The seedlings have been planted, the mulch has been spread, and I have one more day in the Byronshire before jetting back to Sydney. Last Friday marked the end of the first ever Permaculture Challenge, a program that I had the privilege of facilitating alongside a team of inspiring adults and sixteen amazing Byron Bay teens.
These 15-17 year old students showed up three weeks ago with their iphones and their cliques, sneaking out for cigarettes and tuning out (and in some cases, completely passing out) on beanbag chairs. But throughout the last three weeks, I have watched them plug back into the Earth and in doing so, connect with one another and with themselves.
They were not afraid to get their hands dirty building gardens, getting friendly with beneficial insects and feeling the crumbly black soil that only months ago was ‘humanure.’ They grappled with incomprehensible hugeness of the universe and the intricate subtlety of the microorganisms that power our soil-food web. They fought and apologized, cried and hugged, played music and sang, cooked and ate meals together, and evolved into a strong family. I have learned so much from these kids that I’m finding it hard to say goodbye – I want to stick around and help them organize their social action campaigns, visit their gardens and share the yield that they produce.
Byron Bay Permaculture Team (Photo by Sangye Christianson)
For me, being involved in this program has been life changing in a way that I had not expected. I signed up on a whim after reading about the program in a Permaculture Research Institute e-newsletter, and had no idea what to expect.
My interest in permaculture goes back to 2005, when I spent the summer WWOOFing at Maya Mountain Research Farm in Belize. but it has taken a back seat to other educational pursuits over the last few years. I’m still not sure where I’m going with these ideas, but I am starting to think deeply about how to work permaculture principles into mainstream educational settings, as well as considering starting a Canadian Permaculture Challenge when I get home. I’ve signed up for a Permaculture Design Course at Milkwood Farm in February, and am grateful that getting involved in these initiatives is starting to give some purpose to my sojourn in Australia. After all, Australia is where Permaculture was born, and it is thriving in both urban and rural settings.
At the Permaculture Challenge graduation, I surprised the students with my personal tribute to all the hard work they put in to the Permaculture Challenge. It’s becoming a bit of a tradition to write a spoken word poem at the end of an educational experience as a sort of parting gift for my students, as well as a way of giving closure and processing my thoughts.
Here are two versions of my piece – one shot live at the grad ceremony, where I performed in front of a packed 200+ person audience at Mullumbimby Civic Hall. The other was filmed by my wonderful friend Kamala at her organic farm in the hills near Wilson’s Creek. Lyrics are below.
For the Seventh Generation
When I was your age they told me,
“Baby girl, it’s a dirty world out there”
So I learned to disinfect
To sanitize and protect
To buy food that’s wrapped in plastic
Now I’m stressed out and stretched out like an elastic band
With antibacterial hands
And five year plans
Lending my dreams to morally bankrupt banks
And borrowing ideas from thoughtless think tanks
And fretting about pollution
But now I realize that the problem is the solution
Humanity is not out to tame nature
We are nature
And nature is wild
It’s volcanoes and glaciers and the first breath of a newborn child
So I set out to penetrate this planet’s state
And find out what reverberates
To speak the truth
To speak to youth
To put on some gardening gloves and boots
And give nourishment to roots
To fertilize the tender shoots
That grow and grow from all the seeds you sew
And if you don’t know, now you know
And if you don’t know, that means there’s room to grow
Cause I’ve seen a bunch of hellions
With mouths the size of pelicans
Learn to quit their yellin’ and listen….
To the silence….
That’s vibrating with billions of microbial operatives in sublime symbiosis
Guaranteed to do away with postmodern neurosis
This quiet eloquence embellishes a truth that’s huge and relevant
It’s grabbing the white elephant
And composting its crap and, hell, maybe even sellin’ it
The power is in you – in fact, it’s in your poo
This is some heavy doo doo voodoo
Think about it when you’re on the loo
Imagine every number two
Becoming a permaculture dream come true
Like Jack’s magic beans you’ll be climbing to new heights
Permablitzing new sites
Thinking about a healthy planet as a human right
And maybe sleeping a bit more soundly at night
Let the earthworms be a part of your community
Speak up in Canberra and make them see
That the harm that’s been done….
And we have all the time under the sun
To repair not despair
Tie back your hair
Observe and interact
If you treat her with respect, Mama Earth’s got your back
Grow some veggies
Use the edges
Put the power back
Into the hands of the many
And these hands will yield plenty
And don’t worry if you’re nowhere near twenty
Because this is the future of living education
Without further complications limitations or genetic modifications
Start thinking long-term germination not band-aid fixation
Because it’s not about us,
It’s about The Seventh Generation
Posted in Australia, education, permaculture
Tagged australia, byron bay, ecology, Emily Antflick, garden, high school, outdoor education, permaculture, permacutlure challenge, poem, seventh generation, spoken word, sustainability, teachemgood, youth
This weekend I was in the presence of a living legend – Dr. Jane Goodall. My aunt sits on the board of the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), so the family had the privilege not only of sitting in the second row at her Convocation Hall lecture on Friday night, but also of spending an afternoon with her at an intimate event at my grandparents’ home. I even had an opportunity to ask her a question – I asked about her choice of words – she always speaks of animals using the words “personality, mind and feelings.” I wondered about her conscious use of these three terms, and she answered that they are her way of pointing out the arrogance of humanity, her way of fighting against what the scientific establishment told her was wrong (use numbers not names for the chimpanzees, don’t attribute “human” emotions to these beasts, etc.).
What amazed me the most about Dr. Jane is how present she is, how she looks every person in the eye and answers their questions – particularly the questions asked by children in the audience – with sincerity and patience. Despite traveling 300 days a year, she never seems distracted or too busy to share a moment. This presence is something I will try to emulate in my interactions with my students.
Another thing I want to do as a teacher is start a Roots & Shoots chapter wherever I end up working next year. Here’s a cute video from explaining what Roots & Shoots does around the world, made by students who are part of a Roots & Shoots group in Delaware.
Last week the Huffington Post had a good interview with Dr. Jane.
I grabbed an autographed copy of her book, Harvest for Hope. Looking forward to reading what the good doctor has to say about food.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference is currently taking place in Copenhagen. 192 countries have been hanging out in Denmark since last week, trying to tackle the ambitious agenda of agreeing on a new international framework for climate change mitigation. Add to the overambitious targets the protests, arrests, hoaxes, walkouts, and boycotts, and it is hard to be hopeful about the outcomes of this conference.
As educators, we try to find a balance between teaching students about the complex, unpalatable realities of controversial world issues, and inspiring a sense of hope and possibility in our students. I will be tackling the teachability of COP15 for one of my courses in January. This is a bit half-assed but I want to get something up here about the conference before the thing ends on Dec. 18.
So…introducing the Unite for Climate campaign. The Unite for Climate website is an online hub for youth, part of the UN’s official COP15 page. It provides opportunities for kids to learn about climate change through various media, get involved in grassroots campaigns organized by young people around the world, and network and participate in the conversation. It also regularly publishes news about youth involvement at the conference – profiles of the young Climate Ambassadors, and highlights from the Children’s Climate Forum that took place in Copenhagen the week before the grown-ups’ conference.
The site also features “Connecting Classrooms” – an online curriculum that pairs classes from around the world and allows them to dialogue, debate, and work collaboratively to analyze and problem-solve around global issues. The current module focuses on climate change and the COP15 conference. From perusing the website, it looks like all you need to take part in Connecting Classrooms is a secondary school classroom supervised by a designated teacher, internet access, and a one hour per week time committment. Sounds pretty cool.
Climate change is an issue that kids care deeply about, and making them aware of how their everyday choices can impact the environment is no great feat. That’s the easy part. I’ll keep thinking about how to guide students through some of the murkier ‘oil-sands of the mind’ – that is, the economic and political realities – that have bogged down their elders at the Copenhagen conference.
Anyone have a good idea? A lesson that has worked in your classroom? A resource that might be of use? Please share!
Posted in education, Uncategorized
Tagged Children's Climate Forum, climate change, COP15, copenhagen, education, global education, lesson plan, online learning, unite for climate, United Nations, youth