligned with his values. “Woolman has been eye-opening,” he says. “The classes are so different from those I would be taking back home… I’m so much more engaged.” Valentine was tired of the rote memorization and endless “busy work” that were characteristic of his schooling prior to his trek down Woolman Lane.
Many of our students, faculty and staff have come here out of a deep need to leave schools and workplaces where competition and conformity are valued over connection and authenticity. And when a teacher yearning for the liberty to provide an emancipatory education meets a student with hunger to move beyond normative schooling and understand his ability to shape the world around him, magic happens, and both begin an ascent towards a common dream.
When we arrive here, we bring with us the baggage of past struggle—trauma that has left us wounded, and forced us to forget some of our dreams. At Woolman, we not only create the space to process life’s trials, but so often we come to the revelation that our personal pain is shared—not indicative of deficiency within ourselves, but representative of social ills much larger. The weight of our baggage then begins to lighten, and we start to dream again—of a world restored.
Every day we live out this dream. As we grow our own food and address conflict by striving to comprehend our common, genuine, human needs, we stride forward together to build a peaceful, just, and sustainable community, where all take responsibility for the healing of each and every community member. And when our graduates return home, they bring the spirit and dream of Woolman with them.
Photo of Intern Program Coordinators Sophie Brinker and Graham Borgman. Taken by Heather Livingston.
David Dean is a life-long Quaker and recent graduate of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He has just begun a nine-month internship at Woolman where he will be teaching a class about Social Movements, providing assistance in the school's Peace Studies course, working as a writer in the Office of Outreach, and helping with a multitude of other community-related tasks. David spends his summers directing a basketball-centered youth empowerment program on the Crow Indian Reservation called Unity Hoops. He loves to write, create, learn and facilitate others' discovery of their own inherent goodness and power to make positive change in their lives and communities.
In Environmental Science, students have been investigating the ingredients in the foods they eat. As Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin famously said: "Tell me what you eat and I'll tell you who you are." However, we have entered an age where we don't know what we're eating. Two students, Kelly Flannery and Emily DePol, created this commercial and poster after finding out what is in their lunchables. Bon appétit!
Video at: https://www.facebook.com/woolmansemester
It is my pleasure to kick off the first of many Fall '13 blog posts with student poems written in Peace Studies class! Here is "Broken and Then Put Together" by Rebecca Ross.
Broken and Then Put Together
Here is to the broken.
The bikes that can’t be fixed,
People who get made fun of for being mixed,
To the children who are ten, but want to be twenty-six,
Starving FOR. THEIR. INDEPENDENCE.
Here is to the broken.
The old ladies whose shaking hands can’t knit,
The household wives that get hit,
The drummers who have stopped their drumming,
To the people who keep running,
And the nightmares that keep coming,
Because they don’t know how to face the monsters IN. THEIR. DREAMS.
Here is to the broken.
The freaks who feel ashamed,
The innocent who get blamed,
The teenagers called “lame.”
For the butterfly with one wing,
Struggling to fly.
Here is to the puzzle piece that cannot find it’s right fit,
And the person who is about to give up,
Here is to the whole.
The babies who are biters,
To the brave who are igniters,
We need those humans that start great fires,
Because the flame MUST. CATCH. SOMEHOW.
Here is to the whole.
The non-stop believers
To the kindergarten class full of beamers,
The college kids who call their parents on the phone,
The lucky one who wins the wishbone.
To the lonely ones who figure out they aren’t really alone.
Because we are NEVER. REALLY. ALONE.
Here is to the whole.
The ones who get back up after they fall,
The trees that grow tall.
For the go-getters,
The boys and girls who know better,
To handwritten letters.
You open the box, the pieces spill out,
First the corners,
Then the colors,
And last the sides.
Every piece has a purpose.
Family Workcamp 2013 brought together 75 or more people of varying sizes, ages, talents, and temperaments. For many who come every summer, the week is a reunion of sorts, and campers who first came as children now bring their own. Newcomers come from all around—this year Finland and Ireland were the most distant workcamper homes. Projects were wide ranging—painting the meetinghouse/library, building a mobile shower unit, shaping a small amphitheatre and stage, further improvements on the pond swimming area, clearing the irrigation ditch, working in the garden, building a cob bench… there was something for everyone. We worked, as usual, in intergenerational work groups during the morning, relaxed, swam, read, roamed in the afternoons, played soccer and sang in the evenings. All shared in preparation and cleanup at meal times. Much was done, but the camp has an air of spaciousness, time for easy conversation, developing new and old friendships, enjoying kids, elders, the friendly cows, thebirds, the dark, dark nights, the quiet.
Once called the “best kept Quaker secret”, the family camp is now widely known and bursting at the seams. But it will continue, adjusting to growth, new patterns and new directions as needed, holding at the same time to what brings many of us back every year: a unique atmosphere of service in joint work, caring community, intergenerational learning, and fresh movement of the spirit. We all seem to discover something more of what we are, and might be.We left with gratitude to one another and to Sierra Friends Center, looking forward to our return next year.