Tag Archives: thomas berry

Sustainable Agriculture Networking Important

Sept. 14, 2013

Thoughts from returning from a conference in Alabama ….

The Food & Farm Forum in Thomaston, Ala., Friday was interesting experience, unlike other forums where I’ve been asked to give a talk. In this one, the group was divided into “tables,” each with its own discussion topic. Participants chose which topics they wished to engage in, with four rounds of discussions. I led two talks.

Jim Ewing leads a discussion on Gifts and Challenges of Rural Southern Communities at a Food & Farm Forum by the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network Aug. 13, 2013. The event was hosted by the Alabama Rural Heritage Center and the Alabama A&M and Auburn University Cooperative Extension.

Jim Ewing leads a discussion on Gifts and Challenges of Rural Southern Communities at a Food & Farm Forum by the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network Aug. 13, 2013. The event was hosted by the Alabama Rural Heritage Center and the Alabama A&M and Auburn University Cooperative Extension.

Topics included teaching kids about growing food, food safety, food from perennials, high tunnels, medicinal herbs, seeds, birds for meat and eggs, selecting crops to decrease disease and pests, direct marketing, and others.

Hosted by the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network and Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities Cooperative Extension at the Alabama Rural Heritage Center, the forum was an opportunity for local people to express their interests and share their own experiences in sustainable agriculture.

It was an enlightening experience. At our tables, for example, we had truly innovative leaders in sustainable agriculture mixed with newcomers wanting to learn more. Everyone shared, everyone learned something, and the entire experience was uplifting and thought provoking. It shows the power of crowd sourcing and sharing, where information flows up as well as down and adds engagement and conversation. Not the least of this experience was the importance of networking in sustainable agriculture.

One person I spoke with, for example, said she was the only organic farmer in her county. She was able to access top-flight information from experts in the field. Another woman was a community organizer, who admitted that she knew nothing about agriculture, but walked away with an appreciation of how empowering it can be for people to grow their own food and share it with others, turning, for example, food deserts into profitable enterprises that can rebuild a community. (See Will Allen and his Growing Power in Milwaukee!)

Participants learned that they are not alone in their belief that something is lacking in our food system that speaks to the heart. My book Conscious Food, for example, was discussed, as was Norman Wirzba’s Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating. And we discussed the works of Thomas Berry (The Dream of the Earth) and how Wendell’s Berry’s 1977 book, The Unsettling of America, had proven so prescient — that the U.S. government urging farmers to plant “fence row to fence row” with industrial agriculture in the 1970s would decimate rural communities.

We each had seen that in our own lives and communities and discussed ways to turn that around (encouraging small local farmers, creating food hubs, community supported agriculture, farmer cooperatives, enlisting churches, civic groups, schools and hospitals to buy local food, starting farmers markets, etc.)

The Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network has two more forums planned, in the northern and southern parts of the state. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend those, but if this gathering was any indication, they should be fascinating. For more info, see: http://www.asanonline.org/

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.


2013 Next Big Thing in Books

Jan. 28, 2013

2013 The Next Big Thing in Books

Thanks to Grace Walsh, a Boston author, whose new book is Divine Arrows. Check it out at www.earthenspirit.org – and her book blog: http://www.earthenspirit.org/mybookblog/

Grace invited me to join a blog chain 2013 THE NEXT BIG THING – a series of self-interviews by/with authors about what they’ve been working on.
So, here are 10 questions concerning my newest book:

What is the title of your book?
Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating

Where did the idea come from for the book?
My wife Annette and I own a small organic farm and I was out working in the fields one day and it really struck me how beautiful it was to be out there under the blues skies, the puffy white clouds, the gentle breezes. The plants were gently waving in the breeze and I was going about my chores, just thankful to be alive. Thankful in the moment, that Annette and I, essentially, were living a “walking prayer.” We were growing food for people — good, healthful food — and being a part of this great cycle of life. It was spiritual. It was sacred. It was holy. I was in bliss.

Then, I came inside the house and checked the messages on the computer and there was an alert that some food we had bought at a local grocery store might be contaminated, affecting people in six states. I looked in the news and there was a report that this generation could be the first in modern history that would have shorter lifespans than their parents due to the epidemic of obesity among children. And there was a report on “food deserts” — areas of cities where no fresh fruits and vegetables are available.

And I thought: How did we get like this? How did our food become unhealthy? Where did the sacredness of our food go? Or, was it ever sacred. I knew intuitively, and from my own experience, that it WAS sacred, and had to have been so. So, the question was, how did it get this way? That was the basis for the book.
What genre does your book fall under?
Inexplicably, on Amazon, it falls under organic cooking; I thought that odd until I saw the other offerings listed that way, including books by Eliot Coleman (one of the founders of the organic movement) and Michael Pollan (a journalist who writes about food and farming). So, I guess I’m in good company. I would say the book falls under: Food, Farming, Organic, Environment, Spirit.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Hmmm. I would say the current hunk du jour to play me, of course. But that wouldn’t be very accurate. My wife would be any Marilyn Monroe lookalike.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Over the past 2,000 years, we have lost our spiritual connection with food in Western society; here’s how to get it back, and create healthy families, communities and a healthful world while we’re at it.

Who is the publisher?
Findhorn Press (Scotland); distributed in the United States by IPG.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
About six months. A lot of it was already written through my newspaper columns on organics and my blog about food, farming and agriculture. And, of course, through notes scribbled to myself.
A little explanation: I always carry a small notepad with me and whenever I think of something I might want to write about, I make a note of it. As a consequence, I have these pocket-sized notebooks everywhere, as well as torn out scraps of paper with scribbling on them – on my desk, in the car, in the pockets of my clothes, by my bed. I also have three blogs:
On organics: Shooflyfarmblog – https://shooflyfarmblog.wordpress.com/
On philosophy, etc.: Postcards From A Green Planet – http://jimpathfinder.tumblr.com/
On daily life: http://coinkyinc.wordpress.com/

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
It’s something of a personal journey, with a bit of explanation/how-tos on growing your own food, but with a message overall that we need to change ourselves and our planet. So, I guess, I’d say it’s closest to Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto: How Organic Food Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe, but with a more spiritual aspect to it.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I have greatly enjoyed the books of Michael Pollan, Eliot Coleman and Barbara Kingsolver. Oh, and “lunatic” farmer Joel Salatin, not so “lunatic” farmer Gene Logsdon, and, of course, Wendell Berry and Thomas Berry. Someone who may or may not be as well known but who writes thoughtfully about spiritual ecology, as what I write about is often called, is Norman Wirzba, a professor at Duke Divinity School. And, of course, there’s the continuing example of eco-spirituality at Findhorn in Scotland, now recognized by the United Nations as an eco village.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I’m a firm believer in the spiritual principle that when one heart is changed the world changes. That is why I point to the words of Buckminster Fuller in my book regarding the way atrophy can be reversed and new paradigms can be started by the simple acts of individuals. When done unconsciously, it’s evolution. When done consciously, it’s revolution. Now, as perhaps never before in human history, with the Internet, social networking, etc., we can accelerate consciousness and the place of humanity in history through what I call biocultural revolution. It starts with being conscious about our food.

Again, thanks to Grace and her new book, Divine Arrows: http://www.earthenspirit.org/mybookblog/

Thanks to Dale Neal, an Asheville, NC, author whose new book is The Half-Life of Home. Check it out at http://www.dalenealbooks.com

Thanks to Marjo Moore, an Asheville, NC, author, poet, whose new book is Bear Quotes. Check it out at http://marijomoore.blogspot.com

And to keep 2013 THE NEXT BIG THING going, here are some wonderful writers and their recent books:

Denise Low
Natural Theologies: Essays about Literature of the Middle Plains (Omaha: The Backwaters Press). This book is the first critical study of contemporary Mid-Plains literature. Denise Low, former Kansas poet laureate, shows how the region’s writers inherit a Frontier legacy from Indigenous and American settler communities. http://deniselow.blogspot.com http://www.deniselow.com

Trace DeMeyer
Two Worlds: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects, an anthology of first-person narratives by Native adoptees, edited by Trace A. DeMeyer and Patricia Busbee, ISBN: 978-1479318285 (Ebook and Paperback). An important contribution to Native American history! Read more: http://www.splitfeathers.blogpot.com/.
Published by Blue Hand Books (Create Space/Amazon), http://www.bluehandbooks.blogspot.com/

See also: Nan Cuba, author of Body and Bread: http://myfanwycollins.com/2012/12/24/the-next-big-thing-guest-post-by-nan-cuba/
Marjorie Hudson is the author of ACCIDENTAL BIRDS OF THE CAROLINAS, a fine collection of short stories that was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award.

Michael Jarmer is the author of MONSTER LOVE, a contemporary twist on Mary Shelley Wollenstone’s classic “Frankenstein.”

Joe Schuster, whose book, THE MIGHT HAVE BEEN is a terrific baseball novel with a compelling human story.

Finally, see any of the fine authors at Findhorn Press: http://www.findhornpress.com/

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Earth v. Eaarth: We Need a ‘New Story’

Aug. 17, 2012

Earth v. Eaarth: We Need a ‘New Story’

Competing Visions of Anthropocene and Ecozoic Eras

The late philosopher and theologian Thomas Berry gives an uplifting vision of Earth in his writing in which he posits that a new age, the Ecozoic Era, could be upon us.

This “New Story,” as Berry called it, would be marked by “a period when humans would dwell upon the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner.”

As Berry explained in the October 1991 Eleventh Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures in Great Barrington, Mass.:There are only two other moments in the history of this planet that offer us some sense of what is happening. These two moments are the end of the Paleozoic Era 220 million years ago, when some 90 percent of all species living at that time were extinguished, and the terminal phase of the Mesozoic Era 65 million years ago, when there was also very extensive extinction.”

He laid out six conditions for an Earth community to be engaged in this Great Work that are required for this New Story to unfold and thereby save the planet and humankind.

“The biggest single question before us in the 1990s is the extent to which this technological-industrial-commercial context of human functioning can be made compatible with the integral functioning of the other life systems of the planet,” Berry warned.

Bill McKibben seems to have answered that in the negative with his book, Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough, New Planet (2010), explaining that climate change with its attendant problems isn’t something that’s “going to” happen, but is already here. The planet that we have now is not the planet we had before, and the technological-industrial-commercial context that was destroying natural systems has worsened and shows no indication of abating.

In fact, there is a growing movement to name a new geologic era, the Anthropocene, to reflect the cumulative ill effects of human impacts upon Earth — or, Eaarth.

Berry later refined his conditions for ushering in the Ecozoic Era that broadens the abilities of humans to make positive change in the world (see: Twelve Understandings Concerning the Ecozoic Era, www.ecozoicstudies.org). His vision remains a powerful challenge to humankind to change its course, from creating an Anthropocene Era to an Ecozoic Era, away from a worsening Eaarth to a wholesome and life-sustaining Earth.

Central to Berry’s New Story is that ecological spirituality hold a special place as one of three “key building blocks.” This “presence to the primal mystery and value of nature and to Earth as a single sacred community, provides a basis for revitalizing religious experience and healing the human psyche,” Berry says. It’s central to the New Story that it “invites new cosmological reflection on meaning and value and the role and place of humans in the universe process.”

And that concern for ecological spirituality is closely allied with the third key element: “Bioregionalism,” that cares “for Earth in its relatively self-sustaining geo-biological divisions, reorients human activity in developing sustainable modes of living, building inclusive human community, caring for the rights of other species, and preserving the health of the Earth on which all life depends.”

Significantly, many who support the vision of declaring an Anthropocene Era say it began 12,000 years ago with the birth of agriculture, rather than, as some contend, with the Industrial Age. Indeed, rather than manufacturing alone, if one were to reverse course toward Eaarth, much of the application of Berry’s principles would require changes in the way agricultural policy is conducted.

Practical ways could include:

— Federal subsidies or grants for rural redevelopment, much as “healthy cities” initiatives by past Congresses helped urban areas. These could include bond mechanisms such as GOzone (Gulf Opportunity) bonds that were offered in the Gulf Coast to rebuild infrastructure after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region.

— Farm Bill subsidies or grants supporting local and organic growing, promoting small ecofarms both rural and urban for fresh fruits and vegetables. This would directly address the problem of “food deserts,” areas where fresh food is lacking. It would help address spiraling health care costs.

— Public distribution network funding would help farmers and promote farming by reducing the bottleneck between producers and processors/distributors who dictate low prices. This already is in place in limited fashion by the promotion and certifying of farmers markets; but if regional hubs could be developed for distribution of local organic and heirloom varieties, small farmers could find larger markets for their crops and biodiversity could be supported. This would boost local communities, as well as the bioregionalism of the areas.

As Berry and others have detailed, the growth of the industrial megafarm relying on fossil fuels and chemicals has devastated rural communities by producing commodities for shipment overseas or national food processing giants, instead of local food, hastening jobs to the cities, and making states food importers rather than food exporters.

In his book, Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community, Berry outlines that accepting a New Story is a rejection of the industrial mindset that leaves Earth as wasteland.

While the forces that are propelling destruction of Earth are large, collectively, the individual power of human beings is great, as well. The power to create is as great as that to destroy. As Berry so persuasively argues, building a sense of awe for the universe and its beings as sacred can change the course of humanity and planet. It’s up to us, each, individually, to enact this New Story.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.