It feels like everyday on this road trip ends up being at least two or three days in one.
We started off in Iowa, bidding a fond farewell to my Aunt Rosanne and Uncle Jim, who made sure we didn’t leave without a healthy supply of donuts from the local farmer’s market. These donuts were insanely good – sweet, moist (even after coming out of the freezer!), and delicious.
The previous night, I got to catch up with my cousin Nathan, whom I hadn’t seen for almost four years. I also got to meet (and hold!) his new baby boy, Felix Wagner Cook. Maybe you can tell, but I like to do pull ups, and then hold babies. One of my favorite activities.
Then – off to Kansas City! Five hours on the road, and then we arrived at the Kansas Institute of Art to meet with Than’s friend Karen, and one of her art students Theo, who had kindly agreed to give us a tour of the local urban farming scene. After checking out Karen’s great “talking tree” installation (the horns you see below were to amplify the sounds a speaker in the tree was emitting – each sound was representative of moments in time from the tree’s long history), Theo informed us that our first stop was going to speak to a class at DeSalle High School, where he runs an urban gardening program he calls “Art Farm“.
Than and I had no idea we were going to be speaking in front of a class – and it was great! We should be getting some video that Theo took on his phone, but perhaps the photo below give you some insight – we had a blast. We got to talk all about our trip so far, and it was great to hear kids asking questions, and getting excited about tilapia.
From there we headed off to check out “Bad Seed“, a food stand and brainchild of two true urban farming pioneers Dan and Brooke. After four years of farming on a one acre plot of land in the city, and selling their produce to Kansas City residents, they recently acquired close to thirteen acres still within the city limits, which they are in the process of converting into a fully functional production farm. After having come from an organization like Growing Power in Milwaukee, which just entered its seventeenth year of production, it was incredible to see an urban farm truly in its beginning stages, with twelve chickens, three goats, a small apiary, and just the first few rows of sheet mulch laid down. Even getting the fencing up and gathering the straw needed for mulch had clearly been a huge undertaking (Theo described the backbreaking process of digging the many postholes needed to circumnavigate thirteen acres), but the depth of Dan and Brooke’s commitment was very clear. They had farmed around the world, and had decided to come back to Brooke’s native midwest to reclaim some of the land there, and to bring good, local food into the city.
It was a jam-packed tour through Kansas City, and Theo was a wonderful guide. We had many good chats about how art and farming together provide a powerful therapy, and how people involved in both movements – activist art and sustainable agriculture – are often working together towards common ends.
This conversation only deepened when we arrived at the Light Center and met Robin. I get tingles just thinking back to our experience there, learning about her healing arts, and her calling to start an eco-village out in rural Kansas. To give you a sense of how in tune Robin was with nature, as she was cooking us a lovely lentil soup and chard dinner, she told us the story of the time she asked nature whether an old bottle of “Round Up” she found laying around the farm was okay to spray on the driveway, where she didn’t want any plants to grow. As she asked this question to herself, a solitary bumblebee flew directly up to the tip of the spray bottle in her right hand, and began to whirr loudly – more than just an ordinary buzz, as she made clear when she made the sound for us. to her, it was a clear sign, and the Round Up went back into the garage. Just goes to show: A single bee in front of a bottle of Round Up, a single citizen in front of a tank in Tienanmen Square – non-violent resistance is a powerful tool no matter who or what is using it.
After helping Robin and her garden coordinator around the farm, patching up a greenhouse, moving window panes, and shimmying a chicken coop to face the South, we sat down and talked with her long into the night. We also had the pleasure of busting out the Camp Tawonga songbook, and strumming a few favorites from the Beatles and James Taylor. I don’t know if it was all our talk about her energy work, and the healing retreats she hosts at the Light Center, but I really began to feel the power of the connections we were establishing on this road trip.
As someone who grew up in a very competitive environment, from attending private high school, to Yale, to Google, always needing to achieve and often “do better” than the next person, one thing that’s really solidified my interest in sustainable farming and permaculutre is the attitude of collaboration I sense from all those committed to their practice. Robin, Theo, Dan, Brooke, the folks at Dancing Rabbit, the workers at Growing Power – everyone I’ve met who is interested in these topics seems with ease to be able to place their endeavors in a greater context. We all feel like we’re working on something big, something important. And it feels like we’re all working together.
It’s awfully exciting, and there can never be too many folks on board. See what it’s like to plant something and watch it grow, and you’ll be part of it too.