Yesterday, Oregon State University (OSU) kicked off their 41st annual Martin Luther King, Jr. commemoration event. For the fourth consecutive year, the OSU Extension Master Gardener program hosted a commemoration event. A total of 174 people, from Oregon to Brooklyn, NYC attended a screening of Dirt! The Movie. For the second year in a row, the College of Agricultural Sciences Dean, Dr. Staci Simonich, attended the event.
In advance of the movie, we shared three questions that we asked attendees to reflect upon during the movie. In an effort to spur discussion, I wanted to share my answers to these three questions. I invite you to share your answers, in the comments section of this blog post.
Question #1: Dirt! The Movie demonstrates some of the unjust systems surrounding agriculture and how our most impoverished communities are most greatly impacted. How is this seen in your region of Oregon? Who are some of these communities being impacted?
Gail’s Answer to Question #1: In the movie, we saw the stories of farmers who moved from regenerative agricultural practices to a resource-extractive approach to agriculture. The switch left soils depleted, and in extreme cases resulted in desertification, or the degradation of soil properties such that they can no longer sustain life. With soils depleted, farming families moved to urban areas in search of work. However, a lack of jobs and opportunities often resulted in many families from this urban to rural migration ending up in slums.
In truth, I had a hard time connecting this aspect of the movie to what I have seen in Oregon. I could connect it to events of the past, such as the Dust Bowl, which was catalyzed by a decade long drought in the 1930s, farming submarginal lands, and economic conditions that caused farmers to abandon soil conservation practices to reduce costs. The loss of livelihoods, caused millions of people to migrate west in search of work. The hopelessness of the situation was deftly and artfully captured by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath.
But then I started thinking about the prolonged drought across vast regions of the west. There’s also drought and an increased frequency of dust storms in the Midwest, which have caused some to suggest that we need to brace for Dust Bowl 2.0. Impoverished communities are known to be at highest risk when extreme weather or natural disaster strikes, which we have seen again and again.
In truth, I think of access to greenspace as a fundamental human right. In the Biophilia hypothesis, E. O. Wilson argues that humans have an innate connection to nature. This idea was expanded upon by Richard Louv, when coined the term ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’, and warned us of the harm that can come when children lose a connection to nature.
The idea that we all benefit from contact with soil and the natural world was touched upon in the movie. Whether it was the ‘GreenTeam’ planting trees in New York City, or gardeners growing vegetables in correctional facilities, many of those interviewed described the healing they felt through gardening.
So I have two major thoughts to this first question. First, we know that plants in the ground can help moderate climate change and extreme weather events. As vegetation mapping is possible, at finer spatial scales, we’re learning that greenery in even the most urbanized of cities can be a powerful tool for moderating carbon emissions. In addition, we know that gardens are powerful tools for moderating stormwater surges, in even the most urbanized of cities. Urban planning for sustainable futures must prioritize green infrastructure.
Second, if access to greenspace is a fundamental human right, as I believe it is, we must continually challenge ourselves within the Extension Master Gardener Program to answer these questions:
- Where are we working?
- Who benefits from our work?
- Who may not have easy access to land, where they can garden?
- How can we expand or re-envision our work, so that everyone can get their hands in the dirt?
Question #2: The King Center’s 2023 observance is titled “It starts with me.” Master Gardener volunteers are community educators: what responsibility do we have, as individuals and as a collective, to ensure our work strives to remove the inequities of Oregon’s different communities.
Gail’s Answer to Question #2: Many of the folks who attended last night’s movie screening typed ‘I want to be a hummingbird’ (or something similar) into the chat. If you missed last night’s screening, you can view the excerpt where Wangari Maathi tells the story of the hummingbird and the fire, below.
Over the past three years, in particular, I’ve tried to advance equity in the Extension Master Gardener program and equity in the communities that we serve. Perhaps my biggest regret, now that I know that I will be leaving the program, is that I will not be able to do this work as I had previously envisioned. But I’m also eager to do this work in ways I might not have ever imagined, in the past. I’m active on our College’s Culture, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion committee. I’m co-leading the first Strategic Action Plan for Inclusive Excellence for our College. Through these committees, I’ve learned a lot about the hardships that college students face today. I am eager to continue to grow my knowledge and skills as a teacher, in ways that promote successful and fun learning environments for all.
Question #3: The relationship between dirt and conflict is centered in the movie. Martin Luther King Jr. used the power of words and acts of nonviolent resistance to achieve seemingly-impossible goals. What can gardeners be inspired by knowing this?
Gail’s Answer to Question #3: As an introverted scientist, I long discounted the power of words and imagery to make a difference. Afterall, shouldn’t the outcomes of my statistical tests be all that you need to see? (Joking.)
Having the immense good fortune of working with LeAnn Locher for the past 2 and a half years changed my mind on this matter. Words matter. Over the past few years, we have worked to grow our comfort in conversation around difficult issues. We have embedded equity and inclusion in our programmatic vision and values. We have prioritized cultural connection as an important are of work in the garden. [You can read more about our mission, vision, values, and priorities, here.]
But even the most moving of words are meaningless, without effective follow through. And this is where I challenge you, dear gardeners. Think about what dirt means to you. Think about how you can grow a love for gardening, wildlife, soils, and the natural world in others ~ not by heavy-handed instruction, but by actively listening and meeting people where they are. From the garden-curious, to those ready to hit the ground running but without easy access to a garden plot or materials, to those who have gardened for many years and in many places ~ the biggest and greatest calling of Extension Master Gardener Programs (in my opinion) is to make this world a better place by growing more gardeners.
If access to greenspace is a fundamental human right . . . everyone who has the desire to do so should be able to access and grow a garden.
If you’ve made it this far in the post, I would love to hear your thoughts on the three questions that were posed, or on the movie screening. Please feel free to leave a comment on this post. Note that we moderate comments, to keep spam posts off of this blog. Once we have a chance to review a comment and ensure it is not spam (even if it is a negative comment!) we approve posting.