For almost all of my adulthood I’ve had trouble answering the question: What do you want to do/be when you grow up? When I first attended college I was most interested in history and philosophy, yet that “interest” did not feel like a calling. I stopped and started classes several times, never really feeling like I had direction. I started working at a restaurant with a chef friend for money and as a way to keep my parents my off my back, so-to-speak. A number of setbacks later and a decade had passed, with more credits than I could use, and a knowledge of the inner workings of the restaurant business, but no real plan.
In April of 2012 my father passed away, joining my mother and leaving me even more lost than before. He was an adjunct professor at University of Notre Dame of Maryland, and although his PhD was in anthropology, and his career had been as the PR chief at the National Zoo, he was asked to chair the new sustainability major there. From him I inherited a lot of books, and I took one of those books with me on a trip to Cape Cod later that summer with some friends from that area.
The book was From Eco-cities to Living Machines by Nancy Jack Todd and Dr. John Todd. In it they discuss their vision of a sustainable future that looks to natural systems for design cues and introduced me to the concept of ecological design. Ecomachines introduced me to the idea that we could use natural systems to filter municipal waste, or clean up toxic areas and other solutions I had never considered. And in a strange coincidence that seemed nearly providential, the beach on which I laid reading this book was only a mile or two from where these ideas had been pioneered at the New Alchemy Institute.
This lit a flame. I searched “ecological design” in google and found a podcast called “Sustainable World Radio,” with Jill Cloutier, which is a Permaculture guided program, and through all the guests interviewed became even more excited; so many ideas and so much potential. Later, I found another podcast called “The Permaculture Podcast,” with Scott Mann. Even more interviews with people in all facets of society, and how they had used their knowledge to create sustainable, healthy systems. I had found it; direction, a calling. I decided I would finish college, finally, and came back to UMBC, majoring in Environmental Studies.
Through my own independent research, and from what I’ve learned since returning to school it seems humanity is in deeper trouble than most realize. Climate change looms, the 9 billion mark looms, industrial ag has convinced farmers and politicians that the only path to abundance is mining primordial carbon sinks to enrich poisoned, depleted soils, and to subsidize it. As a species we have a tendency to not fully consider, or take responsibility for the consequences of our actions. DDT, asbestos, countless medications, fracking, nitrification of the bay, GMO gene selection for pesticide resistance and the subsequent input of additional biocides and mined nutrients, the list is endless. This further causes me to worry about the possible unforeseen effects of GMO crops, or anything else labeled as “safe.” These factors, combined with the seemingly endless legal corruption of bureaucratic officials and systems that seem rigged in favor of those who already have power, spur misanthropic thoughts and feelings. These must be rejected as fundamentally unproductive.
Only as agents of change ourselves, and en mass at that, can we hope to affect change in the world. The food system is broken! Our readings and the presenters have given us clear view of the lack of equality it represents, and the wastefulness of the entire system, in addition to agricultural practices that seem so counter-intuitive that they are hard to even comprehend. I hope that I will be able to do as much as possible for any and all of the forthcoming projects. My “deep gladness” would be to be able to work with all groups as much as possible, but as I must pick a main area of focus, and as it has recently been a north star to me, the Food Forest/Permaculture Garden will be my primary effort. That said, again I hope to work with any and all of the groups.