the home grown institute
Some of you may know that one of the big problems in the food system is that in the last 60 years, farmers switched from growing lots of different plants and livestock on smaller family farms to a mono-culture - growing all corn, or all soybean, or all wheat on huge parcels of land. In this model, when one plant gets sick they are all at risk of getting sick. When one pest gets munching, the whole tribe shows up for the feast. The system is sustained only by applying ever-increasing amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
What I’ve learned in the last five years of steeping in sustainable and regenerative models of agriculture is that diversity is the key to building the healthiest, most resilient areas of food production. What some plants and animals repel, others attract. When one member of community is threatened, another sends signals around the farm for help. What is disastrous for one species is dessert for another. The soil gets richer over time.
As a systems thinker, I believe what is true for communities of plants and animals, is also true for communities of people. The healthiest and most viable, resilient communities are full of diversity - all ages and all colors, some with wealth of knowledge, others with wells of energy, right along side those who have resources in the bank.
If we use diversity as a barometer to measure community viability, the “green movement” – which is populated mostly by young to middle age, middle class white people - is a community at risk.
At The Home Grown Institute, we are all about promoting healthy resilient community. This means we are committed to ensuring a socio-economic, racial and ethnic diversity at The Home Grown Institute. It is really a challenge, and I suspect our success will depend on a combination of how actively we invite, and how patiently we listen, and how genuinely we share stories. One thing we’ve learned is that in aiming for diversity it is not just about who is attending but also about who is presenting.
In the area pf presenters, we are making strides in our 2012 inaugural program - with presenters ranging in age from 13 to Elders, from working class to privileged class and with the beginnings of a mix of racial and ethnic backgrounds. We have added Community Storytelling to our Saturday Evening program. We are responding to feedback that our use of “sustainable practices” might be more deeply heard if we talk about “stewardship” as we contemplate programming an Interfaith Conversation.
Our next focus is to bring this same level of diversity that are developing in our presenter mix, into our community of participants. In many cases this means financially supporting small groups of people to come from specific communities. To this end, we have established The Home Grown Institute Scholarship Fund. We've identified a handful of community gardens, community centers and faith-based organizations with a constituency that is not traditionally represented at “green” events and have set up the Scholarship Fund to subsidize registration fees and actively invite those community members. If you are part of a community that has been under-represented at “green” events and would like to know how if this program could support members of your community to attend The Home Grown Institute, please get in touch with us.
We are developing a number of strategies to bring streams of resources into the Scholarship Fund. The proceeds from our Silent Auction at our March 24 Saturday Evening Reception (open to non-conference goers for $18 and also includes Storytelling, Seed and Tool Exchange, Community Awards) will benefit the Scholarship Fund. We are soliciting contributions from local businesses and family foundations. And, whether or not you can join us next month for our Springing Good Intentions Into Action conference, you can contribute to the Scholarship Fund on the registration page of our website. After the conference, we’ll let you know how your contribution was used.
We want this conversation about diversity to be a part of The Home Grown Institute - when we stand back March 24-25 and gaze at the crowd assembled, we want it to be a juicy, vibrant representation of community - because we are not just about bees and chickens.
What’s Good for the Farm is Good for the Community    
Sunday, January 22, 2012