Martina just returned from leading two high school trips. The first took the freshmen out to Jubilee Farm to begin a dialogue about sustainability, and the complexities of agrarian land stewardship. For a week the group dug their hands in the soil, harvested, and weeded–all the while mulling over choices in fertility supplements, weed management, water conservation and crop rotation that a farmer faces. The second week found her camped in the middle of a clearing outside of Vernonia, Oregon with the sophomores. The matter at hand was sustainable timber production. The forest is a mixed-species select-cut forestry project owned for three generations. Say that sentence again: mixed species, select-cut forestry project owned for three generations. Incredible! It’s not the first time Martina has taken students there, she’s been there four times and each visit brings her closer to understanding that what the Hayes family does at Hyla Woods represents the antithesis of industry standards.
On the last night, after days of trail maintenance and putting protective cones around young Cedar Trees for the winter, she opened The Unsettling of America, by Wendell Berry and drew her students into a conversation about the ethics of business. In 1977 Berry wrote, “I beleive the strip miner to be a model exploiter, and as a model nurturer I take the old-fashioned idea or ideal of a farmer. The exploiter is a specialist, and expert; the nurturer is not. The standard of the exploiter is efficiency; the standard of the nurturer is care. The exploiter’s goal is money, profit; the nurturer’s goal is health–his land’s health, his own, his family’s, his community’s, his country’s. Whereas the exploiter asks of a piece of land only how much and how quickly it can be made to produce, the nurturer asks a question that is much more complex and difficult: What is the carrying capacity? (That is: How much can be taken from it without diminishing it? What can it produce dependably for an indefinate amount of time?) The exploiter wishes to earn as much as possible by as little work possible; the nurturer expects, certainly, to have a decent living from his work, but his characteristic wish is to work as well as possible. The competence of the exploiter is an organization; that of the nurturer is in order–the human order, that is, that accomodates itself both to other order and to mystery. The exploiter typically serves an institution or organization; the nurturer serves land, household, community, place. The exploiter thinks in terms of numbers, quantities, “had facts”; the nurturer in terms of character, condition, quality, kind.”
An inspiring conversation ensued. One in which the 15 year olds articulated the complexities that the nurturer faces in the present globalized economy; where youthful minds found inspiration in the small scale farmer and the sustainable forester but understood the clear-cutter and 50,000 acre soy farmer at the same time. In more ways than we like to admit, we’re all really similar. In ending, each student was asked to think about what we can do in the next 6 months to support or embody the idealism of Berry’s ‘nurturers’. A student suggested buying used goods rather than purchasing new furnishings, Martina suggested that she could dedicate to cycle all winter long (and to try not to shy away from all that rain that’s coming), another person chimed in that sharing what they had learned at Hyla Woods was a good start because not many people even think of where their wood goods come from, and others said that buying food directly from fishermen and farmers directly benefits the forest and the farmer.