Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Journey to Reconnect with Nature, Place & Community

Today's content was provided by Stephanie Rexroth of Pittsburg, PA. Her post today shares her motivation and methods to "reconnect with nature, place and community". The writers at MVI are thrilled that Stephanie was willing to share her thoughts and personal journey.

"Driven by a desire to reconnect with nature, place and community, I've embarked upon a journey...."

We live in a culture that has been completely assimilated by the tenants of industry. Value is reserved for those who produce and are ever more productive -- operating at machine-like efficiency. Our national religion is consumerism. Technology lords over all. Specialization is one's highest, most honorable goal in life; the one true path to enlightenment (wealth).

Making a living within our culture's value system is borderline unhealthy; doing so in a recession-stalled economy is identity-crushing. The high-stress career that I had entered after college took a heavy toll upon me physically, mentally and emotionally. Armed with a stubborn work ethic, I suffered through, usually in silence, for six years before having a complete career/life meltdown.

It was time for a major change or it wasn't worth living anymore. Yes... it was that serious. But through that challenging time, I began challenging the assumptions of our culture. I quickly discovered that nothing is as right/wrong, acceptable/unacceptable, crucial/unnecessary or valuable/worthless as we are taught.

Needing time and space to search for a new direction, I left my stressful life as a designer behind for a... yet to be determined new career (a different but healthier kind of stress).

To facilitate my search, I have worked for the last two years at a minimum wage job to cover some bills and pay down debt. One that is, purposefully and thankfully, not physically or mentally exhausting. Meanwhile, I read a little of everything: history, science, philosophy and literature.

Through my reading, I quickly discovered all the things that are wrong in the world and the myriad ways that our country is heading toward collapse. Questions quickly arose as to whether the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of hyper-capitalism with its short-sighted model of unlimited growth. Evidence abounds of the long-term defects of our modus operandi founded upon disposibility -- especially in the precarious state that we find ourselves, our communities, our country and our world in today.

Overwhelmed and disheartened by corporate greed, legalized corruption, political gridlock, social distress and environmental destruction, I developed a sense of helplessness in my own meager ability to effect any small amount of positive change. For a short time, I became stuck in vacillating states of outrage and apathy.

It was during the darkest part of this past winter that I stumbled upon a few memoirs about organic agriculture. I don't know how to explain it other than to say that something felt right.

Hope began to stir.

For the rest of the winter and early spring, I read extensively on sustainable and natural agriculture, urban farming, permaculture, animal husbandry, homesteading, heritage hobbies, self-sufficiency and ecology. [See Recommended Readings below.]

The idea of creating sustainable communities and self-reliant local economies helped me to break free of fatalism. To a certain extent, I feel that it doesn't matter if society fails as long as I know how to grow my own food. There's some comfort, stability and security when that self-sufficient attitude is mutually shared by an entire community.

Indeed, the need is urgent to restore the balance to our world; to accept our place within it instead of failing miserably to rule over it. The pendulum must swing back toward the tenants of stewardship, sustainability and self-sufficiency. The time has come to re-embrace that well-rounded personality of the jack-of-all-trades and the self-reliant survivor.

I believe small-scale, diversified, sustainable agriculture will remedy many of our societal issues (our broken food system, inequality, hunger, poverty and epidemic health problems like obesity) as well as dire environmental crises like climate change. Mini-systems of vibrant farms can also ensure urban food security, revive and stabilize our local economies and mend the social fabric of our communities.

I'm passionate about being a part of the solution, but I have a lot to learn. Through my informal, hands-on education, I also hope to discover my fit and future within the local sustainability movement.

Driven by a desire to reconnect with nature, place and community, I've embarked upon a journey to combine a love of working outdoors with my hands and a love of nurturing plants to grow.

This summer I'm cultivating an edible balcony of vegetables, herbs, berries and edible flowers in containers to experiment with no-yard gardening. Additionally, I am volunteering on a rotating weekly basis (at One Woman Farm, Garfield Community Farm, Healcrest Urban Farm, Gardens of Millvale and with an urban homesteader) to gain experience, meet like-minded individuals and figure out where to direct my energy and talents. By next year, I hope to have refined my focus enough to intern or apprentice with a local diversified farm and gain my certification in permaculture.

In the two short months that I have been volunteering, I've been thrilled to meet many who share the same goals and are traversing the same path. It's inspiring to see a movement growing locally and to become a part of it. Perhaps a greater change is possible after all.

I'm encouraged to continue down this ambiguous yet hopeful path by pioneers like Bill Mollison who, in his Introduction to Permaculture, wrote:

"To become a complete person, we must travel many paths, and to truly own anything we must first of all give it away. This is not a riddle. Only those who share their multiple and varied skills, true friendships, and a sense of community and knowledge of the earth know they are safe wherever they go."

Recommended Reading

Stephanie Rexroth is a serious reader, a seasonal writer and an aspiring permaculturalist in Pittsburgh, PA. You can follow her reading lists on Goodreads, read more articles on her Blog and follow the progress of her #EdibleBalcony2013 on Twitter.