Woolman Blog

by Jennifer Stone, Peace Studies Teacher - September 6, 2013

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,



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,

But doesn’t.


Here is to the whole.

The fighters,

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

The dreamers,

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,

Sort them,

First the corners,

Then the colors,

And last the sides.

Every piece has a purpose.

by Jim Anderson, Family Work Camp Coordinator - June 30, 2013


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.




by Yasha Magarik, Community Intern - June 28, 2013

The Woolman Farm is in the lull of midsummer, after the annual crops have been planted but before most of them are ready for harvest. Besides trellising tomatoes, monitoring irrigation systems, and regular weeding, the newer parts of the garden are mostly waiting. Meanwhile, we find ourselves with time to catch up on other garden projects. The two days of rain earlier this week not only invigorated our parched land; it also gave us the opportunity to help Maggie, our Garden Manager, begin planning curricula for the fall and to start many of the seedlings for later season crops, like fennel, leeks and millet. On Tuesday interns researched the viability of laying hens, identified new tools to buy with money from our recent Whole Foods grant, and reorganized our seed storage system.

We also have a short window of time to care for our perennials and the sections of the garden associated with them. Last week, with help from Family Work Camp, significant progress was made on finishing the cob bench in our Edible Forest Garden. Speaking of the EFG (as we’ve affectionately dubbed it), the edible plants are out in force. Berries both familiar (strawberries and alpine strawberries) and strange (gooseberries, mulberries, and black raspberries) have popped out all over the garden; the grapes seem to have benefited from extreme pruning and even the Lappin cherries that we grafted in March have taken off. Now is a time of both bounty and expectation; it’s exciting to ponder how much progress our garden makes in a single year--and also comforting how firmly the cycles within each year assert themselves.

by Emily Zionts, Global Issues Teacher - June 18, 2013


A couple of months ago, I decided to leave my teaching position at Woolman. After 4 years of teaching Global Issues, (nearly two years of teaching Peace Studies), plus all of the pizza cooking, adventuring, hiking, gardening, advising, and more that goes into living here--words cannot express what a difficult choice that was. But in the end, I know it is time.


There were a lot of factors leading to this decision, none of which are easily explained. So, for now, I am processing with gratitude, what has been truly the most amazing and absolutely most challenging experience of my life.


My heart is overflowing with love for the time that I have spent on this beautiful piece of land; with it’s prolific wildlife, kind and quirky residents, the wise and generous wider Woolman community, and most of all—each and every Wombat who has rolled through here since Fall 2009. Whether as teacher, head, staff, intern, or student—all of you have given and taught me more than you can know.


It is hard to imagine anything being more fulfilling than sitting in a class under peace flags and an Adbusters corporate flag of America…discussing the roots of apathy, the effects of immigration policy, the purpose of education, visioning a more just and sustainable world and coming to an understanding that each of our unique gifts are needed to get there.


It is hard to imagine working with adults that bring as much dedication and intention to what they do, while making it fun as heck, as the staff at Woolman does.


Or in a school system that truly sees each youth in their care (gifts, challenges, individuality, and wisdom) and holds them with such deep respect and accountability.


Or with youth who value authenticity, adventurousness, compassion, and the fabulous quirkiness each of us has, over the superficial crap that teens are told to care about.


It’s hard to imagine finding a life where every task you do feels like it contributes to the larger revolution.  


But, its time for me to take the advice that I have been giving graduating classes for the past 8 semesters: Woolman is both a place and a family. It is a school in the Sierra Foothills and also model for living what you believe, no matter where you are.


In order for Woolman to succeed as a model for the new paradigm (and not just an idealistic bubble), it is clear that we need to take what we have gained here out into other places of the world.


I am facing a lot of unknowns in my life as I move forward, but I can thank Woolman for one thing that I have come to know clearly. Through this place, these people, and this wacky class we place under the name of Global Issues—I have found my calling.


I now see myself as an educator for The Great Turning. To me, that means my task is to help people come to understand this unique time in human history—with all of its opportunities and challenges. I hope to work with others to analyze how we came to be facing these social and environmental crises, while introducing them to the myriad of exciting and inspiring solutions that are already occurring worldwide (and visioning alternatives that don’t yet exist, too!).  Most importantly, I would love to continue the work of facilitating skills for getting active and helping people to see that their unique gifts can be used joyfully for creating a better world.


The challenging part is that, to my knowledge, it doesn’t really exist in this form yet outside of a "tiny think tank in the Nevada City woods"! This is what has led me to pursue a PhD in Sustainability Education through Prescott College. The program which starts in August for me, describes Sustainability Education as "education at the intersection of ecology, economics, and social justice" (so similar to Global Issues!). The PhD caters to non-traditional career goals and will ideally equip me to create another incarnation of the work that is done at Woolman, an education program facilitating skills and values that are relevant to this very unique time in history. 


...Or, who knows? Maybe I will become a doctor (of philosophy), come back and be the next Ted Menmuir! (the amazing man who started as the John Woolman School history teacher, took a break, was head of school at least three times, and then returned again as art teacher for several years!) We'll see. Until then, I look forward to coming back to visit here, ushering in my replacement (ANOTHER University for Peace, Peace Education graduate!!!!), and utilizing the wealth of wisdom that I have gained at Woolman to continue teaching, learning, and living what I believe! Thanks everyone! 


Love, Peace, and Global Solidarity,


by Leda Stinson, Student Spring 2013 - June 3, 2013


I learned many new and fascinating things on the Food Intensive. It gave me new views and perspectives.

After talking to Kent Bradford, a “pro GMO” guy who works at UC Davis, my perspective of “pro GMO” people completely changed. I had always believed that anyone who was rooting for more GMO seeds to be distributed, must be a selfish, heartless person who didn’t care about future generations. But talking to Bradford made me rethink this assumption. He seemed to genuinely care for my generation, and feeding the world years to come. Now I wonder if most “pro GMO” people are just doing what they think is the best way to improve the world. To me, GMO crops and seeds are incredibly scary, the research that seems most obvious to me states that people really do not know how GMO food affects our bodies, the environment, or even really how to control it. But the folks on the other side of the spectrum have studies that state the opposite.

As I realize that most people might actually be working towards the same goal, I wonder how we (the many different approaches) could come together, hear each other’s ideas and thinking, and create a plan to save that world that makes everyone happy. Of course, this sounds very basic and almost silly, the ol’ “let’s all be friends” plan, but I’m saying we all have to be friends. I’m just asking if everyone could be more open minded to other peoples thinking and reasoning. And sometimes “basic” is the best way to go about solving something.

The other thing that the Food Intensive has left me pondering is the HUGE power food holds. It may sound like I am stating the obvious, which I am. But during the tours of farms and gardens I always found myself wondering how much money it had taken to start the place. I started to think about the different diets of the people in my community at home, and my peers at Woolman. The people with more money might eat crappy food, but they had the option not to. People with less money who might even want to eat wholesome food, often cannot, because of price. Food is money, power, life. Of course I have known this all my life, but I suppose the starkness had never hit me.

Food seems like such a basic human right, how is it instead a commodity that some have more than enough while others have nothing? I wonder what it take for all people to view food as a right, instead of something for people who have money.

The Food Intensive was an educational and fun packed adventure. I look forward to learning more about most of the subjects that we touched on during the trip. We talked to many interesting and intriguing people, I know I will continue to think about what they had to say for a long time.

by Emily Zionts, Global Issues Teacher - June 3, 2013

This semester's slideshow includes even more amazing shots than normal since quite a few students were photographers---watching this helps people outside Woolman get an authentic taste for the experience. Enjoy! Thanks to the students and staff that donated photos!

Click on the screen shot below!

by Haley Jackson, student Spring 2013 - June 1, 2013


Nicole and I decided to work together and create an outdoor classroom for our sustainability project. We thought it would be so wonderful to be able to have class outdoors, increasing our engagement, focus and happiness levels along the way!

We chose the space next to the Arbor House, where we have class. There is already an arbor in place, with beautiful grape vines growing up it. We pruned the grape vines for longevity and more potential fruit and shade in the future, and mulched the ground to prevent mud and weeds underfoot. We created a rock garden bed on one side of the classroom, filling it with lavender, a natural deer-resistant plant. We thought that a mini garden would bring class engagement to a greater level, as students learn to connect what they are learning with the world. We also built four Leopold benches, a simple, convenient, light-weight, durable design perfect for an outdoor setting. We painted the benches light blue and purple, and they contribute immensely to the cheerful , aesthetically- pleasing learning atmosphere we are trying to create. We have a whiteboard hung up on a wall for use during school hours, and also for potential night time movie showings.

We are so excited to bring this classroom to Woolman. I think it will greatly contribute to future students learning experiences and appreciation of the school's ethic of hands-on, experiential education. 

by Charlotte Prud'homme, student Spring 2013 - May 31, 2013


Although much different from what I thought it would turn out to be, the Food Intensive was in fact my favorite trip. Sure, we got to eat our weight in the reddest, juiciest, most flavorful strawberries you could imagine and got to the beach a couple times in Santa Cruz, but it was also the people we met and how passionate they were about what they were doing that made the difference. Not only were they super willing to spend time with us and give us a tour, but just by watching them speak you could see that there was a light inside them for pursuing and furthering whatever project they were working towards because they wanted to, not because it was their job. 


In the hottest, driest of afternoons, with Jacob's repetitive chorus playing in the background, “drink water, keep drinking water”, we were united in wanting to be exactly where we were. Although we were crammed in the Suburbans like sardines with moldy wet beach clothes, we also had abundant citrus fruits rolling around our feet and lucious strawberries flying around the car when we hit a bump. With a little sunlight shining through the windows and Sophie Brinker’s iPod the car rides were as smooth as the ocean we drove by. I think my favorite place was everywhere. But, I especially liked the oceanside Swanton Berry Farm, with their bright yellow 1950’s pickup truck and their cute little farmhouse with goodies and gushy fruit jams inside. Bear, our tour guide, taught me more about berries in one hour then I ever could have known in a lifetime..but he also touched on really interesting issues like California’s water laws in the “wild wild west” and the migrant farm rights that Swanton tries to uphold to the highest standard. 


I also loved People’s Grocery and James...why shouldn't we be growing food in empty lots? What other way could we possibly be more efficient for the well-being of our communities?


I picked some of the biggest fava beans of my life (about the length of my forearm!) and walked around touring the fish pond, bees, greenhouse, and outdoor kitchen. I think that because its really working to feed people, it made me feel like their work was important and that more people should be doing it.


It made me think of a TED talk about a Guerilla Gardener in LA, growing an edible forrest garden in the suburbs, and the internship I might do this summer at Brooklyn Grange (rooftop gardening) in NYC. There are so many endless ways to contribute positive energy to the growing grow your own food movement. One of the women there who I was picking fava beans with asked me why I came to Woolman, and I explained my whole shpeil about being outside, alternative education, global issues, etc..but as I was talking to her, I realized that with only a month left in the semester I had a completely new reason I wanted to be here learning. I’ve developed a knowledge of food systems (asides from watching Food Inc.) and a passion to study and make change for food systems, distribution, injustices and gaps in what kind of nutrition we are exactly putting into our mouths everyday! 

by AJ Sonmonu, Spring 2013 student - May 29, 2013


The People's Grocery is an urban farm in West Oakland. West Oakland is notoriously noted for gang violence and its low income and food deserts. Food deserts are dominant in low income neighborhoods across America. It is when these neighborhoods have no access to healthy affordable foods, but rather to unhealthy cheap processed foods. This has a negative impact on the residents of these neighborhoods because they are usually unfit and unhealthy. The people's grocery is counteracting this with their urban farms and has replaced liquor stores with food markets.  People's Grocery helps residents build healthy connections to food, the land and each other. Their urban farms offer affordable healthy food to the residents. In addition, they hold community building events such as block barbeque parties and movie nights. As a result of this, vandalism has dropped in the neighborhood and so has litter. Overall, the residents of West Oakland are much healthier and happier.

When I visited Swanton Berry Farm, I was amazed. As a city boy, I had never been to a farm prior to coming to California, nor did I know how berries were grown in beds. The Swanton Berry farm is on the Pacific Coast in Santa Cruz, California. They grow a diverse range of organic berries such as, Bossin Berries, Loola Berries and of course my favorite of the berries, Strawberries. Originally, Swanton Berry farm started up as an activist project to show the agriculture industry how to farm berries organically while offering their worker great benefits, both which have rarely been done in the agriculture industry. Strawberries are extremely hard to farm due to their susceptible weak nature and they way that they are prone to pests and diseases.

The Farm realized that if you introduce a rotation of broccoli, it kills the strawberry's most ferocious pests and diseases. Most of the farm laborers are seasonal farm workers who come from Mexico and receive no rights or labor law protections. The farm introduced an hourly rate wage system for their workers which had never been done in the agriculture industry. They felt this was necessary even though they saw a drastic drop in their production. Remarkably, they saw an increase in the quality of the berries being picked as compared to when workers were paid on how much berries they picked. Workers would pick berries that were not ready just so they can earn more money. In addition, Swaton Berry Farm offers their workers a wide range of benefits such as health care, vacation days, sick days and of course free berry. During the tour, the instructor Bear talked about the water laws on the west coast and how lucrative they are. Cities like Los Angles own the water right of aquifers miles away. This shows me how water is a necessity for organic farms like Swaton Berry Farm. 

by Rachel Leader, student Spring 2013 - May 27, 2013


While there are more than 51,000 dairy farms across America and far more than that across the globe, the extraction of methane biogas from animal manure and other wastes still remains a relatively overlooked source of bio-fuel. In reality, the great potential of anaerobic digesters, also known as methane digesters, is far-reaching in that they have the capability to harness methane for heating, cooking, and even electrical purposes! This regenerative cycle is tangibly interconnected and thus ensures the health of not only the earth, but also human farming communities, the cows, and even the air.  Of course, this process alone cannot sustain a regenerative system, however it certainly can be used as a crucial component. Furthermore, due to the destructive implications of extracting fossil fuels, the construction and use of simple methane digesters certainly offers an accessible alternative for many family homesteads, community farms, and even large-scale dairy operations.

Thus, for my sustainability project I built a methane digester – a simple system to harness biogas from the anaerobic breakdown of manure and other organic wastes. The sump digester design – which is the design I followed - is perhaps the simplest and cheapest methane digester model. It requires nothing more than two plastic drum-barrels and a simple gas collection system if needed. The digester feeds into a Bunsen burner attachment and could be potentially used as a food cooker of sorts! The slurry input that is injected into the digester is a water and waste mixture. After the slurry stops giving off significant gas, the manure can be used back in the garden as fantastic fertilizer!

Because anaerobic digester require heat to catalyze the chemical breakdown reactions that fuel the production of methane gas, digester systems are kept in hot environments for ideal efficiency. Thus, the environmental temperature of the digester is positively proportional to the rate at which gas it produced. In general, a digester at about 130, 100, and 70 degrees Fahrenheit will generate maximum gas after 3-7 days, 2-3 weeks, and 1-2 months, respectively. Thus the digester that I built is located in the greenhouse.

Although this sustainability project was largely experimental, the overarching implications of methane digester are exciting and practical in that it represents a viable and sustainable alternative. Digesters offer cheap (free, even!) methane that can be used for a variety of purposes and furthermore offer invaluable educational and hands-on experiences.           

by Rachel Leader, student Spring 2013 - May 25, 2013


On our last full day of our week-long food intensive, we visited the Regenerative Design Institute, a learning and training center that aims to foster the spiritual, intellectual, and practical growth of budding farmers. James, our tour guide, introduced us to their secluded farm land – featuring pregnant goats, chickens, a large greenhouse, a solar hot water heating system, a cob oven, a solar dehydrator, a cozy moon tent, an outdoor kitchen, adobe huts, permaculture gardens, and so much more! In stark contrast with some of the other workshops we attended, RDI emphasized the potential of inspired, local farms to transform the American food industry and ultimately promote a healthier and more gratifying food access model for future generations.

 Furthermore, we received an unexpected visitor who proved to be one of the most thoughtful, beautiful, and uplifting people I have ever met. M. Kalani – a middle-aged man who works within the system to sustain indigenous Hawaiian culture – spoke to us as we sat attentive next to the buzzing irrigation pond. He spoke charismatically, urged us to honor our own individuality while recognizing that we are all unique. In this way, we are all the same. If we speak our own personal truths loud and clear, trusting our inner guidance and respecting the world around us, we will find peace and overwhelming satisfaction. If we don’t … “our truth will bite us in the ass!” In the words of Kalani, “We are God’s of our universe, however our universe only extends to the tips of our fingers.” In this way, our individual power is infinite while simultaneously finite. We must take action wisely, respecting the interconnectedness of all the universes. Thus, we would do well to approach the wider world in the least offensive way possible. Most importantly, however, we must show compassion. Only once we open ourselves up and let our truth be heard, can we truly extend our hearts with clarity, integrity and authenticity.


by Mariana Lachiusa, student spring 2013 - May 23, 2013


You’re walking down a forest path...using your fox walk...or maybe it’s a panther walk type day...and a strange animal crosses your path...you wonder what it could be and wish you had a handy neighborhood field guide: THIS is what brought me to create one!

What motivated me to make a field guide specific to Woolman’s campus is my own love of identifying and appreciating wildlife and my want for a deeper understanding and connection with the land and those who inhabit it. Jon Young said:

“People who get really into the art of tracking and nature study find their views of life shifting dramatically, and a lot of paradigms change. When viewed from the other side, these will be poetic, wonderful, beautiful experiences, realizations, and shifts in your perception and outlook on things.”

This quote of his is what I strived to create for the people who will use this field guide in the future. The course of action I took in creating my field guide was a relatively straight forward approach; I first compiled a list of all the possible species to be found on campus with help from Jacob and Yasha. After determining there are about 250 species of flora and fauna on campus I began handing out 3 species per student as a class assignment and did 26 of my own. Then I did research with other field guides and the internet for each species.

Included in each entry was the following information:

  • Size (length, height)
  • Identifying characteristics: feathers, fur, leaves, bark, fruit, color, etc.
  • Location sighted on campus
  • Predator or prey
  • Perennial, annual
  • Poisonous/venomous, medicinal/edible qualities
  • Migrating/mating habits
  • Photos/sketches and the Latin name aka the binomial nomenclature.

By including the students and community (a community members’ daughter Althea also did 2 entries on fungus!) the project has become more meaningful and genuine, as well as more specific to campus and the people who would be using the field guide.

The next and final step was to compile all of the entries into a binder that I made a cover for and to laminate all the pages, so that if they are taken out for hikes they are not totally destroyed. Although I did not finish all 250 species as I wanted, I did end up with around 75-80 completed entries and fixed up a place to put them. I have laid the foundation for a future student to add onto and expand this field guide to also include plants from the Woolman garden, none of which I included.  

Though it was challenging and certainly time-consuming, this project I have found to be the perfect amount of challenge and extremely satisfying. In one of the letters to the land, a student from the 60s wrote they wished there was a place where all the wildlife was mapped out and that they could contribute to it, so I feel pleased that I have finally fulfilled that need for students past, present, and those soon to come.

by Sonja Feinberg, student Spring 2013 - May 22, 2013


The Global Issues class has truly been a journey.  From discussing what makes an activist, to learning about hard issues, to exploring what is being done in the world, this class is a constant chance to collect and alter my beliefs in order to become who I want to be in the world.  It cannot always be a teacher’s responsibility to show me what is wrong on our planet, and I have now been given the tools to learn for myself.  When there is no one to hand me a sheet of paper filled with links to websites that fight for change, I now have the initiative to find those organizations myself.  I feel confident that I have gained enough knowledge to make informed decisions about what movements I think will make change, and which ones could use more work, hopefully by me.  This class has not taught me how to be a “good citizen,” but has given me the tools to be aware and passionate about the kind of citizen I strive to be.

In the earliest stages of discussing hard issues, we were assigned to portray slavery in the chocolate and coffee industries.  This was really my first chance to decide how I would want to get a message out.  I was able to evaluate my skills and realize that for me, interactive work is what I do best, such as making edible art.  I loved getting to bake a Fair-Trade chocolate coffee cake that not only contained quotes from the article, but was shaped like Africa to portray the immensity of this problem, and could be eaten by all.  I was able to improve my communicating of a message through speech when we discussed sweatshops, and the Great Turning Trip inspired me to think thoroughly about the kind of change I want to see.  Through all of these units I was able to decide for myself what kind of activism I want, and what that looks like.

From this class I have been able to identify three personal steps I want to take in order to make change: 1) identify the problem, 2) evaluate what is already being done for change, and 3) decide how my personal strength can help support and create that change.  Units such as Modern Slavery and Sweetshops have given me strength to look into the world and finds what’s wrong, because it’s worth it to know.  I cannot be ignorant, for the ignorance is a constant thorn in my side reminding me I’m not the citizen I want to be.  I have learned that I can’t jump straight to the physical acts of making change, unless I thoroughly understand what it is I am changing.  I also can’t try to change one situation unless I understand as much as possible the others systems that surround and interact with that problem.

Once I feel knowledgeable about the problem, I am inspired to see what is already being done (step 2).  I have learned from this class that it is worth investigating the organizations and individuals out there already making change.  I don’t have to go in on a problem alone, and once I find my niche I think I can make the most change from, I can slide into step three.  I have learned that if I want to make change for others, while still maintaining my own health and happiness, I have to use my strengths.  Such as baking for the Chocolate unit, or public speaking for my final project on Love, I have do the sort of activism that feels right to me, even if I have to make up a new way of doing so that has never been done.

by Patrianna Anderson, Student Spring 2013 - May 21, 2013

We woke up early one morning, our bags packed and ready to load into the three Woolman vehicles. After a 6:45 am breakfast and the most efficient packing of food, luggage, and students this whole semester, we made our way up Woolman Lane and on to Davis. Before arriving at UC Davis, I had been told that today I would meet people who would shape the argument against my beliefs on genetically modified seeds/plants and the environmental impact a feedlot has on the planet. Both Jerry, the feed lot manager, and Kent Bradford, the head of plant reproductive studies, believed whole heartedly that GMOs and feedlots: conventional farming and agriculture are the solutions to feeding America and the world.

I hold a separate view:

What if instead of just looking at the quantity of food we are able to grow through mass production and additives (GMO, hormones, etc…)...

we started focusing on health (what is actually going into our bodies, what eating disorders, chemicals, and diseases are we feeding America), the importance of connection with the soil and the power a heritage seed holds?

What would the food industry look like? Would it even be an industry anymore?

Jerry, the feed lot manager, shared with us the difference between a grass-fed cow and the conventional raising of a cow. He believes that a grass fed cow is more damaging to the environment, because of the time it takes for that cow to mature, vs. a conventional cow. He said that was including the transportation of corn from all over the United States to feed and the CO2 emitted from the cow, and all the energy used in the process.

After the food intensive I was left with many conflicting ideas and questions:

What needs to change for organic farming to be the answer to the food shortage?

When will our culture shift its values?

What can I do to eat food that was grown according to my moral conviction? 

by Jack Walsh, student Spring 2013 - May 20, 2013


Before modern preservation methods such as refrigeration and freeze-drying, drying fruit was a means of preserving fruits for long periods of time – making it a choice food among travelers who needed the nutritional properties of fruits, but also were faced with problems in preventing food from spoiling.  In today’s world, fast and efficient methods of transporting fresh foods have reduced the necessity of dried fruit for much of the world; however a key component of Woolman’s philosophy is making a conscious effort to eat foods that are local and sustainably grown. This puts the school in somewhat of a dilemma during the spring semester when fresh local fruits are not in season and thus in fruit options being limited for the most part to preserves and sauces made with fruits from the orchard, and apples and oranges grown on the other side of the planet. 

The solar dehydrator that I built for my sustainability project seeks to solve this problem by drying fruits which will provide students in future semesters with healthy, delicious and more varied options of fruit.  Although drying fruit with a traditional sun-drying rack has been attempted and failed in the past, I have adapted my design so that rather than using direct solar rays, a dehydrator only uses the heat produced from these rays, making it possible for fruit to be dried even on cloudy days.  Its shape similar to a beehive, my design consists of a wooden box with multiple removable horizontal cloth screens upon which the fruit is placed.  Attached to this box is the solar collector which consists of a ramp-like box with a black painted bottom and a clear glass or plastic top.  The sides of the solar collector adjacent and opposite to the ground are open so as to allow air flow.  The solar dehydrator is based off of the principle that warm air rises – hence the design of the solar collector which forces warm air to flow into the box where the fruit is stored.  Woolman also has a very hot and dry climate which will help speed the drying process immensely. 

Building the sustainability project required a lot of hours, materials, and physical work, and involved its fair share of both trials and tribulations.  Ultimately, the work and dedication paid off and I can say that I am proud of the final product.  My only regret is that I will not be at Woolman at harvest season to enjoy the fruits of my labors.

by AJ Sonmonu, Spring 2013 student - May 20, 2013

All through my stay at Woolman I have been educated on social as well as environmental issues occurring throughout the world even here in America. This especially rang true in Global Issues class, where one week after the other we learned about crises happening around the world. At first it was very sad, but towards the middle of the semester we began to analyze non-violent resistance movements and their work to end these malpractices. As a class we learned about alternative economic systems that are inclusive, rather than exclusive such as: Time Banks, Co-Ops and urban farms.  What surprised me was that not only did these systems function efficiently, but also were used as a means of building community. What really impressed me was, the way people took initiative and created a world that they wanted to live in. 

The week where we read from the book "Walk Out, Walk On" really helped me to understand direct activism. The citizens of Zimbabwe and Santo, Brazil virtually were receiving little to no help from their government and instead waiting for help they took power into their own hands and forged a community they wanted to live in. This is especially important because this serves as inspiration for other people who are being subjugated to this oppression, shows them how much power they really have, and motivates them to make a positive change.

Due to Global Issues class, and its contents I have grown both emotionally and mentally. Prior to coming to Woolman, I was not fully aware of the impact  that my life had on others. Through this course, I was able to gain an insight on where my clothes, food and electronics were coming from, specifically speaking who was making it and for how much they were being paid. Finding out that children younger than me are working 9-5 jobs with horrible conditions so that I can  have a chocolate bar whose price did not mirror the labor was devastating! But, in a way, learning this was liberating. Although I cannot go back and change what I purchased, I can from now on make a conscious effort to by fair trade chocolate. This is the case of Global Issues class; I have been induced into wondering who made this t-shirt, or how this chocolate bar found its way into this deli. And instead of buying it, I am empowered in finding moral alternatives.

If someone had told me that I was going to grow emotionally due to a class, I would have laughed. Before entering Global issues class I was not aware someone could grow emotionally. Prior to Woolman, when I learned about problems happening in other countries I would be sad, but I could not empathize with the victims. For example when finding out about sweatshops I was sad, but I still went and bought clothes made in china. Coming to Woolman has really shown me what these people endured in their daily lives, and really helped me empathize with them. Essentially, Global Issues class has taught me the emotion of empathy, it has taught me to make decisions that do not affect others negatively, for example, buying fair trade products. I don’t want to say I was taught to buy fair trade, but Emily really did a good job on exposing to me at least, these issues.

The final thing that really impacted me positively was seeing how much power an individual has. Specifically in the Walk Out, Walk on, when individuals abandoned their current systems and created new systems that were sustainable and are now providing for themselves in a more viable way.


by Mariana Lachiusa, student spring 2013 - May 19, 2013

We had been driving up Highway 1 and getting so carsick that the very thought of the sticky bag of Jelly Belly jelly beans sitting next to me swirled in my head like the concoction I was sure was about to come up. Then, out of the rolling California hills, appeared the Regenerative Design Institute in all its glory!

We were first greeted by James, who toured us around in the hot afternoon sun to see the goats and chickens while answering, as best he could, some of our questions regarding GMOs, food culture, and other environmental issues we had been concerned about.  When we came up to the main house, we were greeted by joyous shouts as James embraced an old friend who visited by surprise. Jacob had heard this man (whose name turned out to be M.Kalani) speak before and so he asked if he might chat with us for a little while. He graciously agreed and so all 23 of us sat down in the grass in the shade of a birch tree and listened as Kalani spoke and sang his truths.

One of the things Kalani taught us is that there is a simple test to check if the person you’re in love with truly loves you back, called The Cookie Rule. The Cookie Rule is in effect when, for example, our loved one opens a sleeve of cookies. If he or she gives the first and last cookie to you, you know it’s real because you should always be the first and last thing on their mind. But, if they don’t, “you should kick them right out of the car without explaining why,” he half joked.  

Turning to a more serious tone, Kalani also spoke of the anti-GMO work he has been doing with young people for many years on the big island of Hawaii. He explained the set up he has created in the middle of a Monsanto GMO corn field where he has an education center for high school students and a garden in which he grows everything except for corn (so he can’t be accused of having stolen Monsanto products).

Something about the pure happenstance of Kalani’s visit (he wasn’t suppose to be there and hadn’t been there for close to a year) rocked me to my core. I took all he said as significant and as an extremely important sign. Besides Kalani’s miraculous visit, the rest of the Regenerative Design Institutes grounds included a giant redwood, that when climbed all the way to the top had a view of the Pacific, a moon tent for women to stay in during their periouds, a fire circle, meeting yurt, and an extensive garden. Though we only spent a few hours there, the people we talked to and things we learned have stayed with me more than almost any other experience of the trip.  

by Arif Sonmonu, student Spring '13 - May 16, 2013

Throughout The Woolman Semester, we have been learning about some pressing problems in Global Issues. Whether it was, Child Slavery in the Chocolate Industry or sweatshops all around the world, all have been very interesting and somewhat depressing. One that really resonated with was about food deserts in low-income neighborhoods around America. Neighborhoods like West Oakland, CA, and Gowanus, in New York City have little to no access of affordable healthy food. Instead they have access to cheap unhealthy highly processed foods. One reason this topic really stood out o me is because of this food deserts there has been an uprising of urban farms that offer these and other low-income neighborhoods free healthy organic foods. Not only are the residents of these neighborhoods able to benefit from the rich food nutrients, but also adults as well as kids are able to gain an insight on farming, and are taught how to grow their own food and sustain themselves efficiently. In addition urban farms build communities by involving residents in a activity they can all relate to. Essentially urban farm are turning vacant lots that are commonly used as garbage dumps into farms that the community can use. Not only is there a massive drop in litter but also neighborhoods like West Oakland have seen a substantial drop in crime. Organizations like Peoples Grocery, have inspired me to start an urban farm in my neighborhood. Growing up, I never really felt a sense of community. I feel this can give me an excuse to get to know my neighbors.

by Laura Markstein, Community Intern - May 15, 2013


Check out our Press Release for the upcoming weekend's events!

Students from the local Woolman Semester School come to the end of their four month educational program spent studying peace, justice, and sustainability. The public is invited to come see the students present their culminating projects for their Peace Studies and Environmental Science classes the weekend of May 17th.

A semester program for high school juniors, seniors, and gap year students, who hail from all over the country, Woolman offers the opportunity to learn first hand about social and environmental justice. Three core classes of Global Issues, Peace Studies, and Environmental Studies explorethe interdependence of the political, historical, cultural, and environmental forces that shape the problems our world is facing today.

In each core class students design and carry out a project throughout the semester. “Class projects allow students to engage fully with classroom material and enable them to carry on their activism beyond Woolman,” explains admissions director Emily Wheeler. In addition, class projects embody Woolman’s educational philosophy of teaching through experience and are the main way students take ownership of their education.

On Friday May 17th at 7pm there will be a screening of peace documentaries, the culminating project for the Peace Studies Class, at the UU Community of the Mountains. The Peace Studies class “examines how we tell stories as a culture and why it matters. We particularly explore how our common cultural narratives can contribute to a climate of violence,” says Peace Studies teacher Grace Oedel. Their ten-minute documentaries enable students to tell stories about our culture in a way that counteracts that climate of violence and builds one of peace.

Documentaries this semester include one on the role of police in our society and another on the Steubenville High School Rape Case. Each documentary incorporate interviews from national and local experts to deepen the audience’s understanding of the issues. All are invited to come see these four thought provoking student-filmed, edited, and directed films!

OnSaturday May 18th at 9am all are welcome for a tour of the student’s Sustainability projects at the Woolman campus, located off of Jones Bar Road. Throughout the semester the Environmental Science class looks at different environmental issues in today’s world and explores ways to solve them.  The sustainability projects are a way for students to try creative solutions for pressing needs at Woolman.

“Completing their sustainability projects gives students the opportunity to not only leave the legacy of their commitment to the earth for future students but to also learn practical skills that they can implement beyond Woolman,” explains Environmental Studies teacher Jacob Holzberg-Pill. This semester’s projects include a natural dye garden, a solar dehydrator, and a methane bio-digester!

Both events are free and open to the public. Come see Woolman’s unique education at work and what this semester’s students are doing to make a difference! Visit woolman.org for more information.

by Sonja Feinberg, student Spring 2013 - May 13, 2013

For me, People’s Grocery was the perfect way to end our trip.  Located in Oakland, CA this small farm is snuggled in between rough brick buildings and right over cement.  There is a beauty to be found in the green right around the corner from a highway.  Complete with chickens, an outdoor kitchen, and a hydroponic system, People’s Grocery is a perfect slice of sustainable growing, directly in the city.

What made People’s Grocery so much more radical than the other farms we visited on the Food Intensive is its location.  While the other farms were undoubtedly beautiful, tucked away in valleys and sometimes right across the street from the ocean, they were arguably unrealistic for a majority of our country’s population.  While these farms are vital to feeding America as sustainably, justly, and healthily as possible, they certainty create an “us” and “them”.  The “them” are the farmers set up in middle of nowhere CA.  It is simply impossible for everyone to follow suit and set up shop on their own piece of land in the rural west coast of the country.  If we want more Americans to become self-sufficient feeders, we cannot only rely on the small farms to do it right, but have tactics that allow everyone to be farmers.

The People’s Grocery is not only located in a city that is in desperate need of accessible, healthy vegetables, but it is designed for people, not for profit.  Anyone can come snag some fresh veggies, even through the fence after hours, and are often encouraged to help harvest themselves.  The ability of so much healthy food to be grown right in the city is not only offering people with lower incomes a way to get food, but is also inspiring to anyone else who wants a farm without moving to the valley.