Rachel Jones has been and educator and collaborator with Eco Practicum since its inception. She is currently earning an MFA in Applied Craft and Design from the Pacific Northwest College of Art and the Oregon College of Art and Craft, and this summer Rachel will join us for Eco Practicum Catskills as our head Farm Educator, introducing a new craft component into our curriculum.
What's your background? When did you decide to become an craftsperson?
I’ve always been a crafty person. I always had the knack for figuring out how things work, and the passion for learning how to put things together. It runs in my family. My dad, a scientist, was a weekend tinkerer and DIY maker. I grew up in a home where I got to make paper from prairie grass, tap our maple tree for syrup, and make contraptions out of scrap wood at my own workbench. After I graduated college, and tried out an office gig at a non-profit, I realized that for me to be able to do good in the world, I had to be doing it with my hands. I found myself a wood shop to apprentice in, and the rest is history. Partially trained, but mostly self-taught or taught on the job, I’ve been traveling the country, learning as many different skill-sets as I can as my way of grappling with and contributing to a more sustainable future.
You've been an educator at Eco Practicum for many years now! What have you learned at Eco Practicum that you like to bring to your craft-based work?
Eco Practicum is a major influence to my craft practice. I have worked on farms, in a sculpture foundry, in wood shops, and in construction all over America. Everywhere I’ve gone I’ve experienced a distinct separation between craft and environmentalism, which is surprising to me because I think they go hand in hand. Not everyone thinks this way. Some wood shops still use rare woods and trash offcuts. Some farmers, while caring so much about producing organic food, still rely heavily on plastics and other unsustainable items in their lives. I see these symptoms of systemic problems all over. But for five years now, I have been traveling around the country taking jobs in order to learn new skills, and every summer returning to the Catskills to teach at Eco Practicum is like a pilgrimage for me. I get to be re-inspired by my students and the experts and activists we work with, and re-center my values so that I can keep pushing the craft world to re-merge itself with environmental sustainability.
You're going to be introducing a new craft curriculum into Eco Practicum this summer. We're so excited! Why is this craft curriculum important to what we're learning at Eco Practicum? What are you planning to teach?
I am so excited to be introducing this new component of the curriculum! Many of us care about the food we eat, care about where it comes from, how it’s grown, and who grows it. Some of us even grow our own, which is a skill of self-sufficiency and is fundamentally empowering. A lot of us have radically changed the way we acquire our food. We go to farmer’s markets, or join CSAs, or we become farmers. By doing this we are actively making a major shift in our culture. But ALL the other stuff that we use and rely on is made from a natural resources, too. How many of us still buy IKEA furniture? Or clothes made in China? Raw materials have to be grown, or mined, harvested, processed, etc., just like food, and it is up to us to change the culture of how we make, buy, and use those things. This new craft curriculum is going to be an opportunity for our participants to gain some fundamental skills in the houses of wood and fiber in order to more fully access the tools to live a more self-sufficient, empowering, and environmentally responsible life.
You recently went back to graduate school in Oregon for an MFA in Craft and Design. What has been the most inspiring thing you've learned this year? How do you hope to bring that into your work?
In school I am constantly fueled by the lack of conversation surrounding environmentally responsible practices in the art and design fields. Out here, I am for the first time embedded in an artist community, and I realize now more than ever how important it is for me to marry environmental responsibility to art, craft and design. I am doing this by making everyday, utilitarian objects (like furniture) that both push back against an aesthetically and luxury driven design market and that challenge me to work with materials that are responsibly sourced. I am also constantly inspired by my amazing group of peers who have completely reshaped the boundaries of what I think is creatively possible.
What's one thing you think everyone should know how to do?
I think everyone should know how to properly use basic carpentry tools like a drill and a saw. Everyone should also know how to sew. These seem so mundane, but once you know how to use these few tools properly, you can make just about anything!
Meet Joleen Baker, an Eco Practicum Catskills '15 alum from Concordia College who will return to Camp Shomria this summer as our Farm Intern. Joleen will be assisting the Farm Manager with keeping our on-site farm in shape, planning daily programming around permaculture, water catchment, and planting, and keeping up with the animals. Here, Joleen talks about how Eco Practicum helped shape her goals when it comes to opening her own farm.
We are so happy to announce that Melinda Kiefer will be Eco Practicum’s 2016 Artist in Residence during our Summer Catskills practicum. Alongside the intellectual and practice-based sides of world-changing which we delve into during the summer practicum, it is important to remember that changing culture is the key to making significant improvements to the way we live on this planet. Art can help us take a close look at ourselves and our values, and consider alternate ways of engaging. We are excited to explore these ideas this summer with Melinda… and as a certified yoga instructor, we are also super excited to take yoga classes with her!
What's your background? When did you decide to become an artist?
I am from working class Catholic suburbs of New York City. I have a Bachelors of Science in Studio Art from Skidmore College and a Yoga Teacher Certification from Kripalu Center. I am currently attending SUNY Purchase College for my Masters in Studio Art. I have always made art and considered myself an artist, but taking the step to pursue professional studies in the arts was more of a formal decision. For me, this meant taking my passion for making, and my ideologies for social and ecological change, and applying them to the workings of society. In this realm, art becomes an integrated dialogue with others and the intimate act of making becomes a political way of speaking.
We seem to be facing major environmental crises. What do you think art can do to address them?
I think art is the beginning and essential step for reshifting our relationship to the environment both on ideological and practical levels. Making art is similar to making food; it is a process that allows us to experience agency and satisfaction in creating. In doing so, we, as individuals, feel our ability to affect others and the world, even if it is at first just on a small scale. This refreshed perspective clears the way for imagining new environmental possibilities that can begin as seeds in an innovative space.
Seeing artworks open a conversation with others so that similar minds can unite and work together. Art can carry metaphoric messages that inspire us to action or art can function as design, such as a permaculture garden.
What kind of art are you hoping to make at Eco Practicum?
I am excited to have the chance to make art outdoors amongst a community of people driven to make ecological change. I was hoping to make a walking labyrinth that is essentially a small garden spiral for walking meditation. Walking labyrinths are winding paths created by either small shrubs or stones that lead to a center point, usually a sacred spot, a place of offering and reflection, rather than wild disorienting mazes. The intention is to orient ourselves with our step and with nature.
How do you expect the participants of Eco Practicum Catskills will contribute to the artwork you're making this summer?
Participants of Eco Practicum would directly contribute to the artwork by leaving any object they wish to the shrine, microcosm center of the labyrinth. These objects can be personal, they can be recycled objects or they can be pieces of nature. When participants of Eco Practicum revisit the camp, they rediscover pieces of themselves in the labyrinth coexisting with sentimental parts of others who have been involved at various points in the community. If they wish, participants of Eco Practicum can also help work on the maze. Participants of Eco Practicum would also inspire me for further interactive art projects.
What's one thing you think everyone should know how to do?
Meditate. Taking 5 minutes out of ones day, to either sit in silence, stretch, or go on a walk outside is physically and mentally empowering.
Five Questions for Our Name is Farm
Liz Vaknin and Shelley Golan founded Our Name is Farm as a blog in 2013, and are now a digital media and event production company for those working in sustainable food. This year, we're teaming up with them to run Eco Practicum NYC where they'll be serving up delicious food and leading participants in an investigation of the role of storytelling in the food advocacy movement. Here, Liz and Shelley answer five questions on the work that they're doing.
Tell us about the work that you do.
Our Name is Farm is a digital media and event production company that works exclusively with sustainable food growers, producers and supporters. At the forefront of our priorities is a solid social mission that focuses on education and accessibility. As such, we approach our business with the same mentality, hoping that every project we pick up - whether for profit or not - helps further those causes. Our specialty in digital media is video production, and our event concept curation always begins with focusing on community building and engagement.
We have worked with some of the best organizations in the farming, food media, and hospitality industries to try and achieve our goal of enabling more access to sustainably produced and transparently sourced food and drink products (check our website for a list of our partners).
A crucial component of our business is helping smaller and larger companies with their sourcing operations, ensuring that the products they provide for their clients fit the standards that they require. We prefer to work with local producers whenever possible but are big fans of supporting regional producers across the US if not.
What are the most fulfilling and most challenging parts of what you do?
The most fulfilling part of what we do is knowing that we are really making changes, even if just on a small level, and are hopeful to do so on a mass level sometime in the near future. We sincerely rely on the cooperation of our community, and this process is even more gratifying, knowing that we are all in this together.
The most challenging part of what we do is getting people to realize how important this mission truly is. Unfortunately, the local food movement has only recently begun to open its doors to a more generalized community, but up until then it was truly only accessed by a small group of people who were educated and had a lot of time and money to support such causes. As such, there are negative stigmas associated with the movement, and the general opinion is that it remains inaccessible to most. New measures have been put into place by the US government over the last few years (such as adding EBT stations to farmers markets across the country) that have really allowed this movement to grow and expand to include people from all socioeconomic backgrounds.
The second major challenge we face is purely infrastructural, in that it is truly difficult for small farmers, producers, and supporters to find reliable, efficient, and cheap delivery options for their products and/or purchases. The farming and hospitality industries could really benefit from larger companies, with existing ample infrastructure, stepping up to the plate and helping to find solutions for this broken system. It is much more preferable to bring another truck in from the Hudson Valley than from California to NYC, for example.
However, at the same time, you have resistance from smaller companies and organizations that are shunning the larger corporations for their involvement in the current system. It's quite unfortunate, because it will take both sides realizing how they truly need each other to make this work. It's just a whole new, sustainable way to approach this broken food system we have, and not everyone is seeing eye to eye yet.
Describe a moment or situation that helped you realize your passion.
There are three very crucial moments in ONIF's history that are defining moments in how the business grew from concept to actuality.
The first would be the time we received our first official invitation to a farm. It was a lavender farm, and the farmer met us at his Union Square Greenmarket booth, and we visited his farm on Long Island and fell in love with what we had discovered. We kept going ever since.
The second moment would be the first time we were offered a paid gig. We quickly realized this hobby of ours could become a full time job, and it motivated the hell out of us. We thought out of the box and pushed harder until we had the confidence (read: blind ambition) of two young ladies, determined to quit their jobs in pursuit of something greater.
The third moment would be when we fully incorporated in 2015. It gave us a sense of legitimacy and pride that were certainly missing from the equation previously.
What advice do you have for people looking for meaningful work?
Meaningful work is hard work. It may not feel like work because you're passionate about it, but it's very easy to get lost in the hustle of doing what you love. Remember to care for yourself, care about the people around you that support and love you, and lead by example. Do what you love, but let it consume you in moderation.
What’s one thing you think everyone should know how to do?
Everyone should know how to cook. Cooking for yourself is an expression of freedom and independence. Cooking for others is an expression of love and compassion. Cooking, in general, offers sustenance, abundance, and an opportunity to engage with others and/or yourself in a meaningful way. It benefits the individual, the group, and the community.
This weekend, our Co-Founder Eugenia Manwelyan attended the 34th annual Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) conference. Over the next few weeks, she will be sharing some of her thoughts, and the ways that the things she learned will impact our programs moving forward.
Farm Workers Need a Place at the Table
One of the keynote speakers at this year’s NOFA-NY conference was Rosalinda Guilien, a farm worker and rural justice leader. Ms. Guilien began working in the fields when she was ten years old, has worked within the labor movement with Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers of America, and has represented farm workers in dialogues of immigration issues, labor rights, trade agreements, and strengthening the food sovereignty movement. Her speech and subsequent workshop were powerful reminders that farm workers are, too often, the invisible power behind our food system. Meeting farm workers, be they migrants or residents; native, legal, or undocumented; brown, black, or white; has, to this point, not been part of our curriculum. But, we are committed to changing that. For our upcoming summer Eco Practicum Catskills, we will engage the issue of farm worker in/justices and meet with regional stakeholders to play our part in the struggle for a culturally and environmentally regenerative food system. Here is a prayer, written by Cesar Chavez, that Rosalinda shared with us at the beginning of her workshop, I am proud to share it with our Eco Practicum community.
PRAYER OF THE FARM WORKERS’ STRUGGLE
Show me the suffering of the most miserable;
So I will know my people’s plight.
Free me to pray for others;
For you are present in every person.
Help me take responsibility for my own life;
So that I can be free at last.
Grant me courage to serve others;
For in service there is true life.
Give me honesty and patience;
So that I can work with other workers.
Bring forth song and celebration;
So that the Spirit will be alive among us.
Let the Spirit flourish and grow;
So that we will never tire of the struggle.
Let us remember those who have died for justice;
For they have given us life.
Help us love even those who hate us;
So we can change the world.
Hello alumni, prospective participants, community partners, friends of friends, family members, and blog-readers extraordinaire. I’m thrilled, nervous, and especially excited to announce that I’ve taken on the role of Program Director for the upcoming year of Eco Practicum!
My participation in Eco Practicum has been gaining momentum from the moment I stepped foot onto the grounds of Camp Shomria for Eco Practicum Catskills in 2012. I completed the full four-week program, and after I’d left the idyllic grounds, the encouraging learning environment and (let’s be real) the baby goats, I entered a bit of a slump. I felt like the program was calling me to act - I just didn’t know how.
That summer I came up with my own highly personal answer, a process I’m sure each and every Eco Practicum alum has had to undergo. I decided that my route, the course of action that felt most like, well, action was to stay involved with the program itself, to continue engaging with it and to help it generate impact on the community around it in the same ways it had impacted me. Almost four years later, I’m still here.
As someone who participated in the program shortly after its inception, I’ve watched it grow and develop in ways that allow it to better serve those who support it, and to adapt to a changing world. What began as just a four-week Catskills program has expanded into an equally necessary and engaging New York City practicum, has spawned fantastic partnerships with Good Food Jobs and Our Name is Farm, with many more exciting announcements waiting in the wings. My own role at Eco Practicum has been through just as much flux as the program itself - I’ve been a participant, an intern, a sometimes-photographer, a nanny for Eugenia and Tal’s incredible two-year-old (my favorite role so far?) and here I am now, as a Program Director.
As this new role and this new year begin, I have a lot to look forward to. I’m looking forward to surprising myself - this is the biggest leadership role I’ve had to date and I’m excited to rise to the challenges it presents. I’m looking forward to engaging with the New York City and Catskills communities in new ways, bringing on new partners in addition to the old, and seeing another generation of participants get as inspired by our curriculum as I did a few years ago.
Eco Practicum has given me an unbelievable amount of knowledge, confidence, support, and excitement, and it’s my turn to imbue those same qualities back into the program tenfold.
- Rachelle Klapheke
After one week in Paris, participating in talks, forums, events and spending time in a city whose residents have just undergone a collective trauma, I spent my last day in France sitting in a park at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, pondering the 20th century that was, and the 21st century to come. Built at the tail end of the 19th century, the Eiffel Tower is the most photographed object on earth. And it is no wonder. This monument is so compelling in person, there's an urge to convey that feeling and share it, but there is no way to capture its size, context, and relation to the city and space that surrounds it. It is the tallest structure in Paris, and while it is undoubtedly the city's icon, it stands apart entirely from the otherwise from the aesthetics of the built environment.
Its shape is at once masculine and feminine, industrial and artistic, utilitarian and frivolous, familiar and totally unique. A perfect symbol of the global culture that emerged in the 20th century, the tower is an act of hubris and tremendous will, and through form and function, communicates a yearning to grow, dominate, build, destroy old icons and aesthetics and rebuild humanity anew. A century obsessed with reinvention, fraught with folly, and characterized by the notion of linear time and progress, represents the process that brought us here, to everything we know, and everything we know we can and can't continue to do. It is quite easy to hate on the 20th century (world wars, atomic bomb, population explosion, ecological degradation) or valorize it at the same time (international travel, space travel, communication revolution, medical advancements). But with all that, it's also the century in which I was born and grew up, and it carries a legacy that will forever be mine to take responsibility for and engage with.
It is as though the Eiffel Tower foresaw the many wonders and tragedies of humanity's energies and ambitions as we entered and created a new epoch. I wondered, as we embark on this century, what symbol will represent it (and us) in the years, decades, and millennia to come. Will the symbol of the 21st Century disclose our urgent drive for transformation; our deeply varied senses of past, present, and future; our many different cultures, and our dominant ideologies. Has this century's icon already been built?
Hot off the press!
Very proud of our alumni contributors: Allison Chan, Audre May, Chloe Kunstler, Hafsa Sabri, Izabelle Lawston, Joleen Baker, Karina Almonte, Laura Kaminsky, Maheteme Kebede, Mary Katherine Michiels-Kibler, Tara Bonn, William Dimas.
Reflections on our Everything But the Kitchen Practicum that just took place last week. In the words of one of the participants - we couldn't have said it better ourselves!
I looked up.
We had come through the mountains and their pockets of directionless fog; tried and failed to keep time on our journey, only to abandon all sense of it upon reaching our destination; and we had unexpected and rich experiences, manifold and undeniably important.
I looked up and I was there.
Less than thirty-six hours had elapsed since I arrived there on the grounds of Camp Shomria in the Catskills of New York alongside my fiancée. We never could have prepared for what we would encounter at this self-proclaimed site of adolescent anarchy and secular Judaism.
Sure, we had brought ample provisions in the form of bags of jerky, tins of sardines, and plenty of warm clothes & equipment in anticipation of a soon-to-be-cancelled camping trip in “glamorous Vermont.” But no matter what we had brought with us, or how intentional we had been in opening our minds and hearts to this retreat/seminar/whatever-you-call-it-experience, we simply could not have foreseen and planned for what was to come.
We found an entire community on the heels of hoping to find a new friend, maybe. It had been a shamefully long time since we’d made a new one, and now we have dozens of them scattered across the land. There are good folks “in our corner” who are living in New York, Vermont, the District of Columbia, and South Dakota. They come from Russia, from Israel and Jamaica; they have partners, babies, dogs, cats, and other animals too. They have their own dreams and fears.
We met two farming couples, bonded by the principles of permaculture and the shared experience of having learned from a man full of grandfatherly wisdom & youthful enthusiasm. The same man whom my fiancée and I now feel like we should learn from.
We observed some sort of mythical forest person who identified everything growing out of the earth, ate it, and spit it out behind him.
Family-style and family-building meals were cooked, served, and consumed; campfires were tended to; business and lifestyle ideas were exchanged; and bonds were formed.
All of that came together in a single place, within the span of four days. What we experienced together was not exactly concrete. No, it was far more relatable to soil or water or air. The composition of these experiences, relegated now to our racing minds & fast-beating hearts, is changing. It is living and breathing—it needs nourishment to grow and prosper.
To tell the truth, I feel confused right now. I am confused by the sudden reality that I do not feel at home, though I am indeed sitting in my home. I am disoriented by the sea of thoughts, the storm of emotions, and the resultant flood from my latest experiences on this curious, life-sustaining planet we live on.
But when I looked up, I was right there—fully present and observant.
I was on this planet, literally, on its outer crust that occupies less than one percent of Earth’s total volume. The less-than-one percent that is dusted with inches-deep topsoil upon which we depend; which houses the ecosystems in which we live. I lay there on that hallowed ground, thoughts still percolating from an hours-long group discussion that I would count among the most inspirational that has occurred during my twenty-three year lifetime. I stared in wonder at the night sky above. The stars were brilliant—more luminous than I have ever seen. The Milky Way reveled itself to me for the first time.
I had tears in my eyes.
My newfound people—brought together from the ether of the Internet and into this remote, but very real place—were filtering out into their respective cabins to go to sleep. But there I was: awake and alone with the world and the space in which it exists, and very much not alone at the same time.
I surrendered to the moment, just as we all surrendered to the unforeseen gifts of our brief moment together as a physical community in Liberty, NY. The power of what I saw when I looked up was beyond any description. So too is the impact of the sense of community; of ecological justice and environmental stewardship; and of hope that I have experienced as a result of a few days spent in the mountains with some very inspired people. Even in void of suitable description, it all remains with me in complete detail.
It is part of my landscape now. It is part of who I am and what I desire to be. It is what I have been looking for.
- Mark Spigos
Eco Practicum "Everything But the Kitchen" Participant
As we begin the new school year, we want to reflect on the principles that make us who we are, and who we want to become. Welcome back to the School for Ecological Justice, where class is always in session.
From a scientific perspective - Ecological Justice is based on the knowledge that the Earth and its ecosystems are complex and fragile, and that the natural world, of which humans are a part, exists as an interconnected and interdependent system. In this web of existence, human ingenuity and activity must be founded on prudence and care.
From a historic perspective - Ecological Justice is based on the fact that the dominant global economic, social, and political systems have favored and continue to primarily benefit a small minority of people. With such a small group of people wielding so much sway on lands, peoples, and resources far and wide across the world, this structure has led to the depletion of the Earth’s ecological diversity; ecosystem destruction; pollution of soil, sea and sky; species extinction; and climate change.
From a cultural perspective - Ecological Justice represents the common denominator among the progressive movements for change that have been a staple of our civilization throughout the 20th century, including feminism, civil rights, and environmentalism. It draws on principles of cooperation and challenges us to confront and change the problems inherent to an extraction- and waste-based growth economy.
From the perspective of place - Human history is made up of a series of dramatic migrations and long periods of settling, during which time people became indigenous to their lands. During this current period of unprecedented human mobility and population growth, ecological justice is a call for re-indigenizing, for once again belonging to the land, as it belongs to us.
We ask our network of alumni, experts, and educators to consider the state of the world and their role in it ... here's what they have to say.