Changing a Food System, One Seed at a Time: Part 5

Changing A Food System, One Seed At A Time: Part 5

Fri 14 Dec 2012

Story by Daniel Goleman, Lisa Bennett, and Zenobia Barlow

Read part 4 here.

From Education to Action

But if real change is to come to the food system in southern New Mexico, it will take more than good ideas, people skills, and even coalition building.

That is what led the founders of La Semilla to the idea of starting a youth farm—a place where young people can learn about sustainable farming, permaculture, nutrition, culinary skills, and entrepreneurship.

“I think the farm is so integral,” says Sharratt, the son of a soil scientist with the United States Department of Agriculture. “That is the piece of it for us that we’re so passionate about focusing on. I feel like part of that comes out of this recognition that for any change to happen—this desire for farmers’ markets everywhere—we need to have production. Because we can have these conversations until we’re blue in the face. But if people aren’t producing food for local markets, well...” he pauses there, as if to say, “...then it is just talk.”

They know, of course, that the food they will grow on the land they only recently acquired will not be sufficient to feed the whole region. But they want the modest farm to serve as a demonstration site to show others what is possible—that young people can grow their own food, even in the desert. And you never know what is possible after that.

They never imagined that they would be able to acquire land in the first year of their organization’s existence, for example. But Halla, who appreciates their goal of showing people a positive alternative, gave them fourteen acres outright when he learned what they were doing. Walking across his own property (he owns some 180 acres), the sixty-five-year-old nurseryman says, “I just have a good feeling about them, and if they’re interested in doing this, I’m interested in helping them.”

To learn more about what it takes to run a farm, Dominguez-Eshelman recently attended the University of California, Santa Cruz, to earn a certificate in ecological horticulture from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. She was glad for the chance to accelerate her learning curve, but she recognized at the same time that the more she knew, the more she didn’t know. So, true to their collaborative spirit, La Semilla’s founders will not be diving into farming alone. As of early 2012, they formed an advisory committee to help them develop a farm plan and hire a farm manager.

Behind them are a number of powerful players committed to ensuring that they have every possible chance of success. “We have a lot staked on this,” says Salvador. “We’re not leaving it up to chance. We’re doing everything we can to support them.” The Kellogg Foundation is, for example, providing technical assistance and helping the organization network with groups in higher income communities in northern New Mexico, such as Farm to Table, a Santa Fe–based nonprofit dedicated to promoting local agriculture.

If La Semilla lives up to what many believe to be its potential, Halla could eventually turn his entire business over to the organization in the form of a foundation, a prospect he has begun discussing with Salvador, Kellogg’s program officer.

But for now, the leaders of La Semilla are remaining grounded in the English translation of their name: the seed. They understand their mission to be seeding actual food—and the idea of nutritious food for all. “In a way, it is about planting those seeds so that we’re not the only ones speaking about the region and what the needs are,” says Dominguez-Eshelman.

In the end, how else are people going to change a complex system controlled by corporate and government interests? Halla adds, “You’ve just got to start one person at a time, one area at a time—and seed.”

To learn more about Ecoliterate, visit the Center for Ecoliteracy's website.
To purchase the book, visit Amazon or your favorite independent bookseller.

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


More News