Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Defense of Industrial Education

A Defense of Industrial Education as a Strategy for Development

By Sara Bruya (c) 2006

Note: This paper was written as the final exam for "Philosophy of Education" at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Fall 2006, Prof. Catherine Elgin

It is unfortunate that the exchange of ideas between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois concerning the development and social elevation of the Black population after the Civil War has been framed as a debate. A debate is defined as opposing viewpoints on a single proposition.[i] On closer inspection of this ‘debate’, it is not clear whether there is a common proposition on which Washington and DuBois stand in opposition. While it is true that both men were offering strategies for improving the condition of African-American life in America in the decades following the Civil War, we will see in this essay that they were operating with very different ideas of means and ends; in other words, they were each tackling important aspects, but not the entirety, of the problem.

In this discussion, I will urge a more balanced assessment of Washington and DuBois’ development strategies in order to highlight the valuable contribution Washington’s ideas make to the development of the immediate circumstances of the underprivileged. I will also challenge DuBois’ elitism and the suggestion that supporting the talented elite will ensure such development. In addition the essay will reflect on the hierarchy of knowledge implicit in the discussion of industrial vs. liberal arts education and the importance, as Washington suggests, of valuing all kinds of work.

In the articles “The Talented Tenth” and “Industrial Education for the Negro” [ii] DuBois and Washington can be seen as having two distinct development strategies for the race of ex-slaves in the early 20th century. Washington’s project, seen as an economic strategy, involved a push for industrial, skill-based education. It was an effort to improve the immediate living conditions of the majority of poor, rural blacks and to build the material foundation from which to develop and prosper economically. DuBois’ project, seen as a political strategy, focused on the importance of creating an educated, black leadership and was an effort to improve the political perception and influence of the black race, while disproving popular theories of racial inequality.

The perception of the race and the material needs of the majority constituted very different ends toward which these men were working, even though both of these development strategies addressed immediate needs in the black community. They found themselves in opposition, however, (despite the fact that both men acknowledge in their writings the legitimacy and necessity of the other’s work for the ultimate amelioration of the problems facing the community), because both were dependent on bending the ear and securing the contributions of those with the resources to fund black education—namely, rich white industrialists such as Carnegie and Rockefeller.[iii] Thus, debunking the other’s ideas was a necessary fundraising strategy, but was perhaps detrimentally and unnecessarily divisive for the black community.

DuBois was seriously concerned about the steady withdrawal of funding from black liberal arts colleges and the increases in white support for industrial institutions like Tuskegee.[iv] The disparity in resources between the black and white communities at this time is an unfortunate but critical factor in the valuation of the strategies developed by Washington and DuBois. Had they not been fighting for financial support from the racist, white culture intent on maintaining second-class citizenship for black people, they might not have had to stand in opposition to achieve their goals.

One of the ways in which Washington’s work was and continues to be discredited is through an accusation of accommodation. While the modern interpretation of the Washington-DuBois debate presents, for the most part, a heavy-handed condemnation of Washington’s accommodationism and a praise for Dubois as the father of the civil rights movement, I think both perspectives require a more balanced examination. While Washington’s suggestion that blacks accept their inferior position in society for a period of time is certainly problematic, his emphasis on industrial education as a development strategy is visionary and still highly relevant today. This strategy must not be completely discarded because of Washington’s weaknesses.

At the same time, while DuBois is rightly championed for his insistence on the equal intellectual capacity of both races, it is important to recognize the complicated influence of the Eugenics movement on his thought and attitude toward the subjects of Washington’s effort—the poor and average—which he describes as “unfit” (Talented Tenth ¶10). In much more subtle fashion, DuBois was also accommodating of the popular social theories of the time, to the detriment of the nine untalented tenths of his race.

As such, one central area of disagreement between Washington and DuBois seems to be whether poverty is a function of economic or genetic factors. The way the disadvantaged social position of their race is perceived by Washington and DuBois fundamentally underlies their proposed educational measures and the methods each proposes to counteract the prevalent theories and social realities of white dominance.


In order to understand the importance of Washington’s ideas, it is essential to have an understanding, if not a first-hand experience, of poverty. For the benefit of those who have not had such an experience, the following illustration may be helpful.

Imagine living in this Sharecropper’s house[v]—a drafty house with a leaky roof and no heat. Maybe there is a wood stove for which you have to go out into the countryside—a two-mile walk—cut down some dead wood, chop it into fire logs, bundle it and carry it back to the house on your back. There is no running water. You must walk to a stream, maybe nearby, maybe not, and bring it back in buckets. There is no plumbing. You take a bath from a bucket or in a basin of water that is maybe heated, maybe not. You wash your clothes in the same basin or in the river where it is easier to rinse them. This process takes hours. There are ten children in the house, and the food to feed them comes from the field next to the house. Or maybe your livelihood depends on an inedible crop like cotton which, if the harvest is good, you can trade for items to meet your family’s basic needs in the coming year.

Washington, born into slavery himself, sought a relevant educational solution to the immediate challenges facing families—the majority of ex-slaves at the turn of the century—living under such conditions. While very few blacks had the opportunity to pursue higher education and the white standard of success, Washington believed that in order to achieve dignity and self-determination an individual needed to understand that they were valuable as they were, where they were. He believed there was something that an individual living in poverty could do to ameliorate the material conditions of his or her family and, over time, the race as a whole, when he encouraged people in Up From Slavery, to “cast down your bucket where you are.”[vi]

To understand Washington, it is important to understand that such a life of poverty is a life of labor—cutting wood, hauling water, washing clothes—and that the amelioration of such a life by those living it requires the perfection of manual, industrial skills. Thus, Washington focused his educational strategy around this critical need. He writes:

“I believe most earnestly that for years to come the education of the people of my race should be so directed that the greatest proportion of the mental strength of the masses will be brought to bear upon the every-day practical things of life, upon something that is needed to be done, and something which they will be permitted to do in the community in which they reside.” (Industrial Education, ¶ 10)

Washington’s example of the laundry girl (¶18) illustrates what he sees to be the problem with book-learning alone in an era where well-educated blacks were not always able to secure employment matching their level of education and intellectual capability. He does not suggest that the girl should not be educated, but that her education does her a disservice if she should fall out of touch with or become indifferent to those skills that might help her to provide the material needs of her family. For this reason, Washington wants to fit students “for occupations which would be open to them in their home communities.” (¶19)

Let us imagine that she is one of ten children in the Sharecropper’s house. Let us send her off to Howard or Fisk as part of DuBois’ “Talented Tenth” strategy. Now what of the other nine and the parents? Washington would encourage one to become a carpenter, another a farmer, another a plumber. When she returns from university to teach her brothers and sisters and the community, as DuBois suggests, will her knowledge make the difference, make general improvements, to the development of this family’s well-being? Does DuBois’ strategy actually take these material needs into account?

While our modern sensibility is ruffled by the suggestion of 19th century gender roles in Washington’s description of the laundry girl, we cannot overlook the value of the work that women contributed to daily life under these conditions. Looking again at our house and ten children, the woman’s part in maintaining the working order of such a lifestyle was crucial. It was a lifestyle we can hardly imagine. We insist upon a woman’s independence from such menial work as laundry, when in such a context, laundry is vital to the health and well-being of the family. A woman who would return to such a house from university, having found no job suitable to her qualifications—regardless of whether she planned to teach in her community—would need to contribute to the family-group through some kind of labor, whether laundry or otherwise, because such a life is laborious.

Washington sees a huge problem in emigration of large numbers of blacks to urban centers in search of work. By equipping people for economic success in rural areas, Washington hopes to provide, for the first few generations, if not the ultimate fulfillment of their potential, at least the material basis for the growth of future generations. As such, he suggests that “knowledge must be harnessed to the real things of life.” (¶10. See also ¶19)

Washington’s mistake was in not advocating for immediate civil rights. He is remembered chiefly for his “Atlanta Compromise” address in which he suggested that political and social equality were less important as immediate goals than economic respectability and independence. [vii] He believed that civil rights and social equality would follow from the respect the black man would gain from the white man. For this reason, his development theory is under-rated and is seen to be inferior to DuBois’ push for classical liberal arts education and the development of black leadership. Because of a disdain for Washington’s accommodationism, some tend to discredit a valuable development strategy for the nine-tenths of the population that DuBois discarded as “unfit.


It is unclear to me whether DuBois, with his privileged background, ever experienced the conditions for which Washington was attempting to provide a remedy. DuBois clearly valued his own experience as a highly educated, privileged individual—enjoying certain academic status not even widely available to white people at the time. He valued his intellectual prowess and “took pride in surpassing his fellow students in academic and other pursuits.”[viii] But did he know the realities of living in the Sharecropper’s House? More importantly, what did he believe such poverty indicated about the value of individual who lived in such circumstances?

A popular social theory at the turn of the century applied Darwin’s principle of natural selection to the inequalities in society. This theory presumed that, “if biological organisms evolved gradually by eliminating those individuals least fitted for survival, then social organisms must evolve at the same geologic rate and by the same process of elimination.”[ix] It followed from this theory that racial conflict represented the continual striving of society to improve itself through competition. Thus it was believed that if evolution eliminated the unfit, the loser in racial conflict must be, by definition, inferior.[x] “Racists, northern and southern, proclaimed that the Negro was subhuman, barbaric, immoral, and innately inferior, physically and intellectually, to whites—totally incapable of functioning as an equal in white civilization.”[xi]

It was this prevailing attitude that DuBois refuted, not only by promoting the intellectual and biological equality of the races, but doing so by suggesting that there were ‘fit’ and ‘unfit’ members of every race. In this way, he internalized and promoted certain aspects of the Eugenics movement which allowed him to write off the needs of the majority of his race living in poverty, and to make inborn fitness the basis of his call for education according to ability. [xii] According to Dorr, “DuBois…believed that relatively ‘fit’ and ‘unfit’ human beings existed, and that society as a whole could be improved by assuring the propagation of the fit—the best and the brightest individuals, regardless of race. What emerged from this school of thought was ‘integrationist’ or ‘accommodationist’ eugenics, which assumed the essential biological similarity of all human races.”

It is on this point that we give DuBois great credit and even go as far as to call him the “most important figure in the American civil rights movement.”[xiii] However, we must also strongly critique DuBois for promoting the biological equality of all races on the one hand and regarding slavery as an institution that “legalized [the] survival of the unfit,” on the other. DuBois writes in “The Talented Tenth” that black leadership sought to eliminate slavery, not for being inhumane and unjust, but because it prevented the forces of natural selection and survival of the fittest from strengthening the black race. (¶3)

Another point on which we must call DuBois’ development strategy into question is his assumption that the Talented Tenth will use their education to help others of their race, and that intelligence, character, ‘civilization’ or knowledge will trickle down in the way that he suggests. DuBois believes that the Talented Tenth would rise and pull “all that are worth the saving up to their vantage ground,” (¶14, my emphasis). Clearly, development and elevation of the race for DuBois does not mean an amelioration of circumstances for the majority of individuals. Most of them are not “worth the saving.” It rather means a strengthening of the best representatives of the race by selecting and promoting those who are already privileged and talented.

Even if such individuals are educated and encouraged to return to their communities (an idea to which Washington does not object, ¶19), it can be argued that talent and conscience do not always go hand-in-hand. It does not necessarily follow that those who achieve the highest levels of education and success will put their disadvantaged brothers and sisters on the top of their priority list. There is no direct correlation between higher education and generosity of spirit. In fact, as DuBois has demonstrated, his education and privilege fostered in him a belief in his genetic and intellectual superiority and a complete disdain for the “Average” masses—those who “have no aims higher than their bellies.” (¶13,16) These are the words of someone who has not only never experienced poverty, but who sees poverty as an unseemly characteristic of the genetically ‘unfit.’

For these reasons, I would argue that the hope of development for an entire race of people (if we mean to indicate by ‘development’ the possibility for an improvement in the quality of life for each individual) cannot be placed in the hands of DuBois’ talented elite, especially if they share his belief in their inherent superiority. Talent, by nature, tends to the focused development of itself and does not necessarily include within its scope a broad humanitarian imperative. Even if we accept the premise that the development of black leadership will lead to a speedier advancement of civil rights, this solution does not necessarily lead to the social or economic elevation of the race as a whole, as we see evidenced in our world today.

The Example of Gabon
In many parts of the post-colonial, developing world, we can find concrete examples of social dynamics which are in many ways similar to post-Civil War America. The people of Gabon, a country in central Africa, are now four decades past their era of national independence and yet face circumstances remarkably similar to those faced by ex-slaves in the United Statesth century. The living conditions described in the illustration of the Sharecropper’s house are those experienced by the majority of Gabonese people today.

The example of Gabon provides a useful, modern-day context to test the application of the ideas of Washington and DuBois as effective development strategies. The educational model in place in Gabon remains the one instituted by the French colonizers over two hundred years ago. It is a system that prepares Gabonese students according to a rigorous liberal arts program without regard to their local custom or immediate need. Most students in Gabon struggle to complete their studies, but those whom DuBois would consider the Talented Tenth go on to university in West Africa or Paris. Thus, they leave their communities for the prospects of achieving modern standards of success, and most of them never return. If you have a Masters or PhD in Economics from Europe, what possible employment will you ever find in your village? What incentive do you have to return, when you are now qualified for high-paying jobs in Europe or in the capital city of Libreville?

Meanwhile, for those who stay behind—like the girl in the photo—there is no part of their education that provides the tools for improving the immediate conditions of their lives. While the present educational system provides opportunity to a very small fraction of the population, the rest would benefit greatly from Washington’s industrial education—the acquisition of practical skills such as agriculture, carpentry, masonry, sewing, etc. with which to address their daily needs. Most of the jobs in Gabon requiring these skills are filled at the present time by foreigners.

It may be tempting to believe, with DuBois, that Gabonese leadership must be developed to address the realities of poverty by sending Gabon’s brightest off for the best education the world has to offer. The obvious problem with this strategy is that those who gain such intellectual resources do not de facto return to help the communities from which they came. On the contrary, we find that often it is those very highly educated people who manipulate the country’s resources for their own gain. Thus, maintaining the status quo is to their advantage. For this reason, the idea of industrial education is often opposed by Gabonese leadership for the very fact that it would transfer agency and ability to those who are currently, and conveniently, being oppressed by the elite.

The lesson to take away from this example is that good liberal arts education does not necessarily create good leaders. Good leaders might just as easily rise up from among the oppressed once some degree of economic autonomy can be reached through industry and small enterprise. In addition, the ability to improve the quality of life in the immediate circumstances by the individual should not be viewed as less important or less fundamental than big-picture policy change by educated leaders. The former is ultimately more empowering and libratory of every human individual, which to my mind, in contrast to DuBois, is the greater goal.

Modern Implications of the Washington – DuBois Debate

From the Washington-DuBois debate we can draw a broader philosophical question about the value we assign to different types of knowledge and work. To the modern mind, Washington’s compromise of civil rights is much less acceptable than DuBois’ sacrifice of the unfit masses because we continue to follow a similar social philosophy in America today, in which it is common to believe that poverty is the result of people’s laziness or inability to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. We continue to internalize and legitimize a similar social hierarchy that champions a particular definition of success, progress and happiness. And we perpetuate a hierarchy of knowledge according to this definition of success and progress such that those with more advanced degrees of liberal arts education are generally more esteemed than those with technical or vocational training. Thus, lawyers are more esteemed than masons, professors more valued than truckers (even though they are both instrumental for the good workings of society); and such assignment of value and status to knowledge is generally unquestioned in American society.

In response to such beliefs, I stand with Washington when he asserts that “no race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.”[xiv] Why do we view trades, crafts and industrial jobs as inherently inferior to other types of professions for which a more intellectual, philosophical education is required? As an extension of this value system, the types of education which develop such skills, either technical or intellectual, are valued accordingly. We continue to hold this hierarchy in place, stratifying professions and the working contributions of each person according to a hierarchy of value and its accompanying status. In such an environment, it is no wonder that DuBois’ ideas are more highly appreciated, but if we posit the importance of the right to full legal, social and economic equality[xv] for all human beings, we must recognize the value in each one’s constructive contribution and begin to acknowledge and address the social inequalities we tend to foster and pursue.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I went to the HDS Kwanzaa celebration last week. It was my first experience with Kwanzaa, and I enjoyed learning about the seven principles:

  • Umoja Unity
  • Kujichagulia Self-Determination
  • Ujima Collective Work
  • Ujamaa Cooperative Economics
  • Nia Purpose
  • Kuumba Creativity
  • Imani Faith
The event ended with three very useful questions

Who am I?
Am I really who I say I am?
Am I all I ought to be?

Happy Kwanzaa!

The beginning of winter

December photos from Plum Island, MA

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The end of summer

Just a few days left in Montana. The frost is on the pumpkin, the waters are chilly but still refreshing. This time of year always makes me nervous. It's always about transitioning: fall excitement mixed with despair at summer's end. I leave in two days for Boston. After the earlier roadtrip from Nashville to Missoula, I'm less enthusiastic about the long trip to the east coast, but luckily have found a traveling companion...a ballet dancer named Robert who, coincidentally, also has dreams of living on a goat farm some day. Hopefully with his help, the trip will be faster, smoother and more enjoyable for the company. School starts up again on the 15th. I'm hoping to really make this year much less about hoop-jumping and much more about the development and articulation of my own ideas.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Youth Harvest

Clayton has run away. With only three months to go before finishing his drug court program, he decided to run with two other kids from his group home.
It leaves a big empty space in me--the same as it did when Hannah left the farm suddenly a few weeks back and we didn't know if we'd see her again. We're like an organism, at the farm. Maybe others don't feel it, but when one person leaves unexpectedly in this way, I feel their absence like a huge gap, an important part missing.
It was such a surprise to all of us that Clayton took off. Clayton, of all people! everyone said. He was the most dependable!
We found out a few days later that Clayton and his friends stole a car. Clayton was arrested for drunk driving and grand theft auto and is now in jail..
I worry so much about these kids. They are called "at risk" teenagers. I was wondering, initially, what that really meant. Over the summer, I've realized that they seem to share a certain inequilibrium that I'm not accustomed to seeing in people. I mean that they appear to be stable in themselves to some degree, but then they make choices that completely and very suddenly change the course of their lives.
There is a lot going on in
side them that is hidden. There is a lot going on inside all of us that is hidden. I wish they wouldn't put on their best face for us while so much is bothering them underneath. They don't easily trust others. For as much as rehabilitation programs focus on communication, I feel like we still fall so short, in general, in our abilities to communicate what is really going on for each of us in our lives. We each have certain issues we share with coworkers and friends, others we keep hidden. We say they are too personal? Irrelevant? "The System" in which these kids are being "rehabilitated" fails to break that barrier. It unfortunately maintains the possibility of leading a double identity--the face we show at the farm, the person we really are inside. What is it about all of us that resists intimacy, that prizes privacy? For what ends?
Though I know there is nothing I could have done to prevent the course of events in Clayton's life
, his predicament enlightens the limitations in my own ability to communicate and create intimacy between myself and these kids. Was Clayton's decision as sudden as it seemed? Or was he really troubled with no real friend to talk to for a period of time beforehand?
I have tried, in my way, to build friendships with each of the kids, but I think there is that same something in myself, and maybe in them, that resists intimacy. The kids don't necessarily trust the sincerity of those around them, either, and often just say what they think I want to hear. I've try to have candid conversations with Jordan a
bout how he feels being taken away from his family and placed in a group home against his will. He says he wants to go--"it'll help him stay out of trouble and create certain changes in his life." That's what he says. It's like he knows the lines that the "grown-ups" want to hear. He's very good at simulating the transformation he thinks they are looking for. But I'm never sure how he feels.
On a hopeful note, I have seen that in some small way, the farm has had a positive influence on each of the kids. They have each had their beliefs challenged, have learned to like things (and people) they never expected to like, and have each expressed that being accepted by everyone on the farm has made a big difference to them.
Donny, while we were pulling weeds one day, started asking questions about how to apply for college. He said his family and friends had been unable to answer his questions. It was one small moment of satisfaction for me—knowing that the farm, and Donny’s new relationships there, were providing something that he needed.
The experience on the farm has helped me to remember not to expect big changes. Working in any capacity where the expectation is a change in the lives of others requires a lot of patience and true humility. One problem with rehab programs is that the change is predetermined; a particular change is expected. When we don't see the desired results, we can feel that no impact has been made; no result achieved. But considering Donny's question, I realize that the response to one question, asked because Donny felt at ease and felt he could get an answer, could possibly change the course of a whole life.
In terms of the therapeutic benefits of farm work, they are impossible to quantify. We cannot look only for revolutionary change in the behavior of an individual--a drug addict reformed and rehabilitated. The farm has left its mark in all of our lives. It may be, in Donny's case, the realization that women with hairy legs can be nice people. It may be, in Jordan's case, the discovery that he really likes to cook. It may be, in any case, the response to a question we raise, or the question that raises itself in response to our work that begins to guide our lives in a slightly different direction.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Garden Party

PEAS interns Sara Bruya, left, and Jessica Babcock harvest flowers for CSA shares Monday morning at the Garden City Harvest/UM EVST PEAS Farm in the Rattlesnake Valley. Garden City Harvest produces 25,000 pounds of food a year to give to community emergency food shelters and is celebrating its 10th anniversary Thursday.
Photo by LINDA THOMPSON/Missoulian

Program Celebrates 10 Years
By Betsy Cohen of the Missoulian

It's hard to believe Garden City Harvest is celebrating its 10th anniversary, but it is, truly.

Who knew 10 years ago the fledgling program to grow food for low-income Missoula residents, which began on a spit of knapweed-infested property at Fort Missoula, would blossom into a robust 6.5-acre farm in the upper Rattlesnake, sprout satellite gardens throughout the city, serve as an educational center for students of all ages and provide therapy for at-risk teenagers.

Back then, no one could foresee the garden would be transplanted into the heart of the Rattlesnake, partner with the University of Montana and city of Missoula, and annually produce 25,000 pounds of food for the Missoula Food Bank, the Poverello Center and other community emergency food shelters.

Nor could anyone have envisioned the farm, in its eighth year, would be honored with the prestigious Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Partnership Award, which recognizes outstanding partnerships between nonprofits and universities. The 2004 award honored the farm's work to provide food for the needy and education to UM students in the Program in Ecological Agriculture and Society (PEAS), an internship within the university's Environmental Studies Program.

For certain, dynamic - albeit organic - evolution has shaped the farm and its programs, said Josh Slotnick, farm director and co-founder.

“We have changed as the town has changed,” Slotnick said, “but we have grown at what we know - including people in doing humble, meaningful work.”

These days, Garden City Harvest and the Rattlesnake Farm are the mothership for three distinct programs: the Youth Harvest Project, the PEAS internship, and community gardens.

Youth Harvest, which is in its fourth year, is a therapeutic service-oriented employment program for at-risk teens. Most of the teenagers in the program are court-ordered by District Judge John Larson, who presides over Missoula Drug Court, said Tim Ballard, Youth Harvest director.

Immersed in the diverse community of the farm's mostly volunteer workers, the teens help with farm chores - everything from feeding the pigs and chickens to moving irrigation pipe, weeding, planting, cooking the mid-day meal and eating with the farm hands.

Through a partnership with the Human Resource Council, the teens receive minimum wage for their work.

Not only is the farm work an unusual alternative to the more traditional fast food restaurant employment options, but mentorships are formed with the UM students and other laborers who tend and nurture the crops, Ballard said.

As the teenagers become familiar with their chores and the farm's ultimate mission to feed the needy, they gain “a sense of ownership and a feeling of belonging,” Ballard said.

It's not uncommon for many of the teens to linger after their work assignments are completed or to return after their work shift is over to lend a hand.

In several instances, the farm experience prompted once-troubled teens to get a paid position with Garden City Harvest and another to enroll in UM's PEAS internship, which combines traditional college courses with hands-on agricultural work.

“Farm work is good, and this farm in particular is really important for human growth,” said Sara Bruya, a Harvard Divinity School student who is fulfilling some of her master's degree requirements this summer through UM's PEAS internship.

“This farm is a powerful place because of the community that is developed among people and the fact that the people here are interested in nurturing the life cycle,” Bruya said. “The work here is not just about planting and harvesting vegetables. The work brings up a lot of conversation about other things - about social issues, poverty, personal issues.

“There's an educational component to this farm which makes it special and which brings out in people a sensitivity, an awareness of how things, of how we are all connected.”

Neither the farm nor Garden City Harvest would thrive without the support of vibrant private and public partnerships, said Joellen Shannon, Garden City Harvest development director.

But the program does thrive because individuals and city leaders recognize the importance of the work, and there's no better example for the ongoing support than the farm's community-shared agriculture program - in which Missoula residents of all income levels buy shares to receive weekly produce and flowers, Shannon said.

“Our farms and gardens connect people to food, to a sense of place and to each other,” she said, “and that connectedness is one of the most important things that is grown here.”

Slotnick said he too is stunned by Garden City's 10th anniversary, and what the farm's journey has taught him.

“I started doing this work because I believe in the power of this as an educational tool to get food to poor people,” he said. “I didn't know how it would tie me to Missoula - to this community.

“It's what I'd call a fortunate accident.”

Everyone's invited to the farm's fifth annual summer shindig, which is equal parts harvest celebration, garden party and community frolic.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

I want a goat

Fair Reflections

The Western Montana Fair is in town this week. At the last minute I decided that we should enter some of our PEAS Farm produce in the agriculture competition. The idea was mostly to encourage the Youth Harvest kids by hopefully winning a few ribbons that they could proudly display to their families and friends at the Fair. It turns out we did pretty well, winning first and third place for carrots, first and second for kale, first for red cabbage and celery, and second place for red onions. Our cucumbers, however, didn't place at all. The contest considers mostly aesthetic qualities such as uniformity and size without regard to maturity of the produce or, most importantly, TASTE! The blue ribbon cucumbers were all perfectly uniform, but actually, not ripe!
Of course, the competition was not exactly fair on many levels. I think we were competing mostly against backyard gardeners. Surprisingly, there was no separate category for farm-raised produce or any distinction between vegetables grown with or without pesticides, herbicides or growth enhancers.
Were I in Montana more permanently, I would love to see the agricultural component of the fair become what it might have once been--an Exposition where all regional farms are represented; where friendly competition contributes to the sharing of knowledge among farmers; where vegetables are judged by their taste and not on perfect shape. It is an environment with so much educational potential that is completely lost in the whirl of carnival rides and the seasonal allure of cotton candy and fry bread.
From our PEAS Farm fieldtrips to organic farms all over the region this summer, I am more aware than ever before of the agricultural activity going on all around us. But before that experience, I had no idea there were peaches growing up near Dixon or lavendar and grape vines in the Rattlesnake. The Missoula Farmer's Market is a celebration, of sorts, of local produce and local farms, but I sense a distinct elitism (or at best, reservation) among the organic farming community when it comes to participating in the Western Montana Fair. The Fair is stereotyped, it seems, as being for "the other half" of the agricultural world--the conventional farmer; more specifically, the ranching and rodeo crowd.
To my mind, knowing now the wonderful farming community that exists, it is unfortunate that the agricultural displays at the Fair are mostly filled, as I said, by home gardeners. None of these beautiful farms we've visited this summer are represented.
And even the conventional farmers (meaning those who use chemicals) seem to be growing mostly grains rather than vegetables. Thus I assume that most of the local produce that is available in the market is being grown by those folks that we have visited. One thing I've learned about these farmers in Western Montana is that they work VERY HARD! I don't expect them to necessarily take the time to consider educating the public about what they're doing. At the same time, however, keeping themselves within the elite community of those who shop at the Good Food Store or the crowd that comes to the Farmer's Market ultimately limits their market, I think. Many Missoulians I've talked to think, for example, that those who buy their produce at the Farmer's Market represent a good cross-section of the population of Missoula. Somehow I think if that were the case, we wouldn't have a population that supports two Walmarts...but I digress...
While farmers may not have the time to educate the public about considering the source of their food, an organization like Garden City Harvest should be doing so. It states as one of the three primary goals in their mission statement that they are committed to offering education and training in ecologically conscious food production. Now celebrating its 10th year, however, GCH has apparently not yet considered the incredible opportunity presented by the Fair to reach a broad cross-section of the population (that might not shop at the Good Food Store) about the significance of growing organically and supporting local farms. GCH could also take on the job of making sure local farmers are encouraged to participate and are well-represented at the Fair and that an awareness of the vibrant local farming community reaches the general population of Western Montana. This could be achieved in a really fun and celebratory way by integrating "ecologically consicous food production" awareness into the historically significant county fair model, which is already deeply rooted in agriculture.
If we really believe in this "conscious agriculture" idea, then we must resist the impulse toward elitism and take every opportunity to promote and encourage HEALTHY LOCAL PRODUCE FOR EVERYONE. If the organic farming community is too good for the Fair, then in effect, they're just preaching to the choir, and losing a valuable opportunity to expand the market for and the awareness of local, organic produce.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Montana peaches

The key to making a living as a farmer in Montana, as we learned last week from 'Lavender Laurie,' is finding your niche. Tom, from Forbidden Fruit in Paradise, Montana has certainly found one. The growing season on his place in a narrow valley at the confluence of the Clark Fork and Flathead rivers is almost two months longer than we have in Missoula--just 70 miles away. His peaches are juicy and delicious.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Waiting for an August muse

It's funny how the endless minutia can interrupt the creative flow. Most of July was spent in a wonderful way...helping my sister move from Houston to Nashville, buying a new car, driving from Nashville to Missoula, MT and then spending a couple of fun weeks with my sister. It's the first time in years that we've been able to spend a whole month together. We attended a family reunion, she played her bass at the Farm talent show, we had evening picnics in Greenough Park. Meanwhile, I've been trying to sort out title business for the car, have my knee examined by an expert, and attend to all kinds of other little things that need to get done. Every day, I feel the lack of time to write and reflect as a pang of emptiness. I need it.
Kristen is gone now...back to Nashville. My week has passed trying to catch up on lost projects as the summer moves on. August already! My books, abandoned. My writing waiting... I've sat down several times this week hoping to be inspired. How can it be so naggingly important and yet so elusive, the creative impulse?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Time Passes

...and I've had no time to write.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Corn Palace

As a farmer, I felt obligated to stop. It's really quite remarkable. Apparently, Lewis and Clark wrote in their journal that South Dakota was the great American desert, and that nothing would grow there. The farmers of South Dakota decided to prove them wrong. See here.

Golden Opportunity

While helping my sister move from Houston to Nashville, I found the car I've been looking for. Every once in awhile I do something that others think is crazy--in this case, too risky. But I had to take a chance. I saw it on Tuesday, bought it, registered it and started off toward Montana on Wednesday. We drove 2200 miles, adding a lot of oil (it has a leak) but otherwise having no problems...
I witnessed a lot of fear and doubt on the faces of all those who thought I was nuts...and they might have been right. But certain opportunities come along when we least expect them, and we have to be ready to jump.
Kristen and Kiki were both very supportive. Here is Kiki's profound advice:

I hope you can read this email before you buy the car. I want to say couple of things regarding the car you will be buying and driving today.
First,there is no such thing on earth that can make all human beings safe. In fact, everything that is made by man doesn't last forever. We, human beings in this world are surrounded by millions of dangers that we disregard as long as we are not directly touched by them.
We are constantly creating security and certainity to worry less about we do not have control over. Driving a car is already a risk. Either it is considered a new car or a used car. Although a new car has everything new on it, therefore it gradually increases the probability of being safe in it. A used car is also safe. Considering the fact that it has being driving for so long. Therefore, the car and the engine is used to doing that activity of driving. There are, i believe, millions of reasons to consider a used car just as worth as a new car. I am not trying to denied that millions of people around the world think that a new car is more secured than a used. It probably looks nicer, but the danger is constantly there. Even though we manage to erase such danger through our excitement about driving a new car.
I have many arguments, to defend the idea that a used car is just as safe as a new car. An illustration of that idea is the example of many african people we drive old or very old cars for many years. Most of the time,those used car last even longer than new car. May be it is not quiet clear to you, the idea is that we give the value to our object. Then, it makes our worries go away. Thus, we feel safe.
Honey, i do not have enough time to present details regarding what i am talking about. But, i know that you will get it. Be excited to have your car. That car is going to last as long as we value it. And you will realize that this is going to be your first experience with this car. Then, you will have another and another. Later, you will really appreciate this car. I am not saying that there is no danger to have this car, but the idea is whether the car is valuable or vulnerable, we, humans give the value and importance to our objects.

Friday, July 07, 2006

What is important is to be wholly discontented, for such total discontent is the beginning of the initiative which becomes creative as it matures; and that is the only way to find out what is truth, what is God, because the creative state is God.

Krishnamurti, Think on These Things

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I see farms everywhere...

This empty lot stands a few blocks from my apartment. It's slotted for an eventual community center, but in the meantime... could feed the neighborhood! Why does everyone buy their vegetables at Super Walmart when they could buy them from the garden down the block? It could employ several people at a reasonable wage, cut out all the middle men and transport costs, and beautify the community.

Just a thought...

And what about all these big, empty (irrigated!) parks sitting around??

Done and Undone

My experience on the farm is of course an opportunity to learn about farming, agriculture. Along the way, I've made a few observations about human nature, too.
One thing I've been thinking a lot about lately is the beginning and ending of things. Every action has a beginning and an end, but we rarely pay attention to this detail, living our lives with our endings and beginnings all tumbling into one another. More often, as I've noticed recently on the farm, we simply skip the ending, we wander off, and don't finish what we've started. More p
recisely, we may have finished the primary task, but we have not considered all that is required to end impeccably. We throw the tool down, we leave things strewn around, we're called to another task and we never come back.
Though I don't always succeed, I like to try to finish any activity... admirably...with an attention to detail that takes into account not only the task at hand, but future tasks, the ease vs. toil of future farmers, the care and maintenance of tools and equipment, and the aesthetic appeal of a clean, crisp finish; one where all aspects have been considered and cared for.

I feel like there is some kind of intangible value in true completion of a task. If the objective is to plant lettuce, the job is not done when the lettuce is in the ground. The job is truly done when the seedling containers are collected and returned to the greenhouse, the tools are put away in the shed, the hose is coiled and ready for the next project. It may be easy to just write me off as a neat-freak, but in fact I believe that this kind of attention to endings is immensely important in the process of living life. We need to examine our work and ask ourselves if we've done the best we can do. There may, of course, be times that we don't do our best work. It may be that we're tired or otherwise impeded. But in those cases, even the intention of doing our best work will suffice. When the intention of doing our best work is allowed to dissipate or not to matter, however, we only achieve a kind of apathetic carelessness. The lettuce may be in the ground, but the integrity possible in all work is left undone.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence of thought

February 12, 2004

I’ve done some reading today in Carl Sandburg’s book about Lincoln—what an incredibly objective individual he was. He was completely able to put his personal beliefs aside to fulfill his duty to the nation. “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.” This statement took incredible impartiality and could not have been easy in light of what I believe were his personal objections to slavery—at least as this book portrays him. It is a new thought for me that personal beliefs aren’t necessarily the most paramount consideration. The idea of duty before conviction is very interesting—and maybe only necessary for those who hold elected office or who represent more than just themselves? It seems to me that Lincoln felt an obligation to uphold democracy—to represent even the needs of his adversaries in his final decisions. It’s fascinating. I don’t think I could walk the line he had to walk between the extremes. He saved the Union AND abolished slavery! And do our modern politicians take so much care in their decisions?

What is failure?

I have to admit something that no one likes to see, much less admit seeing, in oneself. It is that I have absolutely no true confidence in myself or in my ability. I think this lack of confidence, or perhaps my ability to recognize it now, hinges on a fact of life to which we are all subjected--that is, that I can have
Pablo Picasso, "Acrobat" 1930
absolutely no certainty about anything. It seems, the more reflective I become, the less I can be certain of things--not only those things which others might have me believe as true, but also of those things in myself which I had always accepted or assumed to be true.
My whole self, really, is nothing but opinion and it feels as though the thoughts and reflections I have are not essentially my own, but are the result of influences upon me, whether social or historical (or both). And even this conclusion is not authentic to me but is at best a synthesis of the ideas and reflections of others, though made real to me through my own experience. In some ways, this lack of certainty, while being a fact of human existence, seems maybe more akin to me than to most of those around me, or at least they are better at playing the game of "what I'm doing with my life." They seem to pursue, without any hesitation, the building blocks of the life that is proposed to us. It is like their path is determined by those blocks themselves. Once they have achieved a block, their next step is determined by the location of the next block. They have learned to live life like a video game and they accumulate all the points. Yes, they do end up with many building blocks, and they build the life they have been taught to desire. Is it the life they imagined for themselves? Who established the goal? Who set the game in motion? Accumulating points is fun and addictive--in some cases the goal doesn't matter, but then, the goal is assured if one plays by the rules and works only to pefect one's skill within those boundaries.
I was in a true funk this weekend, and with a real desire to escape my own mind the best I could do was flee the apartment. I went to the bookstore and found a recording of E. E. Cummings reading from his play him (see below) and other poems. In my particular mood, I felt an immediate sympathy with the description of
his own uncertainty as a feat of acrobatics; three chairs balanced on a wire, eighty feet in air. I am an artist. I am a man. I am a failure.
What is failure?

For me, the blocks don't build, the points don't add up to being an accountant or a dental technician or a veterinarian, the goal isn't clear. Clarity, certainty have always eluded me and I manage to leave my blocks behind as I pursue a new thing totally unrelated to the last. "So how does working on a farm relate to a degree in divinity?" "Why are you in divinity school if you are interested in education?" I'm wearied by these questions; wearied and discouraged more by my attempts at a true response. Because in fact, I do not know. A sense of failure is directly related to the approval we seek from others, or at best to our own desire to fit in and measure up, and if possible, just a little bit higher and beyond where we are expected to fit. We not only want to "make a contribution" but to make a sensational contribution. We want recognition, validation. There are certain jobs we'd "never do!" after achieving a certain level of education or material comfort or prestige of another kind. I feel an enormous pressure to perform, succeed, achieve. But I believe my essential nature is to wander and learn.

Can I be a confident wanderer? Can I be content with never arriving? I have many skills, and enough experience and funny stories to fill volumes. I feel a desire to express myself as I am doing here. But I am not confident that I can make an authentic contribution to this
"Chair on Chair" by Michael Pfleghaar
life. I don't know what it means to be true to myself when all that I am is the synthesis of what has come before, and so much of what I say or do is reaction, not action; an unconsidered response to social pressure, perceived or imperceptible, and years of conditioning. I have never learned how to be myself. I have only been taught to perform, achieve, and measure myself against the standard..
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes that there is nothing new under the sun. Perhaps it may be too bold, too selfish to desire to think newly and independently, without influence. Is there anything new that can be said or done? And isn't the importance I place on coming up with something new and different only the obvious product of an obsessive commercial culture?
I am not certain of anything. Yet, certainty seems to be the opposite of failure.
If you can tell me, how can confidence be found in not-knowing? Can wandering be a goal in itself? Can it be useful to society, can it be a life's work? Can a contribution to life be built by one who doesn't accumulate blocks? Can I please be defined by my humanity, by my life's experience, by my insights...and not by my ability to fit in?
Please don't ask me what I'm planning to do with my degree.
Ask me sincerely what I've been thinking about lately...

Monday, July 03, 2006


Excerpt from
him, (1927) by E. E. Cummings

Self-portrait sketch by E. E. Cummings circa 1920

him: The average painter, sculptor, poet, composer, playwright is a person who cannot leap through a hoop from the back of a galloping horse, make people laugh with a clown's mouth, orchestrate twenty lions.

me: Indeed.

him: But imagine a human being who balances three chairs, one on top of another, on a wire, eighty feet in air with no net underneath, and then climbs into the top chair, sits down and begins to swing.

me: (shudders) I'm glad I never saw that. Makes me dizzy just to think of it.

him: I never saw that either...

me: Because nobody can do it!

him: Because I
am that. But in another way it's all I ever see.

me: What is?

him: (pacing up and down) This: I feel only one thing. I have only one conviction. It sits on three chairs in Heaven. Sometimes I look at it with terror. It is such a perfect acrobat. The three chairs are three facts. It will quickly kick them out from under itself and will stand on air. And in that moment, because everyone will be disappointed, everyone will applaud. Meanwhile, some thousands of miles over everyone's head, over a billion empty faces, it rocks carefully and smilingly on three things, on three facts, on: I am an artist, I am a man, I am a
failure. It rocks and it swings and it smiles and it does not collapse, tumble or die, because it pays no attention to anything except itself.
I feel, I am aware, every minute, every instant, I watch this trick, I am this trick. I sway, selfish and smiling and careful above all the people. And always I am repeating a simple and dark and little formula. Always myself mutters and remutters a trivial colorless microscopic idiom. I breathe and I swing and I whisper. An artist, a man, a failure must proceed.

me: This thing or person who is you, who does not pay any attention to anyone else, it will stand on air?

him: On air.

E.E. Cummings Audio links:
"every artist's strictily illimitible country is himself"
let's from some loud unworld's most rightful wrong