Thursday, November 10, 2016

APW: Election Reflection: Grief and Forward Thinking

November 9th - 1:44 am 

Tonight, I grieve. For the human habitability of this planet. For those that don't fit into the white male demographic. For women, for minorities, for first nations' peoples, for those at, or verging on, refugee status. For decency, morality and social progress. Tomorrow, I'll strategize what are the next best steps. But tonight, I grieve.

November 9th - 10:45 am 

The symbolism that my environmental governance class was canceled this morning is hitting a little to close to home. 
I could end my message here, but this is not a time for putting our heads down and cowering from the future. 

Grief is necessary. America, as a nation, has neglected to directly confront the genocides and oppression it has committed in its founding. This threat of losing the white patriarchy of America and the increasing struggles that white middle america faces, such as the feeling as if there country was being taken away from them, were palpable in this election cycle. This country has continued to evolve through the same freedoms sought in its founding. When we retreat to these dark corners of hatred of the other and not engage with people who come from different backgrounds, we grow more polarized. We lose community. We lose empathy. We lose the incredible ability to grow stronger through diversity and cultural acceptance. We need to work at this. We ALL need to work at this.

Please remember, as we find our path, that we have made social and global environmental progress (in treatments and accords, not tangibly cutting emissions) under Obama's presidency. He has fought cynicism and divisiveness throughout his terms. He is a symbol and a reminder that rational and intelligent persons can lead this nation. He is also a reminder that the fight for inclusivity, for improvement of social and environmental progress, is not easy. Let us not let him down.

I read a NY Time Op-Ed this morning and one part was particularly striking to me: 

"Nothing matters more than finding ways to accelerate the arrival of the day when more Republicans do care." 

This is from an article regarding climate change and the state of the planet for future generations. However, this state of caring needs to be extended from not just the environment, but towards the human species. To be more socially and culturally inclusive in striving towards equality: for all genders, LGBQT, and immigrants. This is a time to grow community out of love and not hatred and not shrink from the monumental forces that imperil us today. Continuing on the front of fighting social injustices that threaten my friends and loved ones. Working to mitigate the effects of climate change and having systems in place that threaten the people that are most affected.

We just put a billionaire into office who promises to get the money and corruption out of politics. Let us hold him accountable. He wants to build infrastructure and create more jobs in this country. Let us hold him accountable.
Let's ground ourselves in reality, as Trump will be when he has to read all the briefings of political struggles he must respond to throughout the world. Let us be thankful for the next ~6 weeks and grow roots through compassion and loving kindness that cannot be displaced in the peaceful transition of power.

November 9th - 9:45 pm 

Step one among the many future fronts that need to be actively fought against. These are battlegrounds that affect all the biota, but this is not the appropriate method of appealing to the president-elect. 

Building renewable energy infrastructure and working towards energy independence accomplishes both Trump's and America's goals. If the money is truly going to be out of politics, then transitioning towards energy independence is a logic that would make sense to Trump. It can create jobs for the disenfranchised middle american working class, along with fitting into the narrative that America will lead the way as a role model for the world. Of course, this is a lot more complicated, but actively fighting against his choice of Myron Ebell to "lead EPA transition" is a smart first step.

November 10th - 8:45 am 

The victims of social and ecological disturbance face accelerated impacts, often exacerbating an already fragile community. While I can speak to the pros of resilience theory and systems thinking, now is a time of urgency, to reach out a hand and support, and to step forward as leaders in times of uncertain transition.
This is a call for those trained or willing to alleviate some of the harms of these socioecological disasters. It is now that we must stand as allies, if it is in your power, for the targets or the victims of these crises. 

In western North Carolina, we are designated as a temperate rainforest. We have suppressed fire for the the last century. In 2016, we have endured extreme drought conditions. As a result of the isolated fires that have now spread to 10,000 acres, we've called for a fire ban in 35 counties. I hope the residents of the five counties affected have safely evacuated and that this limitation is met humbly. This is the new normal. Let's make assisting our neighbors the new normal too.

Monday, July 11, 2016

APW: A not-so-new idea

“Probably within just the last ten million years, a plant had a new idea, and instead of spreading its leaf out, it shaped it into a spine, such as those find today on the cholla cactus.  It was this new idea that allowed a new kind of plant to grow preposterously large and live long in a dry place where it was also the only green thing around to eat for miles - an absurdly inconceivable success.  One new idea allowed the plant to see a new world and draw sweetness out of a whole new sky.”

I open with this quote from Hope Jahren’s “Lab Girl,” a novel/autobiography that shares her journey and formative choices on her way to becoming a scientist and opening three labs (currently running one in Hawai’i), along with detailing a unique friendship, and a deep-rooted love of plants and soil.  Why this quote, which recalls ‘new ideas’ leading to milestones in evolutionary biology and considering life from the perspective of a plant?  Because I find myself at a crossroads, with paths to walk down that will either stiffen my spine, grow a deeper taproot, surge for the light or any combination thereof.

As distinguished by Malcolm Gladwell in his Revisionist History podcast, privileged humans are blessed with second chances, and I’m not going to throw away my shot (Yes friends, podcasts and Hamilton soundtrack are still getting their deserved listens).  I returned to academia after a six-year absence, through an incredible opportunity to pursue a second chance at education, to navigate and understand the ecology of food and farming systems through a higher education perspective.  I aimed to make the most of this experience by being present for the educational, work and service opportunities offered through the Warren Wilson College triad, and as being an observer of the college system (which began as a farm school in the late 19th century) and its relationship to the amorphous subject called Sustainable Agriculture.  Not too dissimilar from the nebulous classification of ‘Organic Farming.’  (How about ‘biological,’ ‘ecological,’ ‘regenerative,’ or ‘living systems’ farming to try a few alternatives (which inevitably, if not already, would turn into buzzwords)?  Remember the context in which developed the ‘Green Revolution’?  Okay, I’ll save this rant for another post.)

As an active observer, I set out and grew to witness how a hands-on livelihood such as farming is being taught in the classroom setting.  Also, I aimed to learn the role of extension offices and how they inform management practices and to be aware of what questions are being asked in agricultural research and what methodology is being practiced to answer them.  Such is one of the benefits of a liberal arts education; it teaches you how to think rather than what to think.   And for me personally, the most compelling intersection of agriculture and academia, is how demonstration sites serve to inform production and management, education and research.  Agricultural learned throug higher education fascinates me with the depths one can explore through its history, its theory, its science, its complexity and its inconsistency around acknowledging farming as a living system.   (Did you know that most crop science and animal science students in 2-3 year master programs will never share a classroom together?)

How much did my curiosity grow in this pursuit over the last few years?  Well, I’m currently in search for graduate school to pursue a masters or PHD related to Agroecology.  To arren Wilson College and its professors – thank you for nurturing and probing my study further.  There are many paths that excite me, but ultimately I have a strong-willed determination to answer, or rather approach, this research question:

Can modern society create a competitive alternative to the current high input, resource extractive agricultural model through generating viable production farming systems based on biomimicry of ecological forest succession?   

I could spend pages and pages unpacking this question, discussing social and ecological implications, how the scales are weighted fairly to compare these systems due to policy and subsidized farming, but that is far from the emphasis of this post. 

I’m reaching out to various programs across the United States, and to several in Europe.  No system will be perfect.  Any educational system is what the student makes of it, though certain professors, curriculum, facilities and general, or lack of, acceptance around interdisciplinary scientific inquiry are essential components towards the emergent property: a student’s thesis.   Balancing available resources that different universities offer against a curriculum that can seem more burdensome than fostering may prove to be more of a challenge than its worth, or possibly the contrary.   Additionally, I’m interested in engaging with Agriculture and Life Sciences, Plant and Soil Science, Natural Resources and/or the Community Sustainability departments.   In an ideal setting, I’d find myself working with a systems ecologist, an ecological forester, an agronomist with expertise in soils and tree crop production, and an anthropologist with an interest in traditional food systems and historical land-use practices.

I'm a whole systems thinker, and exploring a specific research question through a masters program will be a great challenge to meet.  I’m fortunate in my experiences and exposure to think and frame these question in such a way, through I can find myself equally aggravated when I’m being unrealistic about how the best part of each system doesn’t manifest in our lives daily.  The next step is being resourceful and diligent in my undertaking to find the best path, whether it be academia or another road, to fully dedicate myself towards to engage with this topic.  

So there is a brief window into how I’m spending some of my evenings.  A future post on the regenerative farm, Shelterbelt Farm, that I’m staying at, and possibly the Passive House construction job, to follow.  This post also marks a transition in this blog.  One transition implies increased activity, with 1-2 posts a month, and also a change in content.  I’ll be addressing relevant agroecological questions around food and farming systems, where I’ll continue to alternate between stories, facts and prose.

Thank you for checking in, and I always welcome comments, feedback, and dialogue on germane subjects.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

APW: Meaningful Dialogue and a Return to Form

I sit near a window watching a male red cockaded woodpecker work his neck muscle repeatedly on northern red oak bark outside the library window.  I've been in a less appreciative state this last year, and would normally not pay much attention towards this bird.  In fact, the pattern of my mind would read as follows:

I see the bird
Then I distract myself with the task-at-hand
I observe the bird again
Without an actual feeling of curiosity, I think I should be interested in this observation
(My former self has had the tendency to become willfully lost in the natural world)
I return to what I was doing
And then I feel guilty that I'm not interested in the bird
I remain distracted

This process of intellectualizing emotions has been more persistently distracting and rather unhealthy as of late.  Though I've been going on walks in the forest and getting to know techniques for identifying trees and becoming familiar with my surroundings, I haven't felt any deepening relationship with the forest outwardly, nor inwardly have I offered gratitude for its inherent value.  I fault myself primarily through lacking clear intention in my life. 

I've been selecting the easier path, the one of least resistance, through adopting a mindset of surrender, settling, and making it through the day or week.  This has overwhelmed any possibility of creation, challenge and appreciation.   Functioning on the day-to-day, with a vague expectation that I will wake up from this philosophical coma.  This is no doubt a familiar feeling to most of us in this modern world.  Balancing acceptance with innovation, taking care of yourself while diligently pursuing a professional career, going through states of complacency, burning out, stressing over not knowing if tomorrow you will have a roof over your head and then a year later forgetting how important it is to meet you and your family’s needs of food, shelter and community.

Though the length of time associated with this mindset may last an afternoon, a week, a month, it may also range to several years or decades.  I recently heard a story of the “hero” bus driver who one day, after 20 years as a New York City bus driver, took his bus away from his regular track, and drove the metropolitan bus down to Florida, sick of the routine humdrum.  He did not phone in to work nor his family for several days.  These actions represent a wake-up call, wondering where have the years gone, finding a deep inhale of freedom after years of clogged lungs.  These actions, however, beget consequences, such as in this ‘moment of glory’, the bus driver left behind an insecure, under-valued and abandoned family. 

Where do you meet in the middle?  I ask this, because I don’t want to be the bus driver.  How do you bring meaning into daily existence while there is a persistent feeling of being in an unfulfilled funk?  I’m currently trying a change in perspective.  The goal is to embrace several conversations or situations each day for what they are: a transient opportunity, with a strong possibility never to experience these unique set of circumstances of who you are, and what the surrounding environment is like in this precise moment again.  Inviting purpose into your life outside of the big picture lens of mitigating climate change to save-the-planet, or rescuing a child from a burning building. 

This is a goal of mine moving into 2016.  Cherishing the present environment and current relationships in my life, as opposed to living in the future or the past, as was common for me in 2015. 

Elaborated path to more meaningful conversations (based on my own personality).

Set a specific intention for your conversation at its onset. I'm generally not assertive in calling the other person or myself out.  So if I don't have an intention set, then I’m unable to fix what is missing or off, even when the environment doesn’t feel whole or right.

Engage with people you care deeply about, share a history with, have similar passions that you’d like to deepen your exploration with, or are challenged by them due to surficial or core disagreements.  The development of relationships is rewarding, though they certainly require energy and work, especially if one is physically distant. 

Questioning and challenging each other, while that may disrupt the surface, can yield a deeper understanding of how we perceive and interact with our surroundings, hopefully in a more beneficial way. 

Ensure there is consensual engagement in the topic of conservation and create a safe space for the dialogue.

While it is easy to regurgitate what we learn or experience apart from each other, and then share that experience (i.e. small talk), little emotional and mental intelligence is required for such exchanges.  Try to synthesize your experience, relate them to your own, and explore the subject further.  Not to come up with "answers" as much to "dig deeper" and explore that process and see where it leads.  This exercise is both inherently valuable and pragmatically useful.

So, here’s a challenge, write to someone you haven’t spoken to in awhile, or a close friend that you haven’t been engaging with deeply in the recent past.  Reach out honestly, without an agenda outside of reconnecting, and aim to deepen your understanding of each other. 

That’s my theme this week.  A return to writing, to caring, to reconnecting.    If you need someone to talk to, hold me accountable for what I say.  I’m grateful for the person who challenged me into this thought process by creating a dialogue that directly led me to writing this post.

Thank you, from the depths that I can reach of who I am, for taking time from your day to read this.