by Tom Vogt, Community Intern - March 9, 2014

This semester, we decided to stay right here at Woolman for our service day and work on our own land. We widened and flattened the Pottery Trail, making it more accessible to people with a range of physical abilities. Once we work on the two bridges on the trail, we will have an accessible loop, connecting the Art (Pottery) Barn to the Fire Road, to Mel's Pond, to Woolman Lane, and back down to main campus. Thanks to our wonderful community intern Tom for these photos!

by Jennifer Stone, Peace Studies teacher - December 1, 2013

This semester, students had the option to choose one of three service projects, each connected to a core class. The Peace Studies service project was a collaboration with the Nevada City-based art and activist collective Radical Art for these Times (RAFTT). In just three days, students became familiar with art and activism theory and models, chose to do a banner drop raising awareness about privilege, painted the giant banner and smaller signs, recorded a radio piece,  and held a demonstration over highway 49! Student Genna Kules wrote the following press release about our work:

Students from the Woolman Semester School team up with RAFTT to call attention to the invisibility of inequality and how privilege is easily taken for granted
“Privilege is The Ability to Not Notice Inequality” reads the the large pink banner hanging on the Broad Street bridge. Smaller signs scattered along the highway compliment it with the words: “Take Time. Notice.”
Students at the Woolman Semester School study Peace, Justice, and Sustainability on a daily basis. With the banner drop, they are bringing their studies outside the confines of Woolman Lane. They are using this action as a learning experience in the practice of activism.
When people driving down Highway 49 see this sign, “I want them to think about their daily lives and how this affects them,” says Ky Biswell, grade 12. Jasmyn Atsalis-Gogel, grade 11, agrees saying her goal is “to make people think.”
“You can’t understand the world until you become aware of your own privileges” says Anna Scott, grade 12. She believes one must get past the feeling of guilt for their own privileges before they can affect change around inequality.
Jennifer Stone, Peace Studies teacher, describes the process of realization of privilege: When people of privilege learn about their privilege they move into a state of guilt. Guilt is an important stage but there is a danger of getting stuck in it. One can either move through the guilt and into change-making or move into a state of blaming the oppressed minority groups.
Jennifer says, “sometimes the most radical thing you can do is to say something obvious.” Woolman Semester intern, Danya Morris, follows with “It’s radical to tell the truth. It’s radical to ask for truth— to question.”
Students believe they will go back to their hometowns more aware and able to affect change in their own communities.


by Amelia Nebenzahl, Global Issues teacher - December 1, 2013
The Global Issues community service project was a great success! We worked in conjunction with Reinette Senum, a friend, former mayor of Nevada City, and enthusiastic community organizer, refurbishing the town square boardwalk. The boardwalk is a place that the community has reclaimed as a communal space to gather since their town plaza was plowed through by a highway. As we planted bulbs and cleaned up the patio, Reinette gave us a brief history of Nevada City since its thriving gold rush period (fun fact: Nevada City was on the list for becoming the capital of California back in the day!) and explained the amazing advantages of having the boardwalk and also the challenges that come with it. 

We also worked with a Shea, the owner of our local herbal remedies store Haalo, to help prepare bags for alternative medical kits for homeless folk in the area. Nevada City has a substantial amount of homeless residents and a group of concerned citizens created a community organization called Sierra Roots to address the root causes of homelessness here and cater to the needs of folks without a roof over their heads. Alternative medical kits with natural remedies for ailments specific to those encountered by the homeless are a great example. We even got the chance to sit in on a Sierra Roots meeting to get a glimpse of the organizational side of these projects! 

Our third project was to help deliver a micro house to Sonia, a homeless resident who now maintains the conservation land where she lives. A micro house is a wooden structure with a roof, just big enough to fit a person or their things when it rains. Delivering Sonia's house and hearing her personal story gave us an invaluable perspective and insight into the struggles of poverty and the causes of homelessness here in Nevada City. 
Reinette, Shea, and Sonia were amazing inspirations for bringing their ideas for change in the community into fruition, particularly as we get ready to bring our own Global Issues projects into our home communities!
by David Dean - September 27, 2013

On Saturday September 23, many Woolman students and staff made their way to multiple locations along the Yuba River to participate in a day of restoration and clean-up. Over 500 other local volunteers also joined the effort and the entire day of service resulted in the removal of over 11,450 pounds of trash and recyclables from the Yuba and Bear River watersheds. In the afternoon rain and hail began to fall from the sky, yet our students insisted on completing a full day of work.  In addition to the clean-up, Woolman community members participated in a stone-skipping contest and got to know many of the friendly residents of Nevada County.

Read more about this day of service here.

Pictures from the Yuba River Clean-Up


All photos provided by Oz Willett.

by Cece Watkins, Intern - December 20, 2011
by Ilana, Chloe, Hiwot - December 8, 2011



    Knowing that our beloved Dorothy, has been wanting a flower bed for a long time, we decided to take it up on ourselves to create it. When we came up with the concept of creating flower beds, we decided we wanted to make our campus even more beautiful and to increase the flow of pollinators for the orchard on our campus. 

We started out this project thinking it would just be as easy as planting some flowers, but we realized we had a few hiccups along the way. 


   We realized that there are a lot of deer that live around the campus. Therefore, we had to research on ways to deter the deer from eating and destroying our plants. In addition, we wanted to make sure our plants would survive the winter so we did some research on mulching and cold frames. Furthermore, another important aspect of planning where to put our flower beds, was taking into consideration of how much light they would receive for their success. 


   The last problem we encountered was increasing and keeping the population on the campus. We wanted to make sure that they would be visible to the visitors and residents of the Woolman campus. Our original thought was to place them on the south facing side of the admissions office. The area that we planned to put our flower beds was not agreed upon by the head of school. Although we were not able to go with our original plan, we were able to find two additional spaces to put our flower beds. The first place where the flowers are located is surrounding the bird bath. The second place would be in front of the office doors. 


   Although we had a lot of obstacles we were able to overcome and successfully create beds you see today... 


~Special THANKS to: Jacob, Malaika, Grace, Sandy Cumen, and Kristen!!! (thanks for ALL of your help...couldn't have done it without yawl!!!) =)

by William C.P. Armstrong, Student - November 17, 2011

If one asks,” How does volunteerism compare and contrast with activism?” it can be suggested that both are services provided for a community, but in terms of appropriating resources into either one, which suits a problem better? Well, I’m going to look at my own experience on the service trip in Visalia, CA.

What I was doing: The service trips are expeditions that Woolmanites venture forward to with the preface that we’re providing a service to a group of people. Half of our class stayed in town, volunteering at a local organic food bank where the students erected a shed and worked on their farm. My group left for Visalia.

We were well accommodated at the Friends Center, a little hub of serenity positioned on the corner of farmland, which in turn housed peacocks and gypsies living in trucks. Outside of our temporary residence danced the sprawl Visalia has morphed into over eons of suburban development. We traveled maybe half an hour to the work site where Self Help Enterprises was located and the donated land which was soon to bear homes. Greeted by Carlos, Ricardo (superintendents), and Dirk (program director), we were briefed on what Self Help was doing and how we could assist families in building their homes.

The days were seemingly eternal hammering nails to connect the measured and sawed timber pieces which would soon be raised as walls. Thinking about how tired I was I remembered that the families working there spent money, but also 40 hours a week on each other’s homes. Then, looking around my gaze landed upon Carlos and Ricardo who had both displayed a compassionate and thorough supervision (which included the brunt of the work). Being there, I was neither an owner, an employee, an activist, but merely a volunteer.


Why I did it: The reason why I differentiated myself among others who were involved was so that I could establish my occupation among so many. All I could do was donate a few hours to Self Help and the families there. I was actively building the homes, but I wasn’t actively changing policies in the United States that promote class discrimination. It is clear that while the need for homes in Visalia, CA was being addressed with my service hours, there was nothing done to affect American society at large, or even greater Visalia.

If it seems that I’m downplaying the importance of volunteerism, I’m not. I believe that my time was well dispensed at Self Help but I can't ignore the American vices reinforced in communities like the ones built by Self-Help. While homes and stability are being provided, what about gardens, supermarkets carrying fresh foods, organic, and affordable alternative products? How far does a family member have to travel between work and home? Where is the nearest school? Will the communities I've helped to build fall victim to consumerism and car culture?

These questions seem more related to “America” as we know it instead of the preferable community that would have included the input of residents. Indeed, I think that the time spent at Self Help was valuable, but in the long term it will only service families partially in that it lacks the freedom set aside for wealthier classes. I believe that is where activism is useful. Activism affects a system of governing bodies and people's worldviews which in combination can achieve a wide variety of social and political objectives. These might include readjusting food subsidies, reinvesting in infrastructure and public education. What matters is that voters influence their elected representatives in a way that demands their attention.

Where I find myself: With the prefatory question in mind, I think I directly experienced the difference between activism and volunteerism. I think the most valuable thing I learned from the Visalia trip was through the observation of different people’s determination in finishing projects. This includes students, Emily, the interns, Carlos, Ricardo, and the families who own the homes. Without that trait which enveloped all who were there, I believe those houses wouldn’t get to be built.

by Tess Solenberger, Student Fall 2011! - October 27, 2011

Volunteerism vs. Activism. We must ask ourselves “What is the difference?” Is helping at a soup kitchen an act of volunteerism or is it activism against hunger? There are no real answers, only ideas. As we well know, ideas vary from person to person.

Who comes to mind when you think of an activist? For most people it is someone heroic with saint-like qualities. They are perfect people who fight for a perfect cause, they way it should be fought for. But you see, in reality that entire idea falls apart the moment you mention people. There is no such thing as a “perfect person”, we humans are all beautifully imperfect. As was said in “Soul of a Citizen” active citizens, or ‘activists” are “persons of imperfect character, acting on the basis of imperfect knowledge, for causes that may be imperfect as well.” In addition, activism is viewed as a full time life style that consumes the activist.

Volunteerism on the other hand is something done by us “imperfect” citizens in an attempt to make ourselves feel like we are making a difference while devoting as little time as we can. I, however, believe that in some ways volunteerism can inspire change, even on a small level. For example, the shed I helped build for the food bank during Service Week will not end World Hunger, but it may make it possible for the garden to expand and help more people locally. I support volunteers, they are a good start to fixing a problem, but to truly change the people must go deeper.

I really love using the iceberg model as much as possible, because it fits so well with many issues. It is my understanding that volunteering is only addressing the issues we see at the surface, for example people are hungry. But activism goes to the roots of a problem and notices the injustice in the workplace that is creating these peoples hunger. Volunteers are very important, but to really resolve an issue we must have much more going on than simply volunteer work.

by Chloe Johnson, student - October 23, 2011


           In the articles, “Volunteers Can’t Solve Our Problems” and “ Soul of a Citizen,” it is interesting and challenging to see the differences between volunteerism and activism.  As I read them both, I tried to spot the “pros” and “cons” of each. I have never thought of volunteerism and activism as being separate entities. I have always believed they work hand in hand, and I still do. From the Volunteer article, I quoted him when he said, “Social change and more personal acts of compassion can feed each other,” because I agree that they do indeed walk hand in hand. (page 1, Volunteerism article) When we speak of choosing wether or not volunteer work can solve the world’s problems, I agree with the author when he says, “Of course we must address the immediate crisis, and try to rescue the children. But we also need to find out WHY they’re falling into the river--because no matter how hard we try, we lack the resources, strength, and stamina to save them all. So we must go upstream to fix the broken bridge, stop the people who are pushing the children in, or do whatever else will address the problem at its source.” (page 2, Volunteer article) I agree completely with that statement. I think it is hard to know how to go about fixing our world’s problems. Do we start by solving what is happening in the moment, or do we let those issues “hang tight” until we find the overall solutions?


         Even though throughout my life I have always been interested in going out into the world and being apart of the volunteerism movements, I still contemplate the idea that perhaps while volunteerism can solve the “surface” issues, it may not go any farther or deeper than that. A question that Loeb proposed in his volunteerism article was, “How do we proceed if we’re inclined to act on a more personal level but also want our individual actions to have an impact on a larger scale?” (page 2, Volunteerism article)


        I agree that we don’t have to be saints and have super knowledge in an issue and be “perfect” in how we express our views to the world in order to make a difference. I think it’s not so much that those activists thought of themselves as saints, but instead that we the people saw them as saints or “heroes.” This view of activists as heroes gives the idea that if you aren’t already perfect in all ways, and if you don’t have much knowledge and have powerful things to say from the very beginning, you can’t and won’t choose to make a difference. I can understand that feeling personally. In Loeb’s “Soul of a Citizen” article, he states, “We often think of social involvement as noble but impractical.” (page 2) I still to this day, am not sure if helping to build affordable houses for families was sustainable, but our contribution would only be apart of “the tip of the iceberg”, so only what we can see as the surface crisis. I don’t know how long those families will be living in those houses, but I know at least for now they will have shelter. I think the majority of us can understand the feeling of not being able to solve every problem, therefore we start wondering if we should bother to be socially active at all? 


         Everyone has a feeling of how deeply they would like to get involved in our society’s economic problems, but the way I see it is that each can be powerful, whether its simply a bandaid and will only last for a moment, at least it was an outcome of active hope. No matter whether its on a big world scale, the hearts of people have been opened and have showed their compassion and concern. For me, I feel that compassion is the start, and that is sometimes all that people feel they can give. Sometimes all we can do is live in the moment, and if in that moment, someone needs shelter for themselves and their children, then I shall be there to help. I’m no hero, and neither are any of our past proclaimed “heroes.” They found their calling and gave their best for the world. 

by Graeme Waring-Crane, Prospective Student - October 22, 2011

    Paul Rogat Loeb uses a classic situation to describe the tension between volunteerism and activism: the Stanford student who says that he hopes one day "'my grandchildren will get to have the same experience working in the same homeless shelter that I did,'" (1). The problem with this statement is that the existence of a homeless shelter means that a system that allows people to become homeless still exists. There is nothing wrong with volunteering, but "pure volunteerism has its limits as a way to change society," (1).
    On our service trip, we worked to build a shed in the garden of the Grass Valley food bank. On one occasion during the trip, we analyzed the existence of the Food Bank using the Iceberg Model. The food bank services a number of people who are unable to provide food for themselves. These people are at the tip of the iceberg, and near the bottom lies the system that does not pay them an adequate living wage. And below that, perhaps, lies a mindset of greed and competition. Can a few hours of volunteerism combat such a mindset?
    Loeb writes, "Greg Ricks [...] compared the situation of community service volunteers to people trying to pull an endless sequence of drowning children out of a river. Of course we must address the immediate crisis, and try to rescue the children. But we also need to find out why they're falling into the river--because no matter how hard we try, we lack the resources, strength, and stamina to save them all," (2). So yes, we should volunteer, but we should also be active in changing policies.
    One of the hurdles potential activists must overcome is something Loeb calls the "perfect standard," or the idea that an activist must have all the facts, be articulate, saint-like, and only take on the most important issues. Loeb says that "enshrining our heroes makes it hard for mere mortals to measure up," (4). In fact, the heroes of activism so often worshiped entered the realm of activism knowing that they were imperfect and would encounter much failure before achieving any real change. Also, activists are not "people who by sole virtue of superior genetic traits become activists. There are only individuals whose voices and visions through happenstance or habit have been sufficiently encouraged," (5). Loeb might suggest that the Stanford student mentioned in the introduction should not only volunteer at the homeless shelter, but lead a campaign to reform our system of economic thought.

by Hannah Plowright, Spring 2011 - March 30, 2011


How can service and movements for social change support and inform one another? Are there ways that service and activism are fundamentally different or opposed? (Editor's note: Hannah took part in the "food justice" service trip to Sacramento.) 

There are a lot of issues in this world and there are two ways to address them: through social movements and service. They are both different and also both very important. Social movements can be defined as acts that aim to change the way society views and addresses a global issue. Service is aiding the surface of the problem. If I were to use the iceberg model, I would say that social movement address the root of the problem and service is addresses the tip of the problem. Both are vital parts of the solution for global issues.

During our service trip I felt that I was involved in a social movement as well as service. On our first day we volunteered at an organic farm in central Sacramento called Soil Born. At Soil Born we helped maintain the acres of vegetable gardens and help with installation of fruit trees as well as taking care of cows, chickens, and sheep. Soil Born sells produce every week at their farm stand and also donates a lot of produce to food banks. On top of that they also have a youth garden to encourage and educate youth to grow their own food.

What I found interesting about this particular form of service was that they focused a lot on educating the public on the importance of locally grown food and how it is not only better for the environment, but better for people’s health, and the economy as well.  This, I think, is a good example of a social movement because they are addressing the root of the problem by educating people. Instead of giving food to people in need, they are teaching that anyone can be capable of growing their own food and by doing this; they can live an altogether healthier life. You can see this social movement taking affect by walking through the community of  Village Homes, a small community on the outskirts of Davis that combines farming and housing for a more sustainable living style. Apparently there is waiting list for people who want to move there, and as we walked through I could see why. All the open spaces are filled with abundant plants, orchards or chicken coops. One family could easily get enough to eat by just taking a few steps outside. From our first few days I started to note the rewards of partaking in a social movement.

On our third day we volunteered for Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services at their Mobile Food Distrobution. The Mobile Food Distro travels around the Sacramento area giving fresh produce to the poor and hungry. We spent our time bagging and handing out these items to almost 300 people. This organization was providing a service to the people but it was not causing a social movement. There are always going to be people who are hungry and needing food, so this food bank gives them a way to meet those needs, but it does not solve the root of the problem.

In conclusion, I believe that service and social movements are both important. Where social movements help solve the problem from the root, service helps aid the immediate issues. One cannot exist without the other. If there were no services to distribute food to the poor and hungry they might starve and die. If we didn’t try and change the issue through a social justice standpoint then we would just keep providing food for the needy for infinity. Service is more addressing the top of the problem where social movements are teaching people to think different to help the world in the long run

by Laura Farley, Spring 2011 - March 27, 2011


How can service and movements for social change support and inform one  another? Are there ways that service and activism are fundamentally different or opposed? (Editor's note: Laura opted to reflect on a service experience she had previous to Woolman.)

Actions speak louder than words. This is not to say that words are not integral in being proactive. Instead this more applies to the simple fact that sitting around and talking about change will never ensure that change will ever come unless action is taken. This is the relationship between service and movements for social change: service being the action and social change being the words.

Social movements give service a cause and service gives social movements a personal understanding. For example, I was a part of the social movement called Safe Ground Sacramento, which advocated for homeless peoples’ rights to a safe place to sleep at night. The more I researched and participated in the movement, the more I felt a need to serve at Loaves and Fishes, a homeless shelter in downtown Sacramento.  I heard speeches while at protests given by inspiring advocates of human rights that stirred my soul and gave a fire to my passion for service. At nonviolent demonstrations I was surrounded by people who shared a strong connection with me through passion. A connection where all our differences melted away as we marched or stood together for long hours at a time. The more I dedicated my self to the movement I found myself more eager to act in service.

The cycle continued as the more I served the more I felt a deeper understanding and connection to Safe Ground Sacramento. I heard many people’s stories about how they lost their homes. I heard various definitions of the word “home” and how it had changed for those people over the course of their lives.  The relationships I made while doing service and the stories I heard allowed me to gain a better understanding of the peoples’ need for the social movement Safe Ground Sacramento. 

Though service and movements for social change have a close relationship, they are not the same thing. Service is more of a personal experience—at times even self-centered. When a person gives up a part of themselves for the benefit of someone else, they are acting through service. This makes the experience a very personal thing as it is the individual that is emphasized. In many cases, learned more while serving than the person I was supposedly helping. 

On the other hand, a social movement is more effective when the individual ceases to exist and the stress is laid on a group. The movement will only be successful if the people act as a people, together for each other.  The goal is shared by all and therefore the responsibility is shared by all. I remember vividly how at one particular rally it was blazingly hot and the mood of the crowd was getting very tense with every bead of sweat that formed on our brows. Just when I thought I couldn’t stand it any more, a homeless man and his wife began to sing Amazing Grace acapella. Soon the rest of us joined in and the whole experience seemed to remind us all of why were there and the importance of being a part of such a wonderful and passionate group of people.

Service and movements for social change have a strong relationship, complementing and strengthening each other. As service builds on social movements, social movements build upon service. This is a simple relationship of support that is vital to change. 

by Dajanne Taylor, Spring 2011 - March 27, 2011


How can service and movements for social change support and inform one another? Are there ways that service and activism are fundamentally different or opposed? (Please note: Dajanne participated on the"food justice" service trip option in Sacramento and Davis, California.) 

Social movements, to me, mean people that come together with a common ideology who try to achieve certain general goals, while service means work done by a group or one person that benefits another. With those definitions in mind, they are connected because they both consist of a person or group of people getting work done to either achieve a goal or benefit people/ a person. 

The "food justice" trip consisted of a lot of service in addition to elements of social movements. We did a lot of weeding, gleaning, and distributing food for Soil Born Farms and Harvest Sacramento. Soil Born’s vision is to practice and teach sustainable agriculture within the city of Sacramento, because they care about the environment and want to help raise awareness to people so that they too can help the environment and food and nutrition access. 

While I was on my service trip, I realized that service projects can be a form of social movement or social action. The reason I say this is because while we were gleaning trees, we were not only benefiting the people that were donating the fruit, we were also helping those that really needed the fruit in terms of needing healthy meals. I realized this on the third day, which was Thursday, of the service trip when I saw that oranges we had picked being given away, for free, to low income and homeless people. This picture was sad but enlightening. Sad because I too come from a low-income household and I know what half the people were going through and I feel as though we should not have to go through those things. Enlightening because I contributed hard work and time to pick the fruit that was being distributed, not knowing that it was for a good cause such as this one.

Although this experience wasn't new for me, because I've done work like this before just not in the same context, it was still a wonderful one. I enjoyed all the tasks we did. 

Activism to me is a course of direct and aggressive action to achieve a political or social goal. With that said, service and activism can be fundamentally different but also the same in many ways. Different because service consists of a smaller scale of work done to help out people. While with activism, it helps on a much larger scale. They're the same, because they both tend to educate while helping out. I feel as though service projects can be a form of activism. Activism can start out on a much smaller scale, such as service, then go to a bigger scale like creating social movements. 

by Kai McGiver, student extraordinaire - December 17, 2010

On Tuesday after visiting the high school garden, we made a stop just down the road at the Hayward Community Gardens. The garden is extensive and is inside a track of land owned by a power company. Though it runs under power lines, they are masked by the lush expanse of foliage and vegetation. One notable feature of the garden is the diversity of the gardeners from all over the globe, including Africa, the Middle East, and South America. Wandering around the garden one finds plants from all over the world and can see foreign and sometimes exotic techniques like the miniature rice-paddy plot cultivated by an Afghani gardener. This garden is a great example of how tracks of unused industrial land can be put to a great use for the benefit of communities and people who might otherwise have difficulty feeding themselves.

by Megan Bernstein, Woolman Semester Student Fall 2010 - December 15, 2010

As many of you know, The Woolman Semester went to Mexico to study border issues. Because it was a very intense experience, it has been difficult to write about the trip. I hope to give insight to what I learned, and maybe inspire some to study it for themselves and come up with their own opinions.

It was a full and stressful week, and it was hard for me to be there, for many reasons. The rampant poverty was a huge reason, but what really bothered me was the sensation that we were always being watched, by everyone. The huge Border Patrol camera towers are always present. If you walk along the border wall in town, you can see the Border Patrol on the U.S. side following you in trucks. If you walk along it in the desert, the trucks appear out of nowhere to ask what you are doing. Not only were the Border Patrol watching us, the people were. I am not used to being the minority. Everywhere we went people were staring. People even took pictures of us on their cell phones.

We visited many places and homes to try and hear all sides and biases. As a result, I am thoroughly confused. From visiting the homes of families who lived on a maquila salary to visiting the TAKATA maquila (where they make seatbelts); walking to the border wall through the desert and experiencing the Border Patrol driving up on the U.S. side to figure out who we were, to visiting the Border Patrol station in Douglas, Arizona; from participating in a vigil where the all dead migrants found in the county were honored, to visiting Just Coffee, a company that buys the coffee beans for fair prices which makes it possible for the people to stay in Mexico.

I think that our current immigration policy needs to change. At the moment, the policy is that we should make it as difficult as possible to cross the border, even if it means hundreds of people die. Instead we should address the fact that so many people are crossing the border for economic reasons. While in Mexico, it was rare to meet a family that did not have members that have crossed the border to support the family. No matter how many walls we build and trenches we dig, people who are desperate will still find their way over.

The U.S. government should redirect the funds they are using to make better technology so they can catch more people into investing in companies that support fair wages for farmers in Mexican states like Chiapas, which is where many migrants are coming from, like Just Coffee (seriously visit this site, the coffee is amazing). Programs like that will treat the cause of the problem, not just the symptoms.

by Marie Vastola, Student Fall 2010 - December 1, 2010

“Their deaths are systematic and they're the results of a policy. And it's not just a few. It's thousands." These are the words of John Carlos Frey, producer of The 800 Mile Wall, a documentary describing the human rights atrocities committed along the U.S. - Mexico border since the wall went up in the 1990s. Every year hundreds of people die while crossing into the U.S. From Mexico and Central America. The Clinton administration publicly stated that their immigration policy would funnel migrants into crossing through high risk areas, often leading to death. The administration hoped that death would deter others, but more and more people continue to cross and an increasing amount die doing so. In 2009, authorities discovered 252 bodies of migrants in Arizona alone. Combined with the number of migrants who died in Texas, New Mexico, and California, statistics show more than one person dies every day crossing the border. And those numbers only reflect the bodies discovered. Who knows how many more have lost their lives in our deserts? Furthermore, migrants do not only die in the deserts and mountains. The All American canal that runs part way along California's border has taken lives too. Yet the water company refuses to put in safety features such as ladders or buoys. They know people will die in the canal – the source of San Diego's drinking water – and immigration authorities know too, they accept the deaths as deterrent. They have no plans to construct a fence where the canal acts as a lethal border. The immigration policies of our country reflect those of a country that does not respect human rights.

Participating in the Woolman Semester's Mexico trip, I got to see first hand the affects that our country's immigration policy has on every aspect of life, especially in border towns. We spent four days in Agua Prieta, Mexico, which borders Douglas, Arizona. During our stay we put water out in the desert for migrants, walked to the border fence, toured a border patrol station, visited a migrant resource center, held a vigil for those who have lost their lives crossing into America, cooked meals on a factory worker's salary, visited a hospitality house, drug rehab center, maquila (a factory, maquilas often have sweatshop-like conditions), brick making factory, fair trade coffee roaster, and a community center. While some of these activities – like visiting the coffee roaster – may not seem related to immigration issues, they really are. Cafe Justo supplies consumers with coffee from small farms in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. After the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into affect, many farmers lost their jobs to due the low cost of imported corn. With the majority of Mexican immigrants to the U.S. coming from Chiapas, Cafe Justo creates jobs there, allowing people to remain in their hometowns. The jobs created by Cafe Justo have fair pay, good working conditions, and environmentally safe practices. And I promise you, this is the best coffee you will ever taste.

While in Mexico I became so much more aware of the issues facing today's migrants. Now, I want to help make you more aware of these issues. I urge you to take action and buy fair trade coffee, write an email to your representative, become involved in local politics on the topic, or donate whatever you can. If no one takes action, nothing will change. Our government will build more fences, more people will die while searching for a better life, small farmers will lose their jobs, and we will live our lives with the knowledge of these occurrences. America came into existence to give people the chance to live better, freer and more fair lives. So let us improve the lives of those less fortunate, our fellow human beings.


Marie Vastola


What you can do:

Write a letter to your representative:

Act locally:

Buy fair trade coffee:




800 Mile Wall. Dir. John Carlos Frey. Perf. Jack Lorenz. Gatekeeper Productions, 2010. DVD.

BorderExplorer. ""Funnel Effect" creates humanitarian emergency on US border ." Breaking News, Current Events, Latest News and World Events at N.p., 26 Feb. 2010. Web. 22 Nov. 2010. <>.

Robbins, Ted. "VPR News: Illegal Immigrant Deaths Set Record In Arizona." Vermont Public Radio: Home of VPR News and VPR Classical, and Vermont's NPR News Station. N.p., 6 Oct. 2010. Web. 22 Nov. 2010. <>.

by Grace Oedel, community intern - October 22, 2010

This upcoming Saturday from 10-3 will be the Harvest Festival, a day of celebration, work in the garden, tasty seasonal lunch, and finally music and dancing!

At the festival we will all work together to ready the land for a new garden. If you haven't had a chance to get your hands dirty recently, I highly recommend it, as Malaika pointed out in her recent blog post, working in the dirt increases the mood. A poem by Marge Piercy sums up the deep joy that comes from the type of work we'll be doing on Saturday: 

To Be Of Use by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil, 
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used. 
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real. 

We will also be feasting on delicious seasonal foods, fiddling on our instruments, stomping our boots all around the dance floor, indulging in dessert decadence and generally making merry. I don't think any poetic explanation is needed for why you should come partake in those... Hope to see you on Saturday! 

by Grace Oedel, community intern - October 11, 2010

Creative Prose – Food Traditions, by Sage Po

It began with a slice of apple that had fallen from my cutting board to the grubby kitchen floor.  My six-year-old self snatched it from the ground and let it drop into the compost bucket before busying herself with peanut butter and a plate to consume her favorite snack.  In his customary gentle style, Peter rebuked the waste.  “In the future, you can rinse that off in the sink, not throw it away…”

The future was filled with food not to be thrown away.  “Be a member of the Clean Plate Club,” Janie told me, “finish all your food!”  And I was instructed to finish all the milk left in my cereal bowl – although if I asked nicely, Dad would usually drink it for me.  Then there were the “secondhand” fruit and veggies we brought home from the co-op’s half-price bin and the summertime farmer’s markets.  One side of a nectarine may be a big bruised mess, but wash off the mushiness and you get a perfectly good (if slightly diminished) snack.

I was taught to value taking only what I need, to recognize the preciousness of fresh food (without anyone resorting to talk of “starving children in Africa”) and regard it as something to be conserved.  Maybe I over-learned my lesson. When I go crazy over throwing away a morsel or two, people point out that compost will just go to grow more food or that eating once you’re already full just to avoid waste is unhealthy.  Still, I feel obligated to keep perfectly good food out of the trash. 

Perhaps economics influenced being taught this way, or maybe it was a reaction to the cycle of consumption and waste my parents saw everywhere in American society, or an inheritance from grandparents who grew up during the Great Depression.  I suppose it was a little of each.  Whatever the origin, I wouldn’t change this about myself – I am proud to be a member of the Clean Plate Club.

by Ruthie Hawley, Student - March 23, 2010

Having never done any real community service before, besides the occasional Jingle Bell Run or Leukemia Cup Regatta, I didn’t really know what to expect this week in Visalia. I knew it would be tough work, but I was unaware as to how much the service would really move me. Sure, I had heard from countless people who are involved in non-profits and such that community service is often a very eye-opening and meaningful experience. I had always shrugged off what they had said, figuring “well, that’s just what makes them tick. It’s very unlikely service could affect me in the same way.” Before this week, service had seemed like a chore, just another thing I needed to check off on my college application. Boy was I wrong.

I saw this week not only how important it is to give your time and help others, but also how gratifying, joyous, and refreshing the process can be. Yes, the days we worked were long and sprinkled with moments of both physical and mental exhaustion, but in the end it was so worth it. I am so proud of all the work our group did. We caulked, sawed, and conquered fears of power tools. In 5 days we sided 6 houses. It makes me feel good to know that because of the work we did the families will be able to move into their houses even a little bit sooner.

Not only did I learn a lot about the group’s abilities, (I had no idea we would be such super-siding-machines!), I learned a lot about myself. For one thing, I love the nail gun! Previously, I had always thought of myself as someone who was too scared or weak to use power tools. Not only am I strong enough to use the nail gun and “snapper,” I am strong enough of a person to not call it quits when I really want to. Whether it be forcing myself to get up and go in the morning (with a smile on my face) when I would rather be sleeping in, or fitting in the last piece of the siding puzzle, I was strong enough to block out the tempting suggestions of the sloth sitting on my shoulder saying “well, we could just call it a day.” Prior to this trip, I don’t think I would have ignored him. As I sit in the car driving back to Nevada City, I know I will be forever grateful of not only the journey to Visalia, but to the journey that brought me to a better understanding of who I am, what brings me joy, and that I am capable of things I had never previously imagined. Service is a way to help others overcome hardships, and find a place to establish roots, family, and a sense of belonging. Service brings people home.

by Katherine Stone, student - March 17, 2010
I am standing out in the bitter cold, chilling wind, and pounding rain. My nose is constantly running, my feet are numb, and my gloves are soaked all the way through. I have never before been surrounded by boxes of food and felt so incredibly miserable.  Standing at my assigned fruit and vegetable station, I let out a sigh. Last night I was reading about how food banks got started when Ronald Reagan cut a billion dollars out of the food stamp program.  Now I am waiting to feed elderly citizens, or non-citizens, who still may have a grudge against Reagan — I know I would.  With buckets of water now pouring on top of my yellow rain coat, I look over and see the line waiting to get food growing even longer. There are 40 plus people here waiting to get their share of weekly food in this miserable weather. One by one, different personalities come up to me, so grateful for me being there with food to feed their families.

Men and women who have lived life a different way than I could ever have imagined are standing in front of me, not being judgmental of who I am or the past I have lived. They are just happy for me to be there, greeting them with fruits and vegetables from weeks past. A feeling of selfishness began seeping through my limbs, leaving me with an emotion that I have yet to truly understand, but the miserable and longing feeling I had is far behind me. Nothing is as important to me now but the faces of pure gratitude now present before me. These remarkable people left behind their pride and dignity to face the fact that they cannot provide a meal for their family and I give them my true and honest respect.

Working with Soil Born Farms and the food banks of Sacramento have filled my soggy and wet clothes with the warmth and comfort I have never felt before in the way I experienced it. Looking back on that Tuesday brings a smile upon my face thinking about what I gave to those people and more important, what they gave to me. A simple “thank you” does not even come close to the appreciation I now have towards the hardworking individuals that deserve much more recognition for what they bring to a community.