A New Era: Community Driven Resiliency – Sea To Seed

Resiliency. It’s a word that carries a lot of weight in my life, something I repeat almost as a mantra. I see it in many of the students I work with, some of the communities I’m involved with and particularly so, in the natural world around me. To define it I’d say something like, “The capacity to thrive and to endure when faced with a diverse range of challenges.” My greatest teacher of resiliency comes in the form of one particular spruce tree on the driveway of my family’s farm yard. This tree was rescued from a development lot and transplanted in unforgiving clay soil. Since it was planted, it has endured years of harsh drought and cold winters. It has been eaten down by moose year after year and ran into by farm equipment, but somehow despite all of the odds, it continues to grow. It’s crooked and far from esthetically pleasing with broken bows, chewed and dead sections, but still, it is one of the most beautiful things on the farm.

This spring I’ve noticed that the tree has made great use of one of the first wet falls we’ve had in years. The short and stalky tree is now flourishing. This tree will continue to thrive no matter what life throws its way. I aspire to live up to this tree’s example, and I think that if the regenerative and sustainable agriculture movement is to be successful, it’s communities will have to embody the same resilient spirit.

I’ve always known farmers to be enduring. Growing up in the Peace region of north eastern BC, I’ve seen my father and his peers face and overcome insurmountable challenges including economic crashes; relentless droughts; floods; fires; pest pressures; mechanical failures; and long hard days with often few rewards. When I was younger, I must admit that I didn’t quite understand the motivation to “keep the farm alive.” I never imagined myself returning to the land to work on the farm. When I was younger witnessing the struggle of the farmers, it appeared to be largely a burden, a sacrifice. It wasn’t until years later that I began to see the potential of the enduring spirit I saw in the old farmers I knew. The greatest obstacle I began to see, that got in the way of their thriving, was isolation.

These farmers were resilient and enduring individuals who faced one of the most difficult chapters in history for small farmers. When these farmers hang up their hats to retire, I can’t imagine how individuals will fill the gap. I know that I could never fill my fathers shoes and become a mechanic; a gardener; a carpenter; an operator; farm planner; marketer; accountant, etc. What our retiring generation of farmers need is a new kind of resilient community to continue their work and I believe that is what the new generation of farmers is prepared to bring to the table. I know this resilient community existed in the past, I’ve heard stories of it. But, instead of romanticizing the good old days we need to build communities resilient and relevant to our current paradigm. As Autumn Skye Morrison expressed, “Sustainability does not exist in isolation it is only through collaboration and cooperation that we can be sustainable.” At one time our communities embodied regenerative resiliency and sustainability out of necessity.

After years of capitalism, individualism and commodification our communities have become largely disjointed and isolated. The farmer no longer knows the family he or she feeds, and the consumer has never helped bring in the hay or watched a seed transform to fruit or a laying hen release her egg. Isolation leaves us vulnerable to hardship and as we look at the world around us, many are concerned by what we see. Everything from food insecurity to climate change to various mental health crises.  Just as hardship inspired resilience in the tree, it inspires it in our communities. We are localizing and assembling our diverse array of talents, passions and resources to grow thriving communities. Our youth and young farmers are connecting with our elders and learning both how to endure and adapt. They are slowly learning lessons that took generations to develop, to ensure they are not lost. One clear distinction is that these new farmers are not becoming the ‘Swiss Army farmers’ of generations past, they are collaborating as communities. Where in the past farmers had to do it all, now a community stands.

This community extends far beyond the field to include the bakers; the butchers; the herbalists; the farmers’ market coordinators; the regulars; the CSA shareholders; chefs; mechanics; metal workers; carpenters; husbandry experts; social media story tellers; activist guerilla gardeners; permaculture gurus; teachers; students and every other hand involved in doing their part to contribute to the thriving of something.

Beyond logistical benefits, the greatest gift community offers is a sense of solidarity and shared purpose, the sense that we are contributing to a collective masterpiece. Through community,

“We have the capability of moving forward supported by each other as a woven web, we are not individual strings out there on our own, threads in the dark. We are a part of a great tapestry and when we can feel that support of that tapestry we can also offer support as the other threads that hold each other.”

A sense of accomplishment liberates individuals from a state of meaningless boredom. When the work is done, community offers us the means to celebrate our individual gifts and passions, and our collective triumphs. There is a reason that across cultures the end of the growing season is a place of celebration, where we all see the value of our efforts and the fruits of our labor. Celebration allows us to stoke our flames. Without it, even the brightest flames are doomed to burn out. We need to celebrate our resilient communities: the pockets of diversity in a desolate landscape, our victories in a sometimes bleak world. There is so much value in the feasts that follow the harvest, and the barn raisings that end in dance. The best expression of resilient celebration comes once a year in the form of a harvest; a bountiful expression of the year meant to be shared in the face of winter’s cold bite.

A farmer who endures alone may be resilient, but a farmer who knows the artisan baker that uses their flour and the family that eats it to begin every day has a different light in their eye, for they are thriving.

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