Summer 2020 Update: The Great Work of Our Time
What is the great work of our time? This is the question posed by friend and colleague Didi Pershouse, inspiring author and educator of soil and human health. In this time when we must shed old habits and world views, my long postponed launch of Organic Revolutionary – Third Edition has taken a back seat. After finishing revisions in 2019 and several attempts at summarizing the vast changes in my own life in the last couple of years, the worldwide upheavals created by a tiny microbe have made my own journey appear inconsequential. And yet…Didi’s question sparks a sense of determination and recognition that my story is still an important contribution to the great work of our time.
Many of us have been preparing for this time of worldwide crisis for many years, never knowing when or how it would come to pass. We have done all we could to push such planetary disasters farther from inevitability, but our best efforts have failed as ecosystems unravel, thousands of species go extinct, and climate patterns shift. Political turmoil follows the displacement of human communities by protracted conflicts and environmental destruction. Failed states and corrupt governments promoting xenophobia and worse outnumber stable quasi-democracies on the world stage. Yet movements for planetary health and human liberation are blossoming, not only among the privileged advocates of “the true organic vision” as I have described it.
“Never let a good crisis go to waste” has become a catch-phrase of this constellation of movements. In rural areas like mine neighbors helping neighbors has become an automatic response, home gardening projects are skyrocketing, and idled workers put their ingenuity online to offer support to front line health care workers. The US is waking up to the failures of its mass centralized food system as meat packing facilities shut down and crops go unharvested. The dangers to all of growing poverty and homelessness, not to mention lack of access to health care, come into sharp focus.
The great work of our time is thus the patient laying of foundations and roadmaps for system-wide social, economic, and political transformation. The current upheavals sparked by this worldwide pandemic were preceded by rapid changes in my own life, a time of personal transformations in relationships, health, and home. Today my new self embraces a new life partner and the challenges of collaboration in a time of social distancing, continuing to strive for wisdom, patience, and understanding.
I have learned to navigate these changes and still flourish in uncertainty and groundlessness thanks to the teachings offered by Pamela Boyce Simms and an expanding cohort of Community Supported Enlightenment practitioners. Such profound changes at every level—comparable to the transformation of an earthbound caterpillar into a gossamer-winged butterfly—are essential to ensuring the survival of “joyous, resilient remnants of human civilization” into a post-carbon, post-capitalism future. Growing food and learning to make medicine from plants and fungi, creating safe havens for the displaced and vulnerable, practicing compassionate, democratic self-organizing social enterprises, spreading knowledge of soil health and compost, we reweave webs of mutual aid and culture change, growing the social mycelia with every breath. Telling our stories is a critically important piece of this great work. As Didi has offered her own story of personal transformation to the world, so mine is another window into the organic revolution that is gaining momentum in this moment.
And so, with humility and a little trepidation, I again offer my perspective on the origin story of the organic revolution through the lens of my own experience as a midwife to the emergence of the organic movement into mainstream culture. Many of the controversies and paradoxes that have confronted this emergence continue to haunt the organic community as well as the wider social and political landscape. Competing visions of what kind of world we want offer pathways to utopia or dystopia—and everywhere in between. The roots of our concurrent ecological and economic disasters lie in the divisions of humanity into “higher” and “lower” classes, those who dominate and those who must obey—as taught by another important guide, Murray Bookchin, co-founder of the Institute for Social Ecology. The evil of white supremacy culture lies at the root of a system of colonial conquest, resource extraction, and slavery in its many forms that undergirds the illusory abundance of the privileged minority.
The revolution needed is in progress, with no clear predictable outcome. What’s clear is that the old “normal” was leading us down a road of social and ecological breakdown and climate catastrophe. What’s increasingly clear to many is that as the disastrous impacts of our industrialized, centralized, global supply chain dependent food system are more widely understood, the food system has become a crucial point of leverage to bring about the changes needed in society as a whole. Changing how we produce, distribute, and consume food is essential to restoring the health of people, communities, ecosystems, and climate.
The third edition of Organic Revolutionary was published in early March by Black Rose Books of Montreal, with US distribution by the University of Chicago Press. A book launch event in Montreal was held just days before the US-Canada border was closed and many lives were upended by the Coronavirus pandemic. Despite the delay in formal announcement, the story remains relevant to the “Great Work” that is now more urgent than ever.
P.S. Here is a recent conversation with Didi Pershouse and me, hosted by the Vermont chapter of the Sierra Club.