Soon my contentment was replaced with deep sadness. How rare, I thought, are the opportunities in my life and work to witness the consequences of my actions. Back in Brooklyn, as I look out at the starless sky, I find it hard to remember that there is something bigger than me. I grab lunch from the deli and don't know where the food comes from or who prepared it. I fill the trash bag, yet I don't think of the landfill.
What a contrast from what I experienced on Joel's farm! There, I can see clearly that everything is connected; each element -- soil, water, worms, animals, wind, trees, insects, etc -- has a place and a role. How do I move from the realization I experienced on the farm that life is interconnected to the embrace of an interconnected life for me here in the city? If I believe that I have a unique place in this world, which I do, then how do I get to it?
The blueprint to taking my place in the world was revealed to me in the editing room. While playing and replaying the footage of the farmers who have made it their life work to create local food systems, I begin to process what I witnessed on these farms and connect the dots for my own life.
In one segment, Joel explains that chickens should be allowed to express their chicken-ness, pig their pig-ness, cow their cow-ness. "When you do that," he says, "everything else falls into place."
That's it. How incredibly simple, I thought. What would happen if we focused on expressing our uniqueness -- the Ana-ness of Ana, the Lisa-ness of Lisa? What would fall into place?
Joel's farm epitomizes what happens when we respect the essence of each living creature. Mimicking the dynamics of nature, Joel created a very innovative system where animals are rotating from field to field according to a precise schedule.
Joel's cattle only eat grass so he doesn't feed them animal by-products as is customary in conventional agriculture. Instead, he moves them regularly to a new field of grass, which ensures that his cows are well fed, and the grass regrows. Since birds often follow herbivores, Joel built mobile chicken homes that he moves from field to field after the cows have left. He waits three days, so that the fly larvae on the manure are fat, providing maximum nutriment to the chicken, but before the larvae hatches. In addition to better eggs and a sanitized field, the chicken spreads the cow manure and adds their own, guaranteeing a well-fertilized soil.
The benefits so far are obvious: Joel's animals are happy and treated well; the meat and eggs are more nutritious; Joel's fields are sanitized and the soil is fertilized. Clearly this demonstrates what Joel meant by "trusting all would fall into place." But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Joel's farming system creates the kind of resilience we need to combat the increased floods and draughts due to global warming. When I visited Joel in July 2006, a severe drought was affecting the region. While Joel's neighboring farms were brown with dead grass and plants, Joel's fields were vibrant green. Living soils retain water and Joel's soil is deep with roots, worms and bacteria because his grass is permitted to grow.
Maximizing grass growth also means, perhaps most importantly, capturing CO2. Soil is the greatest terrestrial reserve of carbon and the element over which we have the most control. Farming methods like Joel's can move farming from a net contributor to atmospheric CO2 to a solution to global warming by sequestering carbon away from our atmosphere.
After witnessing beliefs at work, I begin to think of expressing my essence and respecting others' from a totally different place. Initially, I worried that this radical shift in perspective -- focusing on expressing my essence -- was quite self-involved, especially given the scale of the world's ills. But Joel's example helped me realize that taking care of ourselves is our greatest responsibility. We are farmers, our soul is our soil, and if we are to be nourishing and healing to the world we need to give our soul proper care. And if we trust in that, we might come to see what goodness might flow from that care of our souls.
In some ways, my life is not so different than when I first visited Joel's farm. I live in Brooklyn, shop at my local deli and bring down my garbage to the curb every morning. But something dramatic has changed. Something in the way I approach each of these activities, and everything else. As Joel said: "Everything I do has a sacred dimension to it. It doesn't mean that I'm right all the time. But it does mean that I stop and think."