I have been at ARI for almost exactly three weeks. In my short time here, I have found this humble place to be many things. My first impression was that I was in a place that was well used and lovingly worn around the edges. I find new responsibilities intimidating, while I welcome the growing number of familiarities. I have surprised myself with both my strength and endurance, while simultaneously discovering my very human inclination to misjudge people. I am not entirely culpable for this, however, as the apparently ramshackle assortment of community members here are all, in actuality, exceptional individuals and many are seasoned leaders. Even recognizing this I am still surprised each day when someone mentions some detail about them self that completely alters my point of view.
Here, people work together, sweat together, laugh together, and reap the benefits together. Whether it be weeding (for which my deacon Rose has apparently trained me exceptionally well), vegetable planting, rice harvesting, chicken feeding, cooking or lifting a van out of a ditch, all tasks are approached together. The term here is foodlife. It refers to the intimate connection between the work we do together to create food, and the life that same food sustains in ourselves and our neighbors. I have been, and continue to be, in awe of the amount of support this community offers its members. I see it each day it when people, who work harder than I even knew possible, stop to assist with someone else’s task while exhaustion shows through their own smile.
All of this I have been watching and struggling to understand and explain. I want to reconcile the somewhat worn appearance of everything here with the sheer amount of outside support and appreciation this institute gets. It wasn’t until tonight, when I overheard a conversation between an elder Japanese visitor and one of the staff members here at ARI, that I think I began to understand this outwardly simple, but inwardly exceptionally complex place. The staff member was relaying a speech he had given on an international conference on the millennium development goals that he recently attended. He described how policies that governments and large organizations made in order to combat poverty have not been having their intended effect. He went on to relay several stories of ARI graduates who are thriving and passing on their knowledge of sustainable agriculture and methods of food security to the next generation of their rural communities. This is what is going to accomplish the millennium development goals, and this is the point of ARI. It’s not about the facility, or the staff, or the country that ARI is in. It’s about the effect that this place has on the people that pass through its walls, fields and barns. The good work that ARI is doing is blatantly visible, and does not require statistics and government surveys to comprehend. Food security, the ability for a community to produce what it needs to survive, is what is going to combat world poverty from the grassroots level.
In my short time here I have already been a carpenter, a harvester, a janitor, a seed sower, a listener, an observer, a committee member, a workhorse, and a dance instructor and student. I look forward to the coming year with eager anticipation as I learn my role here and become more competent in my daily tasks. It is invigorating to be able to so easily see (and taste) the fruit of your labor! I look forward to sharing my thoughts and experiences with you, the readers of my blog.
Thank you and peace be with you,