Woolman Blog

by Lily Bell, Spring 2013 student - May 13, 2013


Over the past week, we have traveled many miles, and learned so many things about food, justice, sustainability, and community. We picked strawberries overlooking the Pacific Ocean while learning about water dependency in coastal California, and supported local economies at the Santa Cruz and Berkeley farmers markets while planning a cohesive feast. We explored the magic of life at the Regenerative Design Institute, and were given a very persuasive lecture about the benefits of genetically modified organisms at the UC Davis labs. At Wolfskill Experimental Orchard, we ate our fill in mulberries while marveling at the potential food supply it could be to the local community.

Strangely, what I’ve been thinking a lot about in the week following this trip is our dependence on sugar. It comes from the tour we took at the Jelly Belly Factory in Davis. It was a fascinating, horrible, amazing and crazy place. I think having spent three to five months prior abstractly considering my sugar intake, reading the book “Sugar Blues”, being counseled by my mother and my dentist, and considering sugar in general. At the Jelly Belly factory we were toured around a large warehouse, where we saw lots of heavy machinery, people working the machinery in white jumpsuits, and lots and lots of sugar! I was surprised and interested when Jacob pointed out to us that all the giant bags of sugar had “Cargill” on it. It was surprising to me that this big company, Jelly Belly, still gets its sugar from an even bigger corporation. It made me sad to see all of the workers who were inside the giant factory listening to loud beeps and clanks all day. And that’s not even going into the political and historical aspects of sugar.

I switched on and off from chanting “Jel-ly Beans! Jel-ly Beans!” and being disgusted and repulsed with American culture. All in all, I really loved this trip and relished the opportunity to look at real life food systems!

photo credit: Haley Jackson

by Charlotte Prud'homme, student Spring 2013 - May 13, 2013


When I first came to Woolman I tried to soak in as much as I could, like a sponge absorbing the positive rays seeping from every being I was meeting. After only two months I can notice significant changes in the way I appreciate food, living space and people so much more. For instance, picking the vegetables from the garden to be used for dinner (and may or may not have slugs on them..definitely want to leave that off the website ;)! I appreciate living in a cabin that I can make my own space, clean and heat when I want to, and have my own quiet sanctuary in a wild day of constant stimulation. I also appreciate the chance to love so close to everyone else in the other cabins and the sense of community we share just from living in the same space. I also find myself appreciating people more-wether it be their skills and knowledge, their enthusiasm, their calm, their wit, or just the way they engage in the community through sharing. 
I feel that a large part of this appreciation comes from awareness, and learning to become more of an active listener because everything everyone talks about is so interesting. I'm more aware of the birds, the trees, the work that goes into maintaining campus and making delicious food, more aware of how my behavior makes others feel, more aware of how what I put in my body makes me feel, more aware of the griefs and celebrations others around me are experiencing and how to be more sensitive/understanding to those needs. 
As for reassurance, it's mostly about the future. There is reassurance in the moment too, for instance bringing up a topic of global issues or news and having people affirm, add to, disagree with, point out other things, and just discuss the piece of information to help digest it, rather than being shushed in order for a more shallow conversation to take place. It's reassuring to be around people that have the same interests, and are going down the same "path" as me. As for the future, it's reassuring to know what even without little money or planning I can probably make it alright doing things I love. After meeting all the inspiring characters of our trips to the Bay Area and talking to interns and what they've done, I have even more desire to start doing more of the things I love and reassurance that it can work. 
by Jack Walsh, student Spring 2013 - May 13, 2013


One topic which has surfaced multiple times over the course of the semester is the controversy over genetically modified seeds. 

With the emphasis in Environmental Science centered on alternative methods to petroleum-based farming, GMO crops have fallen into a middle classification – not falling into the category of agroecology, yet also being separate from farming methods developed during the Green Revolution.  As a result, the trip to the Seed Biotechnology Center at UC Davis during the food intensive provided an informational and extensive viewpoint about how GMO seeds fit into global agriculture today, and what the potential is for GMO seeds in the future.  Kent Bradford, the director of the Seed Biotechnology Center kindly gave the semester a presentation on the work that UC Davis is doing in regards to GMO seeds and how that work is being used by farmers.  Bradford emphasized the expanding population in his lecture, and how that plays into the development of agriculture.  Like many in the semester, Bradford discussed his skepticism about the long-term effectiveness of farming with pesticides and fertilizers that exact a heavy toll on both famers and the environment, but also expressed his doubt that a return to traditional organic agriculture will be able to feed global populations. 

What I found most informative about this was his explanation of how GMO crops produce similar yields as conventional farming, but eliminate the need for pesticides and fertilizers by their enhancement which confer greater disease resistance, improves seed vigor and modifies seed emergence capabilities.  In the sense that genetically modified crops do not need chemicals, they are grown organically, which surprised me and contradicted my existing viewpoint that GMO seeds are simply an offshoot of petro-chemical farming. 

However, Bradford also acknowledged the downsides to GMO seeds and the unease which many people feel about seeds that are genetically modified in labs.  There is a possibility that GMO seeds will completely fail, which has led to restrictions on the use of genetically modified crops – regardless of the extent to which they have been tested, and many people have problems with how GMO seeds can be trademarked.  Regardless of the opinion which the semester came into the presentation with, and the opinion with which we left, Kent Bradford shared with us valuable knowledge about genetically modified seeds that can be used as long as the GMO seed debate is around.

by Emily Wheeler, Admissions and Outreach Director - May 6, 2013

Mary Jorgensen, cofounder of The John Woolman School, joined students in their newly created outdoor “student lounge” prior to her recent documentary interview. This semester students are producing documentaries on a variety of subjects. Mary was interviewed by a student, AJ Sunmonu about her experience as a Freedom Rider during the civil rights movement. It was an exceptional opportunity for students to meet someone who participated so fully in an historical civil rights event.

During her walk across campus, Mary was especially excited to learn that over 100 trees have been planted on the land this year. Mary’s visit was topped off by a visit to our 1.5 acre organic garden that is named in honor of her and her late husband Russell. We are all very grateful to Mary and Russell fortheir extraordinary contributions to the success and sustainability of Woolman.
Mary Jorgensen, co-founder of the John Woolman School, talks with students
Haley Jackson and Jack Walsh on a beautiful day in April. 
by Emily Zionts, Global Issues Teacher - May 3, 2013


The following is an excerpt from a recent press release:

The students of The Woolman Semester School are excited to host a night celebrating environmental and social justice activism by bringing the film, Occupy Love, to Grass Valley on Friday, May 10th.

Both a film premiere and a Change-maker’s Symposium, the evening will start with a reception where students from Woolman’s Activist Toolkit class will be informing and inspiring guests.

The Occupy Love website states, “a profound shift is taking place: humanity is waking up to the fact that the dominant system of power is failing to provide us with health, happiness or meaning. Join the filmmaker, Velcrow Ripper, on a journey deep inside the revolution of the heart that is erupting around the planet, as he asks the question: how could the crisis we are facing become a love story?”

Featuring captivating insider scenes from the Egyptian Revolution, the Indignado uprising in Spain, Occupy Wall Street in New York, Indigenous activists at the Alberta Tar Sands, the climate justice movement, and beyond, Occupy Love aims to show that love can unite as much as greed can divide.

 “Occupy Love is directly connected to the curriculum at our school. Whether the lessons are on gift economies or nonviolent resistance, our students are gaining an education that is relevant to this unique time in human history,” says Activist Toolkit Class teacher, Emily Zionts.

The Change-maker’s Symposium will give the young activists a chance to display their plans for creating a more just and sustainable world.  Zionts says, “Come at 7:15pm for the film, but come at 6:30pm for a dose of authentic, active hope through poetry, giant puppets, fair trade treats, and more.”

This event is free of cost. All are welcome!

Evening Schedule (all events take place at the UU Church):

·       6:30pm Change-Makers Symposium begins

·       7:15pm Occupy Love begins

For more information:

·       The Woolman Semester School: semester.woolman.org

·       Activist Toolkit Teacher: Emily Zionts 530-273-3183

·       Occupy Love: www.occupylove.org

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

What are Transition Towns?

How are they working (and playing!) to bring in the new paradigm of justice and sustainability?

What is resilience?

How can we strengthen our own resilience as individuals and communities?

What role can our education systems take in preparing us for peak oil and climate change?

Last week, members of the local sustainability organization, APPLE (alliance for a post petroleum local economy), came in to expand and deepen the conversation that we have been having in Global Issues class around how to weather the upcoming storm of peak oil and climate change. With just a few weeks left of the semester, we are now thoroughly immersed in the solutions and alternatives portion of this course.  

At Woolman, the first half of Global Issues is spent analyzing our current global economic model and it's role in creating and feeding the social and environmental crises that the planet is facing. Those classes are challenging and sometimes discouraging as we explore multiple perspectives of  topics like Free Trade, globalization, corporatocracy (the idea that corporations are more powerful than governments), and capitalism.

In this analysis we are constantly seeking out potential root causes like greed, systems of power-over, and a false sense of scarcity. Then we moven onto the consequences, such as sweatshops, modern day slavery, ecological destruction, over-consumption, and a sense of separation between humans and each other and humans and the natural world. 

That work is frustrating and can lead to sense of despair if not coupled with opportunities for action--which is where our project class, Activist Toolkit, comes in. Activist Toolkit class is a workshop based course where students are introduced to frameworks for activism, skills for creating change, and role models that are out making a difference in our local community. This semester, we studied artivism, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Rights of Nature, the power of poetry to be used as activism, and more. But, we can't just skip past those hard truths. It is absolutely necessary to see how we got to this place in human history in order to create solutions that will be just and long lasting.

These solutions are all around us and the task of revealing them (and visioning others) is incredibly exciting. Over the past few weeks, we have delved into topics including the power of cooperatives, the benefits of community credit unions, Time Banks, local economies, local currencies, cradle to cradle production, biomimicry, corporate social responsibility, Fair Trade, homeless eco-villages, and so much more!

The visit from the APPLE folks gave us the opportunity to see people out in the community who are really living this work. We gained a sense of possibility and an understanding of the joy than can come when people coordinate with their communities to become more self-reliant.  A member of our Quaker meeting, Dave Barnett, was able to give us an idea of exactly what effects we may see when oil becomes too expensive for the average person. The president of the organization, Joshua Lichterman, gave us a run-down of the specific challenges that this county will face in the transition, including the fact that we are at the end of the supply chain when it comes to food trucks and other services. Mr. Lichterman also explained a myriad of solutions that Nevada County residents are already working on, too. Finally, Shea Smith, from HAAlo (Health Alternatives for All Locals) spoke eloquently about her experience transitioning out of a 25 year career as an airline stewardess to heading up a nonprofit which utilizes a unique economic model with a heavy focus on barter and trusting relationships. Students were inspired by her advice to not let money get in the way, but to find win-win situations for creating nonprofits and other transition businesses.

In our closing circle, students shared a take-away from the panel, as well as a short description of one of their final projects that they are working on here at Woolman. As the youth listed off undertakings such as bee-keeping, producing a film about "freeganism", building a giant puppet to incite conversations around happiness, designing a methane bio-digester, a 'Zine on open source and community knowledge, growing a natural dye plant garden, and other amazing pieces of work, it occurred to me that a Woolman Education is truly a Transition Education.

The New Economics Institute  writes:

"The Great Re-skilling continues the emphasis on re-localization, starting from the position that greater local production will require us to relearn many skills that have been forgotten. From agriculture to manufacturing to the provision of local finance, returning to appropriate scale means equipping ourselves with the means to do so. Becoming less passive in terms of consumption and production we will start to regain our autonomy, which will extend to culture and arts, where we see the beginning of a life-enhancing renaissance. This is not the case only for the economy and for the arts, however; local decision-making based on active participation will be most effective when people are well informed about what makes their local economy tick and what makes public services able to achieve the best outcomes. Achieving consensus requires as full an understanding of these issues as possible."

Whether we are farming in our organic garden, cooking veggies from the seeds that we have sewn, enjoying a night in fiber arts club, working out conflicts in community meeting, or walking like a fox throughout our forest, life at Woolman is an active example of the Transition Town movement. In addition to gaining a political awareness and self confidence in becoming an agent of change, it feels wonderful to know that the youth who come here are receiving an education that is truly relevant to this unique time in history. We can only hope that this model will spread in time to reverse the destruction of  "The Great Unraveling". Perhaps that is yet another task for our alumni.

At Woolman, we teachers are often much more pleased when our students leave our class feeling more confused and full of questions than before they came. And so, with that in mind, I leave you with these queries:

  • With Peak Oil imminent and the effects of Climate Change already in our backyard, how can we justify education systems that ignore the reality that we are living in a rapidly changing world?
  • Will skills for improving standardized test scores serve this generation as they fulfill their roles as active community members amongst these global crises?
  • What is the purpose of education in this new era?
  • What steps can you take to become more resilient?

Feel free to respond to any of those in the comment section below!

by Charlotte Prud'homme, student Spring 2013 - April 24, 2013

The weeks are flying by, and we are already into the last month of Woolman! The garden is flourishing and harvests are coming in massive amounts daily. With all the interns work, it's no wonder the greens are bumpin'! 

For the past couple of months I've been researching and comparing different types of possible organic certifications for the garden. In the end it was between CCOF, California certification and CNG, Certified Naturally Grown. I ended up choosing CNG for many reasons. One, it was the least costly and seemed to me like the most efficient for the small scale farming/gardening that Woolman does. Secondly, it stood out to me as original and in tune with Woolman's values because it functions mostly on a peer to peer network. That is, fellow CNG farms help you through certification and guide you as a mentor, then peer farmers keep in touch and work together on improving their land. There is a CNG farm nearby in Nevada City and I am hoping to visit it soon! I love the idea of peer to peer networking and think that with time, Woolman will embrace it and take it in exactly the direction we are looking to expand in. 

Certification is important for Woolman not only for "bragging rights" and advertisement, but also for our own peace of mind and pride as a community in our garden. After all, it is a shared space, where little four year old Althea finds 4 inch slugs and eats all the strawberries while still green. It is also a place where we have all gotten the chance to plant our own seeds and see our own plants grow. With this community interest, it is important to be able to trust in organic practices, and knowing that there aren't things like heavy metals in our soil (we are in a mining area) and so on! In addition, researching the organic practices and trying to emulate them for own own sake and peace of mind is more important than the actual achievement of certification, which I love about Woolman because it is another extension of ourselves and the discovery we do outdoors. 

by Lily Bell, Spring 2013 student - April 24, 2013


For my sustainability project I am making a natural dye garden, using a technique called hugelkultur. I chose to make a dye garden on campus because I am passionate about using natural materials to create beautiful art, and I wanted more experience working with plants. The dye garden is about 15x15 feet, with over 10 different types of dye plants in it.

Hugelkultur is a German word meaning “hill culture”, and is a design system where you plant on top of big mounds of rotting wood, natural materials, and soil. This ensures that you get lots of microbes and nutrients in the soil of the garden bed.

My first step was to dig up all of the sod in the area where I wanted the garden. Next, I brought over lots of rotting willow logs from the woodshed, and laid them out in the shape of garden beds.

My next step was to layer compost, manure, and other waste scraps on top of the wood, creating a “lasagna” with the decaying materials. Finally I put a layer of compost and soil onto the top of everything, making it ready to plant!

The plants I chose for the garden are Madder, Indigo, Lady’s Bedstraw, Fennel, Cosmos, Dyer’s Coreopsis, Yarrow, Comfrey, Tansy, Hopi Sunflowers, and Black Hollyhock. Many of these plants will not be ready to dye with until later this year, so unfortunately I won’t be able to use them. However, most of them are hardy and perennial, so the garden will hopefully be fairly low maintenance.

There are also many natural materials in the woods and around campus that you can use for dye, including oak galls, toyon, lodgepole pine bark, lichens, sagebrush, and black walnut. Also in our food garden there are many plants which also yield dye, including beets, onions, and rhubarb. I am very excited to try experimenting with these types of wild dye plants, as I have never dyed with them before.

So why use natural dyes? Well, all of your clothes have a story, and you get to decide what that story will say. When you use plant dyes for fiber, it connects you to the natural beauty the earth and encourages appreciation of harvesting color. 

by Laura Markstein, Community Intern - April 17, 2013


Check out our Press Release for the upcoming Spring Work Party!

Nevada City (April 15, 2013)- This Saturday, April 20th, students, staff, and community members of the Woolman Semester School support Earth Day by joining together for a day of work on the 230-acre campus. All are invited to come help out!

A semester program for high school juniors, seniors, and gap year students who hail from all over the country, Woolman offers the opportunity to learn first hand about social and environmental justice. Interacting with the land is a crucial component of their time spent at Woolman and has become an even larger part with the introduction of the Farm to Forest educational program in the spring of 2011.

The Farm to Forest program offers a new way of stewarding land. Instead of managing the garden, orchard, pasture, campus, and forest separately, all units are seen as part of the whole environment that we as individuals are constantly impacting with every choice we make. Now, the care for the land is not left to just the maintenance crew but is taught through the academics to the students as well. One of the main ways the students participate in caring for the land is through two-hour bi-weekly shared work crews.

This Saturday will demonstrate this new holistic approach to land stewardship. Similar to shared work there will be work crews in the garden, orchard, and in the forest. The forest crew this year has been working on an exciting new project that was started by the Environmental Studies teacher Jacob Holzberg-Pill.   

This past June Holzberg-Pill received the TogetherGreen Fellowship Grant from the National Audubon Society and Toyota to begin restoring an old mining ditch that circles Woolman’s property. The immediate goal is to create an active swale as well as a road that together will reduce erosion by increasing water recharge into the ground and encourage people to use the forest recreationally. The long-term project will ultimately restore the land damaged by mining.

On Saturday the forest crew will focus on removing Scotch Broom, an invasive species that has spread along the swale. “This day would not be possible without our partnership with the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County, donations from the National Wildlife Federation, and the hard work of our local community members,” says Holzberg-Pill.

Come join the Woolman community this Saturday and see first hand their experiential education at work! Beginning at 9am on the Woolman Campus, located off Jones Bar Road, there will be work crews until noon and all are welcome to stay for lunch! If interested, please RSVP at http://woolman.org/events/2013/spring-work-day.   

by Yasha Magarik, Community Intern - April 12, 2013

Last weekend we had a wedding here. With a helpful guest, I mulched a path between the dining hall and the tent, just in case it started raining. Then the tent was taken down, leaving a path to nowhere. So two of our students, Sonja Feinberg and Nicole Mitchell, turned it a path to somewhere with an art installation they've dubbed "Julius." Sonja's poem explains the artwork:

Which door?
That door.
This door?
No, that door.
Plane door, cab door, train door, your door.
Slabs of woods, slates of metal, flapping plastic, stone,
If you can open a door you’ll never be alone.
Doors to the skies, that door to your eyes,
An open door will tell you no lies.
Doors are my veins, my paths and my trails,
They lead to my heart, they move me like sails.
Do I need a key?
Do you have a key?
Which key is right?
It depends on which door is wrong.
Handles and knobs, slots and slides,
Hinges that creek are what keep me alive.
The door to my mind opens with wind,
The one to yours is stuck with summer sin.
Hallways and foyers, patio or deck, it’s not the destination,
But still, are we there yet?
How about the frame, the soulless wood square,
Does that count as a door?
Do your lungs count the air?
If I open this door will I like what I find?
It doesn’t really matter if it’s all in your mind.
But what if one day we run out of doors?
Crocked blocked walls, steps, and smooth floors.
We can always go back though the door which we came,
You’ll find that a backward path is never the same.
If I was a door would you open me too?
Even if behind me was a place you already knew?
I can’t give you an answer, a reason, a why,
I just open doors like I swing to the sky.
Put it in front of me and I’ll never resist,
Doors are my hugs, my hands, and my kiss.

by Yasha Magarik, Community Intern - April 10, 2013

It’s common wisdom that the West lacks water. Droughts are increasingly frequent and every summer fires sweep through California, destroying millions of acres of trees, brush, and homes.

But the truth is more complicated; the Sierra foothills, for instance, receive about sixty inches of rain in an average year. It’s just that this rain arrives in just six months out of the year and rushes right through our property, eroding topsoil and rocketing through the Los Angeles watershed. The other six months we have a dry season, an accompanying fire ban, and a mandate from our local fire board to irrigate at least fifty of our property’s 230 acres.

This imbalance is worsened by the effects of human industry. For years gold miners dug our creeks deeper and narrower, purposely increasing erosion in an effort to extract precious metals. More recently, climate change, by melting the snowpack on nearby mountains to far below average levels, deprives our watershed of an efficient, free, natural method of slow-release water storage; instead of having snow gradually melt throughout the summer, we now get short, enormous bursts of winter rain that our land cannot absorb. Although there are indeed regions of the West with very little water, the problem for many land stewards like us is one of water storage. The solution, then, is to trap more water on our property during the winter months, thereby reducing topsoil erosion, mitigating summer droughts, and encouraging biodiverse riparian zones.

Especially after Permaculture Design classes on hydrology with Grace, Jacob, and Doug, we have many options for achieving those goals, but the one that we interns have experimented with so far has been building check dams across eroded creek beds. The EPA has this useful definition of check dams on its web site

“Check dams are relatively small, temporary structures constructed across a swale or channel. They are used to slow the velocity of concentrated water flows, a practice that helps reduce erosion. As stormwater runoff flows through the structure, the check dam  catches sediment from the channel itself or from the contributing drainage area.”

First, note that check dams do not attempt to stop water flow---only to slow it. Because when water slows, it spreads, and when it spreads, it sinks. Second, the middle of the dam should remain lower than the sides---to funnel the moving water through the center, and not where it would further erode the banks. And third, check dams are not a solution to all of our water problems---just some.

Yet the EPA also suggests building them out of logs, stones, sandbags, gravel or straw, estimates their installation costs at between $60 and $100, and asserts that they are only temporary flood-control measures. The check dams we’ve been building are nothing like these. They’re made of willow stalks cut from our own trees, stuck into the gravel creek beds and secured with rocks, and with thinner willow branches woven across for support.

They each cost nothing and take only thirty minutes to install. Furthermore, the willows, which have rather high levels of natural rooting hormone, will hopefully root in the creek bed---meaning that not only will the dams require no maintenance; they may grow us the materials for yet more check dams.

A very large storm last week confirmed our wildest hopes. In this picture, you can see the difference between the slow-moving, muddy water before the dam and clearer water trickling out of the dam. And the sediment gradually building up on the dam provides the willows with topsoil. Together with other hydraulic engineering techniques, willow check dams can help us regenerate the land and its water system.


by Laura Markstein, Community Intern - April 5, 2013


Check out this great article that Laura Markstein submitted to the news regarding Peacebuilding!

Nevada City, CA (March, 18)- As our federal government currently debates the passage of the H.R. 808 bill to build a Department of Peacebuilding, the Woolman Semester School, a non-profit educational organization located in Nevada City, CA, has been committed to peacebuilding since its inception in 1963.

Each semester high school juniors, seniors, and gap year students come from all over the country to live, work, and learn together in community.Founded on Quaker principles of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality, these values are woven through every aspect of life at Woolman.

The congressional bill, written by California Representative Barbara Lee, was introduced to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform February 25th and is awaiting approval before moving to the Senate. The new Peacebuilding Department will be “dedicated to peacebuilding, peacemaking, and the study and promotion of conditions conducive to both domestic and international peace and a culture of peace” (H.R. 808 bill, Section 101).

“We would be thrilled to see a Department of Peacebuilding at the national level, because that is what we try to model here at Woolman,” says Peace Studies teacher Grace Oedel. Woolman teaches that conflict is a normal and healthy part of life. How we react to conflict is what can make the difference between an opportunity for growth and a violent interaction. The Woolman community is built on the belief that once basic human needs are met, people can use tools of communication to come to mutual understanding and live together peacefully.

Non-violent communication (NVC), a communication practice developed by Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D., is one of the main tools used by both students and staff. Based on the recognition that deep listening and understanding can lead to compassion and connection, NVC is applied to intra and interpersonal issues in the community and to many of the topics that are examined in the core classes of Peace Studies, Global Issues and Environmental Science.

“At the Woolman Semester School student’s studies are linked locally to global issues. They are a generation of enthusiastic change agents who are equipped with the tools to instill peace and social justice wherever they journey through life. We are hopeful that Congress will also accept the responsibility for instilling peace throughout our country and the world through nonviolent activities and by creating a Department of Peacebuilding,” explains Marjorie Fox, Head of School. 

by Lily Bell, Spring 2013 student - April 1, 2013


The Bay Area Community Exchange, or BACE, is a communal time bank where members offer their services and time in exchange for being part of a community where resources are given and received freely. They explain it as an extended family or community, which you can rely on to support you and to give you support. Because the time bank does not use currency, it helps to enrich lives with things people may not normally be able to afford, like language lessons or massage. This method of using human resources without money helps to shift the mindset of division and separation, thus bringing about new relationships and healthy community.

We met with some of the founders of the community exchange, Amber, Rick, and Megan, at the Noisebridge Hackerspace. They explained how the time bank was set up, and how they used it in their daily life. It was so cool to see these people who actually use it and to learn about experiences they’ve had.

“Timebanks have been helping to rebuild the informal, village economy for over twenty years. There are now over 300 communities in 22 countries that are using this (pay it forward) system to help their communities grow and thrive.”

Eventually, they explained, we won’t need to record hour-by-hour, and will just give our time and trust that it will be returned in full. For now though, the website http://timebank.sfbace.org/ is how everyone keeps track of their hours, and meets new people to work with. I loved learning about this time sharing community enterprise and how to apply it to all of our actions and to all of our lives.

by Leda Stinson, Student Spring 2013 - March 31, 2013


 Global Exchange, located in San Francisco, is a non-profit organization with the mission of advancing human rights. Their mission is to promote fair working conditions for citizens all over the world, and eliminating the insane situations that sweatshop workers live with every day.

They work towards this goal by educating people, facilitating reality tours in various countries, and providing consumers with stores and products that are all fair trade items. The reality tours show people how other people with less money live, and the inequality and injustice that corporation’s demonstrate when left to their own devices.  Fair trade stores provide folks an alternative option to buying goods tainted with corporate greed and sweatshop workers life.

What I took away from the time I spent at Global Exchange was a new perspective and lots of new information. I really enjoyed getting the opportunity to talk to some of the employees, and hearing Chie, a former sweatshop worker from the Philippians who worked in Saipans, now an employee of Global Exchange tell her story. The horrendous rules that she described were imposed on her and her fellow workers were shocking. Hearing how courageous Chie was to overcome the unjust life she was living was inspiring and uplifting. I am grateful and glad she took the time to speak to me and the Woolman School and I feel all of my time spent at Global Exchange was well spent.

by Haley Jackson, student Spring 2013 - March 31, 2013


On the Great Turning Trip for our Global Issues class, we went to a lot of amazing workshops and met some really interesting and inspiring people. My favorite place we went to was the Canticle Farm in east Oakland. There we met some very wise, peaceful, empathetic people. Pancho mainly led the workshop. He loves everyone unconditionally and is one of the kindest people I've ever met.

We started off the workshop with a half hour of silence, then played several warm up games. Then we each chose a partner and Pancho gave us three open questions for discussion. The questions were "What makes your heart light up or come alive?", "What breaks your heart?", and "What do you wish to become, learn, be and do?" My partner was Berenice and I don't think I'll ever forget our conversation. I feel like the prompts encouraged you to say things that you were passionate about but maybe wouldn't necessarily voice. We talked about bonfires, making music, picking wild berries, massage trains, full moon hikes, feeling loved and accepted, babies, and good hair days. We talked about child abuse, rape, oil spills, mountaintop removal, fracking, the state of our oceans, extinction, and feeling ignored or unwanted. We talked about one day being mothers, teachers, herbalists, travelers, raw foodies, and learning how to spin wool, make soap, expressing ourselves clearly and confidently, making kombucha, and so much more. I felt so good to talk to someone about all this, and then to hear someone else's ideas.

We then went on a self-tour of the farm and community. I discovered beautiful, sprawling gardens, chickens, a library, many colorfully- decorated homes, community spaces, and a few cats and dogs. Everyone I ran into within the community was so welcoming and kind, and willing to talk to me and answer my questions. After a while, we all met up outside and talked about how their community worked and their philosophy. The community is largely a gift economy, and consensus- based. They are very spiritual, and open to all people- unconditionally loving and accepting all. After this, we all worked together and created a feast. We all ate together, then Pancho led us in a beautiful closing song, and we went on to the next workshop. I am deeply inspired by this place, and look forward to coming back in the future. 

The picture was taken in La Casa de Paz (one of the dwellings in the urban community) and states their shared values.

by Berenice Thompkins, Student Spring 2013 - March 29, 2013
Having gained a better understanding of the size of the sphere of corporate influence in government through our globalization unit, I no longer see the US government as a democracy. Treaties like NAFTA and the policies of organizations like the WTO have given corporations so much influence that many countries have modified their systems of government to accommodate corporate interests. NAFTA forced indigenous Mexicans whose culture centered on the cultivation of corn to abandon farming and purchase from American monocultures. Perhaps most shockingly, Mexico changed its constitution in accordance with NAFTA to permit the buying and selling of public property. Corporations were then able to purchase indigenous land, displacing thousands of people and leaving them homeless and robbed of livelihoods very closely connected with and reliant upon the ecosystem they lived in – because of a decision made entirely behind closed doors.
On a more local level, corporate finance in politics – both given directly to politicians and pumped into advertising to change the way people vote -- seems to me an extension of these corporate takeovers. Although one study says 93% of Americans support labeling of genetically modified food, Monsanto and Pepsi were able to afford millions of dollars worth of TV ads claiming that Proposition 37, which would have mandated the labeling of GMOs in California, would cause consumers extra money. The bill failed. I phone banked for it and, knowing that widespread uncertainty existed throughout the country (especially in California, I would have thought) on the safety of GMOs, was very hopeful that it would pass. One man I spoke to, however, actually echoed the logic numerous Yes on 37 emails informed me Monsanto was using. I heard it work!
I was really ready to hear about how much – in the realm of integrity and equality – corporate influence doesn’t work, so hearing the dynamic and sassy, Hilary, of the rad Global Exchange speak about electing a real democracy made me want to jump up and down! Global Exchange’s Elect Democracy campaign, which Hilary is a part of, exposes the amount of lobbying money given to each member of Congress by different corporations and superpacs. Many politicians who have consistently voted one way or expressed outspoken support for one stance on a particular issue have a 100% compliance rate with the demands of a corporation in a closely related sector. I think that Elect Democracy’s work to make this information accessible to voters – that it isn’t publicized constantly feels deeply corrupt – is a very powerful way to encourage critical analysis of different political positions, as well as media representation of these positions. Does knowing that all of the politicians who voted yes on the Keystone pipeline were heavily funded by the oil industry make you question the professed environmental benignity any more?
by Sophie Brinker, intern and former student - March 29, 2013

As I am woken by the soft beep of my 6 AM alarm, I look out the window to see the beginning of the sun stretching its arms over the grey pines, and I see that I am not the only one waking up. I pull on my jacket and boots with a yawn and walk over the two bridges and soccer field to the kitchen, the sky is beginning to wake up with bursts of pink and purple and yellow. It is slightly misty today; I startle a family of deer as I reach the dining hall and smile as they bound so beautifully into the blackberry patch. 

Today is my breakfast making day, an integral part of the Woolman intern experience. 

A fellow intern meets me in the kitchen- we put on ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ as well as hot water for tea and coffee to wake us up as well as the silence of the kitchen. There is bagel dough left from lunch the day before that has somehow risen overnight in the walk-in fridge, and with the oven pre-heated we begin shaping and boiling the dough. After a few choruses of 'Guantanamera' and half a cup of tea, the bagels are in the oven and getting warm and comfy. 

Soon enough we smell the rosemary and garlic we had sprinkled on the tops of the bagels and peek inside- they are so beautiful and rising fast! I feel so happy to create something that before I only imagined buying from a store- if I am ever cut off from the world and magically have endless flour it is comforting to know I will not be bagel-less. We ring the meal bell and see the students walking over from their cabins, ready for a day of classes and today, shared work. The sun has risen fully and the bagels are calling me from their baking sheet. I am ready for another beautiful day at Woolman.

by Rachel Leader, student Spring 2013 - March 29, 2013


After a long day of workshops, we finally made our way to a modest neighborhood in San Francisco, well outside of the towering business district. We waited patiently outside of a gated, nondescript entrance. No more than five minutes later, a woman named Amber greeted us warmly with a smile and briefly introduced Noisebridge hacker space. She promptly unlocked the gate and then guided us up a steep flight of narrow stairs. The front-door entrance, which was unassuming and undistinguished, could never have prepared me for the remarkable space inside. As we filed into the upstairs loft, our eyes darted in every direction, unable to process the entirety of what we had laid our eyes upon. 

After further exploration, we discovered hundreds of books piled high -- topics ranging from the social media to string theory to Java script programming to anarchy philosophy to music theory to art history... We glimpsed power tools, woodworking equipment, a functional darkroom, fermenting kombucha, acrylic paints, a work-in-progress electron microscope, enormous geometric structures built from toothpicks, dozens of radios, bicycle tire sculptures, crudely engineered equipment designed for specialized tasks (ex: digital macro-magnifier and a robot that serves cocktails), computer hardware of all sorts, instructional booklets, zines, wires, posters, sewing machines, fabric scraps, found material “clearance” shelves, activist newspapers, project wood, a kitchen stove powered by a dynamic magnetic force that induces a constant electrical current, thought-provoking artwork, and intensely focused and creative individuals of all ages… among many, many other things. The walls were plastered with vibrant colors and quirky murals. Large, bright windows allowed light to flood into the workspace… Tall tables for use in collaborative projects were situated throughout the loft. Small classrooms could be found which are used for formal class instruction. The hacker space is open 24/7. Everything is free.

Noisebridge is a non-profit organization that seeks to encourage knowledge exchange and the learning of practical and technological skills through hands-on workshops, classes, collaborative projects, independent research, and pure experimentation -- “If you don’t know what to do – ask! We’re here to help!” With an emphasis on technology, science, and art, it is intended to be a place of creating, learning, and teaching. After all: “radiant ambition yields change.”


Noisebridge, which is loosely affiliated with anarchism, is yet another representation of free culture, the gift economy, and the power of a collaborative space within a community. From our short visit, we were able to absorb the radical and creative community culture that was being nourished at Noisebridge. Once again, we were invited into a communal space that represented a physical manifestation of wholesome human living outside of the traditional, consumerist sphere.


by Amy Rivera, student Spring 2013 - March 29, 2013

On our last full day on the our trip to the Bay, we paid a visit to Global Exchange. Global Exchange is an international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice around the world. There we met Shannon, she is the community rights program director.We sat in their conference room and listed environmental issues we were all passionate about.

We listed things like hydraulic fracking, climate change, ocean health, over consumption, GMO’s and many others. Shannon later broke it to us that they are all legal. They are legal because corporations -who are at the root of these issues- are considered to be a person, and create or influence policies that allow them to do what they are doing.

It is annoying and dissatisfying knowing I live in a world where profit is a higher priority than the environment and humans. Where those who benefit the most from those profits are a small percentage. All in all most people would feel hopeless, like they cannot create much change - but I don’t and knowing that there are organizations like Global Exchange makes me feel hopeful. And excited for the great changes that are slowly but surely happening. 


by Sonja Feinberg, student Spring 2013 - March 29, 2013


On the first official day of the Great Turning trip we bunkered down for a six hour workshop with Catalyst Project members Lindsey and David.  Those six hours flew by as if they were only minutes, for so much was taught and learned through stimulating discussion that addressed a serious issue plaguing our everyday lives.  The Catalyst Project states in their website “we work to create a world where all people are free from oppression and exploitation.”  This was heavily advocated to us through a breakdown of White Supremacy.  Through discussion of definitions, assumptions, and economy and cooperation breakdowns we were really able to identify the instigators of this global issue.

We started with an activity that highlighted how corporations use race to instigate oppression that result in greater profits.  We each slide into the roles of board members for Fruit Corporation, an industry containing fruit pickers, fruit sorters, and truck drivers.  As board members it was our job to find creative ways to deny workers raises or health care without risking loss of productivity to the company.  Race immediately took the center stage of our proposals.  Race could be used to divide workers so they would not retaliate together, deportation could be threatened, and ultimately the whole corporation could move to a different country where workers would work for less.  After recognizing that these are real actions of corporations, we tackled simple definitions that recognize this issue.

Lindsey and David revealed the Catalyst Project’s definition of White Supremacy as “institutional power + race prejudice,” and Whiteness as “a cross class alliance to support the economic elite”.  A pyramid displayed the uneven distribution of the economy, stating that “1% of the population controls 43% of the wealth, 19% controls 50%, and 80% controls 7%”.  After having addressed the corruption of corporations and the economy, we tackled the origin and connection of all systems and their consequences through a problem tree.

Our problem tree consisted of the underlying problems as the roots, such as sexism and hetero-normativity, larger systems feed by the roots as branches, such as the industrial prison complex, and finally the consequences we see every day as the leaves, such as slut shaming and lack of healthy foods in the school system.  The problem tree helped turn our focus to the billions of lives White Supremacy effects, and the larger instigators of the issue.  Our leaves had not sprouted from single individuals and their own actions, but were deeply rooted into ideas that have existed since the Bacon Rebellion when the term “whiteness” was first coined to prevent slaves from gaining allies.  As a final takeaway of what needs to be done to eliminate White Supremacy and its consequences, Lindsey and David revealed the definition of Collective Liberation: “a political commitment to liberating all people from all forms of oppression”.