Saturday, May 23, 2009

Commencement Speech Sussex Community College

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but what does it take to create the village or community? In this era of social networking, sustainability and environmental issues, never has it been more imperative that we build stronger more cohesively integrated villages. As each of you leaves this campus and goes forward you will begin building your own personal communities and what may not be readily apparent yet is the strength of the community you have already begun building. It takes tremendous energy, resources, dedication, tirelessness and selflessness. It means putting yourself out there and taking risks when others choose not to. At the core of every being is the heart and it is the heart that will mold and shape you. It wasn’t until I received the MacArthur fellowship that so much of this became transparent to me. A full 20 years after graduating college my Spanish professor Dr McCarthy told me how back then she remembered I was so concerned with creating a sound, healthy, work environment, about my concerns for the farmers and farm laborers. Other folks with whom I’ve reconnected with have also brought to my awareness my deep concern in my teenage years for the general welfare of all those connected with my family farm and the greater community around me. A great deal of this can be contributed to the environment I grew up in, being raised on a family farm in an extended family of farmers, with very strong ideals and opinions. My grandmother drove tractor trailers in the 1940’s and 50’s – she was physically 5 foot tall – but her presence was that of someone much larger and grander, from her I learned the value of time and the meaning of what I refer to as old fashioned hospitality. Even when the repair man was coming to fix the oven, somehow there was a slice of cake and a cup of coffee waiting for him to rest for a bit. From this I learned the value of taking time to stop and listen to those around me who seemingly had no meaning or value in my personal community but from whom I learned so much, now in many ways we have traded facebook for the kitchen table. So now our kitchen tables have a global reach and sharing and if we’re not careful even though allowing for a connection that has no geographical boundaries we can become just notes on a wall, virtual graffiti as it were.

I remember taking the old pickup truck out for a ride down in back and I couldn’t it get back up the hill - my first attempt at driving a stick shift I was 12 years old at the time. My Mom told me “you got it down here now you get it out of here. From this I learned the value of perseverance and that taking a chance or risk might mean some struggling, frustration and maybe even some embarrassment but ultimately the greater reward of satisfaction and learning to trust and believe in yourself and your abilities and learning the boundaries of those abilities and how to expand those boundaries and push beyond the limits of your experience.

From my father I am beginning to understand the lessons of management, only 30 years after he was trying to teach them to me, knowing that there is a difference between being a leader and a manager and every healthy community needs both and one needs to know the difference. When to be the leader charging to the forefront and when to be the manager and like a patient or not so patient parent, coach and guide your team to the finish line and not always in first place. Dad also taught me the importance of observation – always being aware of what was happening around you. While you were having a conversation with him he would always be scanning the area looking for things that were out of place or quickly reacting to a potentially dangerous situation. Through our blogs we have become the observant community, always watching, listening and through our posts letting others know of important happenings in our villages and communities. We also have the ability to make a blog disappear as though it never happened except in some virtual attic or memory. But what we always need to remember is that while the physical existence may be erased the memory and sharing of the word is not. As newspapers gradually fade as the commonly used source of information and twitter becomes the telegraph of our times we have instant communication about our lives and a sharing of information that again knows no boundaries. We have the ability to shape our worlds literally at our fingertips. Our communities are now infused with the global knowledge we bring to them and evolve at blinding speeds that the technology now allows. While we enjoy greater access to information we must never forget the immediate community within which we live, it is so easy to forget about our hearts when we focus on the external. For it is the local community that makes us stronger, it is the foundation upon which we are built, centering ourselves physically, spiritually and emotionally – it us the ability to forge ahead and cement the lines of communication that are so necessary to build and grow sustainably. It is from the strength of small villages that great cities are built. My village, my community knows no boundaries; it is only limited by the boundaries I place upon it. My strength and commitment to my fellow villagers comes from within and from them. Your villages will know no boundaries if you allow them, the cities and future forged from your villages will be greater than you can ever dream of as you sit here now.

My wish for each of you is that you are challenged greatly, that you persevere, that you never forget your heart and that you will always know you have a place at my kitchen table sharing a cup of coffee having a slice of cake waiting for the oven to be repaired.

Monday, May 11, 2009

How's the weather been treating you

I've been getting asked alot lately how the weather's been affecting us. The damp wet rainy days have been perfect for transplanting so the thousands of lettuce plants going out into the fields are very happy right now. What this wet weather hasn't been good for is the direct seeding so any seeds we would plant directly into the soil have been put on hold for now. We're keeping an eye on the moon watching for clues from nature as to when the frost danger is over so we can begin planting out the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Last night I was riding through the fields checking on the progress of the crops and was covered in dust from the dry soil on the surface. Amazing how it was sooo wet just last week we couldn't really do much tractor work and now the dust is flying. The irony of all this is that in just a couple of weeks it will be too dry to direct seed. When I was a kid growing up Dad would never plant lettuce in June or July as they would "burn up" as he called it. The seed will germinate and as it breaks the grounds surface it will die from the heat. We're working on extra transplants so as to avoid this problem but we will still need irrigation to help the tender young seedlings settle in. But for now we'll enjoy the cool, damp days of spring and watch the peas and fava beans grow.