A simple sweater, a simple peach, a simple stone wall in the Chadwick Garden at the University of Santa Cruz, where for forty years, thirty people in each class spend six simple months of their lives, coming to know the land, and learning how to ask the land the right questions. Sound simple?
As mentioned previously, I spent part of the weekend at UCSC at the end of July: it was the 40th anniversary and reunion of the program, commonly known as the UCSC Farm and Garden, and formally and bureaucratically called "CASFS" (pronounced cass-fus).
The bulk of my participation was sitting in the audience of a symposium, largely comprised of graduate apprentices, who have taken the knowledge they received and who've gone on to create new programs in the world.
The first speaker I heard was Catherine Sneed, of The Garden Project, who works with prisoners in San Francisco, watching the land bring meaning to their lives as they grow food to give to the city's hungry—including elderly people whose cabinets were literally bare. She spoke of being in the hospital, having been given a prognosis of death, and yet someone handed her The Grapes of Wrath to while away her remaining hours on earth. She took to heart Steinbeck's message that, without a connection to the soil, people would have no character or soul. And leaving the hospital alive, but so weak she could not stand, she managed to obtain an eight-acre section (now 145 acres!) of the jail grounds as a place to start a garden. The prisoners in the program, four of them, would carry her and help her walk. They had no tools, and it took three years to clean the plot, barehanded. As the garden grew, so did the spirits of the imprisoned men who worked it, and she saw that hope and meaning had returned to their lives.
Many of the young men she currently works with ask, "Can my cousin come? Can my friend come? Can my mother come?" In the garden, there is safety and creativity. In the garden, there is collaboration and not destruction. The program reduces recidivism greatly (a quarter of that of other inmates of the county jails), and the realization of that inspired Sneed to create the Garden Project, for post-release prisoners.
Hearing her story brought me to tears several times. Giving hope and YES to trapped young men is at the core of her work, and it seems to be at the core of all the farflung graduates of the apprenticeship program.
More on Catherine Sneed's work:
Yes magazine: Fall 2000
The Brookings Project: lots more links
Pictured here: the UCSC farm, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Those views are soon going to be plagued with the intrusion of housing: the world's most beautiful farm is going to be the victim of urban sprawl. Boo!
Also inspiring was a project presented by Godfrey Dembe Kasozi, who returned from Uganda, where his CETRUD program is ambitiously and creatively addressing issues of poverty, hunger, AIDS, and sustainable farming in Kasese, Uganda. Kasozi told of the culture shock he experienced upon arriving at the UCSC campus, where apprentices are housed in tents and teepees. "Because to a Ugandan, the United States is richest! How can I, Godfrey Kasozi, live in a tent?!" And because the coastal California fog proved too cold for him, the staff thoughtfully acquired a trailer for him to share with two other apprentices.
Kasozi had already attended programs in France and Germany, but the technology those programs implemented was far too advanced for him to take back to his impoverished homeland. But six months in Santa Cruz equipped him with the knowledge and resources and confidence to return to Uganda, and to begin the work of implementing the CETRUD vision: "communities that are free from poverty, disease, and illiteracy who are sustainably managing their natural resources." Largely through educating women and children—many the orphans of AIDS victims—in farming sustainably, CETRUD is achieving truly remarkable things in its community.
I was delighted to see that seeds for the community are donated by local hero, Renee Shepherd of Renee's Garden Seeds: please go look at the page and click through the photographs.
Those were just two of the presentations that moved me, and a lot of other people, to laughter and tears. I came away with my favorite feeling: inspiration. Inspiration isn't as lusty as a deep-seated sense of justice, or the delicious tingle of truth, but it's a more efficient fuel, emotionally. I'm inspired enough to offer a portion of the sales of my farmers market calendar to CASFS, to help them grow more of what they're growing.
You will be hearing a lot more about the people here: it's the Source, near as I can tell.
That's all for today.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: “Everything that is new or uncommon raises a pleasure
in the imagination, because it fills the soul with an agreeable
surprise, gratifies its curiosity, and gives it an idea of which it was
not before possessed.” — Joseph Addison
Thanks for visiting.