July 20, 2013

Cultivating Community. ~ Amy Blanding

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ~ Marcel Proust

If you were given five months to experience seven countries, how would you do it?

Instinctively, I let my taste buds and a love of dirt under my nails guide my direction. When my husband and I traveled to Bogotá, Colombia from our home in Arizona last November, we decided against seeing everything and anything we could, and instead picked a few special places in which to live and learn for a while. Other than a two-week trip to Thailand nine years ago, I had never been anywhere outside of North America.

Yet as we slowly moved our way south from Colombia to Chile, and then across oceans to New Zealand and Canada, the life we were living felt strangely familiar. Many times I had to remind myself—as I dropped corn kernels into the dirt or herded pigs into a corral or packed fresh cheese into plastic tubs—that I wasn’t still working with the land and the people back in the Sonoran desert.

The characterization of community concerns the quality and essence of relationships. A community is made strong by healthy and authentic connections amongst people, land, and all other variables that comprise a particular space and time.

As I helped to work land with people who had been growing their own food for decades, I felt my own passion rekindled in regards to the role food plays in understanding and strengthening our relationship with our neighbors and our landbase. Traveler’s enlightenment helped remind me that food is often the tipping point in the development of healthy, resilient communities.

Many people scoff at the idea that southern Arizona can be a cornucopia of food production in the southwest. A drought-ravaged desert hardly inspires visions of bounty. Luckily, there are many people proving that it can and is a region capable of cultivating sustainable eats. It is from these teachers that I learned to look at the “agriculturally less desirable” regions of the world as incredible opportunities for innovation and transference of ideas.

The question “what is lacking here?” is replaced with “what makes sense here?”

Whether it be Orlando’s pop-bottle and PVC hydroponics operation in Mérida, Venezuela, or Servio’s duck, fish, and rice guild in the jungles of Sarampión, Ecuador, necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

Similarly, Northern British Columbia, my new home, is not seen as a breadbasket of edible abundance; traditions of farming, ranching, hunting, and fishing have been usurped by multiple extractive economies.

Yet in the backwoods villages of this oft-forgotten region, live the farmers and foragers with stories to tell and harvests to put up year after year.

So as I begin to settle into my new home, I am excited to find myself back on familiar ground—with my hands in the dirt—cultivating a new community. Although the average annual precipitation here is 110 inches, on a big sky day it is often hard to tell where the Cariboo horizon ends, and the Sonoran horizon begins.

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Assistant Ed: Dana Gornall/Ed: Bryonie Wise

{Photo: Marymoor Community Garden via Michael Rainwater on Flickr}

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