It’s Time – 1.16.2012
In 1938 Lewis Mumford asked members of Portland’s City Club the question of all questions. He asked the room full of apparently successful Oregonians whether they had what it would take to shape a culture that would successfully endure in a place as wonderful as the Pacific Northwest. He volunteered that it might take “intelligence, imagination, and cooperation.” We agree that his question should still be a central one for us – and that the time has come to make an essential shift in how we think, communicate, and act in this still terrific, but challenged, place.
Our country’s history includes two important, and ongoing, journeys. The first is the ever evolving story of how people treat one another. Not long ago our ancestors could own – or be owned by – one another, because they had the legal right to. As proof that Dr. King was on the right track when he observed that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but bends toward justice”, today, with the help of laws and institutions, we strive to treat one another based on what is ethically right rather than based on power. The bending of this arc did not happen in an even, incremental way, but was punctuated by periods of significant advancement. In one of these, the civil rights movement, significant progress was made due to broadening and deepening citizen awareness, involvement, and commitment by successfully reframing and reconceptualizing the goals and challenges. The segmented world of fighting for fair treatment of apparently separate groups such as Native Americans, Asian Americans, women, and African Americans coalesced under the single, more comprehensive and powerful conceptual umbrella of civil rights. The new power of conceptual change led to impressive cultural transformation. There came a time, and a shift was made.
The second parallel journey running through our history is the evolving story of the relationship between people and land. Like the earlier story, change has come not in steady increments but in stair step-like advances, of which the environmental movement of the ‘60s is the most notable. While we like to believe that the basis for how people should treat one another has shifted from being based on power to being based on what is morally right to do, we continue to be a culture deeply divided on the question of whether power or morality should be the basis for how we treat land and the more than human community.
As people committed to helping positively shape the evolving story of the relationship between people and land in our region, we believe that the time has come to reshape and improve how we think, talk, and act in relationship to land. We have listened to you, our fellow citizens, and hear that you want to live in and help shape both thriving, resilient human towns and cities (human communities?) and equally thriving and resilient working landscapes. But how do we get there? How do we meet the challenge that Mumford generously articulated for us?
We believe that the key to creating the next stair step advance in this journey lies in applying lessons learned from the powerfully reconceptualization and broadened , coalesced goals that shaped the success of the civil rights movement. It is time to make the following four changes in how we think, speak, and act in our relationships as growers and consumers:
1) From Segmented and Place-Independent to Integrated and Place-based – Whether they be farmers, ranchers, fiber growers, foresters, or vintners, local growers, who may be close neighbors, actively associate most strongly with their sector “tribe” – belonging to organizations, reading publications, attending far flung conferences – at the expense of working cooperatively, across sector lines, based on the common affinity of their local place. Consumers that support these growers also customarily stay within these tribal boundaries. We believe that it is time to build beyond the success and relatively narrow goals of good, local farms and food, or good, local forests and wood to cooperate under a broader, more inclusive umbrella that unites all local, conservation-minded growers and buyers – perhaps “grown here goods”? By expanding the focus and goals we will expand our capacity to create the impact that Mumford’s challenge demands.
2) Redefining Quality – It is time to grow from our familiar one dimensional definition of quality – “I can tell that it is quality wood/apple/wool just by looking at it” – to a more sophisticated, multi-dimensional definition of quality that includes knowing whether the choice to buy a product maintained, enhanced, or degraded the qualities of the place from which they came.
3) Shared Responsibility – While it is absolutely the responsibility of the grower to make choices that maintain or enhance land health, we are overdue in acknowledging and accepting that this is only economically possible when the consumer also accepts their responsibility to fairly pay the costs of responsible growing. Conservation- minded growers and conservation-minded buyers can only succeed when linked together in partnership. Land ethic + consumption ethic = conservation.
4) Urban – Rural Interdependence – While we can all think of thriving human communities and thriving rural, working landscapes, we have a hard time pointing to successful examples where the two are interdependently linked. It is time to create replicable examples where growers and consumers recognize that the urban-rural partnership is only as strong and resilient as the weaker of the two interdependent components.
Why This Matters – Growers are confronted with the unacceptable choice between doing what is economically right (in terms of short term economics) and doing what is ecologically right (in terms of stewardship that maintains or restores land health and productivity). Both public and private values in land are declining due to growers logically choosing the economically prudent path and selling products that are artificially cheap due to being subsidized by liquidization of the common good. Markets shape land and communities; it’s time to reshape markets in powerful ways to make them reflect our values and advance our goals. Grower-consumer partnerships must create replicable models that align what is economically right with what is ecologically and socially right.
From Here to There – Because we believe that the four shifts outline above are feasible, necessary, and important, we invite you to join us in taking the following actions:
– Thought and Communication – Shift the ways that we think and speak about our goals and challenges as growers and consumers to reflect a broader, more comprehensive, place-based vision.
– Ask – “Who are the conservation-minded growers and conservation-minded buyers in my area? How can we best work with, help and support one another? Is what I am growing and/or buying single quality or multidimensional quality”. Make a map, knock on a door, shake a hand, buy something, sell something, create and share the good story….
– Connect – Find, meet, and explore ways to better integrate the community of conservation-minded growers and consumers on your most local level.
When we do these things perhaps we will be drawing on, building, and demonstrating the types of “intelligence, imagination, and cooperation” that Mumford asked our predecessors whether they had. If not us, who? If not here, where? If not now, when?
Xxxxxxxxxxxx fiber person
Xxxxxxxxxxxxxx food coop leader
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx vineyard person
Pam and Peter Hayes, family foresters……