Building a Regional Coalition around Safe Food, Clean Water and Connection to the Land
was a two day dialogue and retreat in Hunter, NY organized by the Global Peace Initiative of Women for 18 young professionals in urban agriculture, permaculture, sustainable farming, and the herbal healing arts. Other areas of focus of the participants included health and wellness, green perspectives in faith/spirituality, and the environmental policy sectors. The group participated from 5 states in the northeast region of the United States.
The participants represented a diverse group of young adults living in mostly urban, but some rural areas of the northeast. They were all deeply engaged in local environmental issues and many were working on urban organic farming to provide healthy food to underserved communities. Their work involved:
1) Scaling up the distribution of fresh foods through local agriculture collectives and strengthening partnerships in the food justice movement;
2) Building environmental awareness among diverse groups through environmental education curriculum and activities;
3) Preserving herbal knowledge and native plant cultivation to support natural wellness practices that are complementary to conventional medicine; and
4) Respecting and honoring the earth and her living systems, understanding that care for the earth is central to all religious traditions, and paying tribute to the worlds indigenous wisdom.
Through our climate work at the United Nations, GPIW has come realize that food is at the center of the climate discussion, and is one of the few areas that every person can control in their own life. This was the basis for our decision to focus this retreat on food. During the opening session, we found the participants were in complete agreement with this premise and saw food choice as central to their environmental practices. We were surprised at the strong consensus and the ease with which the dialogue began to flow right from the start. It was as if the participants already knew one another, although they were meeting for the first time. Food and connection to land was the thread that bound them, and as they shared stories, this bond only deepened.
The group was so much on the same wave length that there was no need for background information or introduction to the theme. They were clearly all very much educated on environmental issues. We normally begin such dialogues by seeking to enhance the understanding of interconnection, to show how food and water are tied to so many other issues. But this was already understood, and the conversation soon veered off into how food choice connects us to Mother Earth and helps us live with greater awareness of our relationship with the environment. We discussed the cultivation of land as a spiritual practice and how connecting to the land helps our spiritual growth. Again we were surprised how easily the conversation flowed between environmental and spiritual matters. This reinforced our premise that among this new generation of emerging leaders they see no separation between their spiritual life and environmental work. They have integrated these two aspects of life to a greater extent than people of an older generation.
We had four mentors join the group and help lead conversations. There was particular interest among the group in
, a Lakota Nation Elder, who spoke about how language helped shape the relationship of his people to the land. For example, he said, there is no word for domination in the Lakota language, and the word for water means that which carries feelings between us. Two of the participants had Native American ancestry, and they were very interested in how language shapes relationships. There was also much interest in
, who is part of an urban garden initiative in Baltimore. She helped describe the relationship between one’s inner and outer work, spiritual cultivation and soil cultivation.
, our youngest mentor, who is a seminary student and has a long history as a social activist working with homeless youth, reinforced this theme of connecting the outer with the inner. The fourth mentor was a farmer and runs the
Essex Farm Institute
, who spoke about his love for soil and the interaction one can have with all the living entities in the soil. It was a theme all of the participants could relate to.
Mark emphasized the importance of cognitive dissonance to reorient mindsets toward earth and people care. To achieve this, he motivated participants to involve themselves in a process of growth and transformation by challenging conventional systems of food production, even the commercial organic food business. He inspired the group to continue on their already profound paths as change makers and go deeper by achieving alignment between their personal decisions and the outer efforts they are achieving.
In the evening we sat outside around a camp fire, and when everyone was invited into conversation, nobody wanted to speak. It was a comfortable silence, a time to absorb the words that had been spoken during the day. It seemed the group valued the opportunity to simply reflect on deepening their relationship to the earth and consider how earth can bring us closer together as a human community. The examples and stories shared during the dialogue supported the notion that love for the earth can awaken greater love for between humans and throughout humanity.
The weekend retreat succeeded in:
- Offering a reflective space in nature to recharge energy, explore and deepen personal spiritual journeys.
- Reminding the group how to live in alignment with their values.
- Deepening the synergy between spirituality and food/water issues.
- Providing a tangible opportunity to form new allies in environmental/spiritual work.
We are committed to continuing support of this group and to organizing a series of regional retreat gatherings across the nation over the next few years.
GPIW is grateful to the organizations and many individuals who have supported the continuity of its work. This program was made possible with contributions from F.I.S.H. Foundation and the Eileen Fisher Foundation.