Changing a Food System, One Seed at a Time: Part 4

Changing A Food System, One Seed At A Time: Part 4

Thu 13 Dec 2012

Story by Daniel Goleman, Lisa Bennett, and Zenobia Barlow

Read part 3 here

Changing the Climate

Ricardo Salvador, formerly a professor of agronomy at Iowa State University and now a program officer with the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, grew up near Anthony. He knew it to be a conservative place, deeply invested in the commodity production of cotton and pecans and holding onto its factory farms. He also knew that its residents suffered from food-related health problems. That’s why one of the first things he did when he joined the Kellogg Foundation in 2006 was to search for an organization interested in inspiring a change in the region’s food system. But although he searched widely, the promise of grant money in hand, he could not find any takers. “I ran into everything from confusion, to bewilderment, to opposition—everything but enthusiasm,” he recalls.

During the past few years, however, interest in food and health has begun to grow in the region, in part because of the New Mexico Collaboration to End Hunger, a statewide public-private partnership formed after New Mexico was declared the most food-insecure state in the nation, and in part because of the local efforts of Dominguez-Eshelman, Sharratt, and Wiggins-Reinhard.

“Two years ago, people weren’t anywhere near as ready as they are now for change” in the food system, says Olga Pedroza, city councilor for Las Cruces, New Mexico. “And I think that now, because of all the things that [the La Semilla founders] have done—the food summit, and the teaching, and the presentations, and the relationship building—the climate of the place is beginning to get a little bit more sympathetic.”

Salvador is even more enthusiastic. “I never thought the work they are doing would take root in that place,” he says. “But they have brought together a really broad coalition of people with convergent interests,” including government officials, businesses, farmers, and educators. “I really respect that they have already gathered significant resources—and I am not referring just to financial resources, but significant social capital in support of the alternative vision they have.”

Salvador admits that the Kellogg Foundation views La Semilla as a high-risk investment: The leaders are young, the organization is a start-up, and their vision is daunting. But Salvador believes their plan makes sense, and they have the people skills to build a broad base of community support.

Dominguez-Eshelman, for example, “clearly thinks both deeply and far in the future and has the emotional intelligence that allows her to lead from behind,” Salvador says. “She works with the process of the group. She doesn’t get ahead of collective thinking. She gently guides in a particular direction. And what makes her particularly effective is that she doesn’t have a predetermined agenda with others. I think she literally is one of the best listeners I’ve ever run into. She listens, processes, and then puts her thoughts out there.”

The three founders are also effective collaborators, because each brings an important set of skills that the others value, and no one person tries to overshadow the rest. Sharratt, for example, is appreciated for his ability to express the group’s ideas in writing—most notably, in grant applications. And Wiggins-Reinhard is valued for being able to jump into action and make things happen with great enthusiasm for the young people with whom they work.

“I never thought I would enjoy working with teenagers, but I found that I love it,” Wiggins-Reinhard says. “We interact with youth and their families on such a personal level; it is just incredible to watch them grow and transform into young adults and advocates for change in their communities.”

Part 5: In tomorrow's installment of this five-part series, the authors of Ecoliterate describe the evolution of a youth farm at La Semilla—the model for a hopeful new future.

About the authors: In the new book, Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence, psychologist Daniel Goleman and the Center for Ecoliteracy's Lisa Bennett and Zenobia Barlow profile inspiring educators, activists, and students who embody this new integration of intelligences as they creatively address food, water, and energy issues. This is a story about a group of young adults in New Mexico who set out to change the way people in their community nourish themselves.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint. From Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman, Lisa Bennett, and Zenobia Barlow. Copyright © 2012 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Photo Credit: ©Tyler/Center for Ecoliteracy


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