Connection as Sustainability

by Elisabeth Wilder

My coworker told me a story recently of schoolchildren in France who, when asked to draw a picture of chicken, drew pictures of cooked chickens like you would find in your local grocery store or market. Shocked by the drawings of the children, the administrators of the school made a more conscious effort to connect children with animals before they ended up on their dinner plates. Now when those same schoolchildren are asked to draw a chicken, their chickens have feathers, beaks, and captions that say “bock-bock!”

When I think about sustainability in my work, I’ve come to realize that sustainability is less about teaching people to use less and recycle more, but instead teaching people how to connect with themselves and their environments. When people are connected to the world around them, they understand their place in the world and how their actions impact the people and things in their communities. People learn, for example, that chickens don’t come from grocery stores, but rather farms in which they have to be raised and taken care of.

(MCC Photo/Elisabeth Wilder)

In my work with children in school gardens with La Fundación Abril, sustainability looks like helping children build connections between the earth and their bodies. Sometimes that includes conversations about how unhealthy foods with trans genetic ingredients make us sick, which is why we need to eat healthy, organic food. Other times it looks like just reminding the children to be present in the gardens; to feel the sun on their backs and the dirt underneath their fingernails because we, too, are part of the environment. My favorite moment of connection recently was when a girl was planting oregano and asked me, “Miss, what’s the name of this plant again? The one that goes on pizza?” Every small connection builds understanding that our lives are so much more deeply intertwined with others than we can fathom.

Connection is the heart of the work of La Fundación Abril, and without it, our projects aren’t sustainable. If a community, as some communities we have worked with have done in the past, cannot agree on how it wants to take care of its gardens or cisterns, those gardens or cisterns will likely fail and fall to the wayside. When people are disconnected from their communities and focus on themselves without considering their neighbours, this leads to conflict, hoarding of resources, and/or competition within communities for resources, all of which is unsustainable. Separation from community means separation from resources, services, and of course, relationships. We simply cannot live apart from one another.

(MCC Photo/Elisabeth Wilder)

In our office, we don’t talk about the gardens we plant or the cisterns we build as outcomes, but rather tools to help communities connect with one another. Our biggest achievements are not when we build new gardens or cisterns, but when professors, parents, and students come and tell us about the gardens they planted in their homes or ask for resources such as seeds or instructional material to give to their friends or family. When people are committed and connected to one another and the work they’re doing, we know the gardens, cisterns, and communities will be sustainable and last.

That same little girl who planted oregano for her pizza also planted mint for her grandmother. With each new plant, she learns how something small impacts her world, whether by tastier pizza or a better relationship with her grandmother. If we all lived with such an understanding– in connection with ourselves and our environments–I think we could all live more sustainably.

Elisabeth Wilder, originally from Hesston, Kansas, works with La Fundacion Abril as part of MCC’s Seed program.

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