It’s my last day here in the idyllic Walden Farm. I was not able to stay as long as I would have liked, but one should count themselves fortunate to stay any amount of time in this nest of peacefulness. It is a small, on the grander scale of farming as a whole, beacon to farming in China to set the bar higher; an example of a farm, though not fully sustainable, trying to get there and unshackle themselves from the binds of modern farming that sees nature as only a resource to exploit, opposed to what it should be, a resource to be cared for even as it provides us with a return of its bounty to feed us- therefore, enabling it to care for generations to come as well, or better, than it did for current generations.
Lack of foresight and vision is a huge problem for modern farming. These might not be the first things that come to mind when you consider: all the pesticides, herbicides, over using antibiotics, oil consumption of machinery, habitat destruction, erosion, to name a few, because who has time to name all that is wrong with modern farming? I think in large part it goes back to foresight and vision though. In todays fast pace, me me me, results now environment, society is not mature, wise, and maybe even compassionate enough to consider the long term effects of this type of farming (profit today, destruction tomorrow). As Paul Hawken likes to put it we are stealing the future, and selling it in the present.
What stops someone from seeing the world like this, and doing farming a better way? A vested interest in the land is what. One way you get that is staying in a place for a long time. This starts the connection in you that the health of your land is strongly connected to your own family, and your ability to take care of that family. If your going to stay in a place for an extended period of time, and I’d say 400+ years is pretty extended (how long Walden Farm has been family run), you want to make sure that you care for the land as it provides for you and your family in the present, and so it can continue to provide for your family in the future.
This is what I believe is the shining star of the Walden Farm crown. Their strong family bond. They have been here for a long time, and will, hopefully, continue to be here for a long time to come. All the actions of this farm, and their results, positive or negative, will soon be handed over to the next generation, NiuNiu and her cousins to come.
The family here is really great, they are as welcoming and kind as you could ask for from anybody. They are working together on a daily basis, and somehow do not kill each other. I mean that as a compliment. I dearly love my family, but if you put us all into a farm, and asked us to manage it together I am not sure how it would go. There would be a lot of very strong opinions, and that could bring farming to a standstill. In the short time here I think the way they can sit around the meal table and hash out the different ideas and come to some consensus is a big key to their success.
When you get to the farm the leadership and big picture vision is led by Uncle Qiang. Lin is the contact for all the volunteers, and he has a passion to share the farm with visitors from foreign countries, letting them experience Chinese culture, and also letting them bring to the table any gifts and talents they have of their own. Then there are the strong and kind women of the farm, like Lin’s mother Yuhua and his wife Sarah that are the kind welcoming presence that makes the farm such a pleasant place to be. Beyond that there are various uncles, and other family members around helping to manage the different teams on the farm. They have all the work spread out to teams assigned with different task on the farm, the farm is not small, so they have lots of teams, for example: grapes, cooking, lawn care. This long view of the health and vitality for the farm is synonymous for the health and vitality of the family, both are doing fine.
Second to the family’s connection to the farm, and a natural extension from that is increasing others connection to the farm. As mentioned before no deep and lasting care can happen on land without people who have deep and lasting relationships with the land. To this end Education plays a huge part of carrying forth the family’s connection with the land to other’s in the area, greater China, and the world through bringing in volunteers.
This is where I come into the story. I am a teacher, and have taught in America and most recently in Taiwan, for a total of 8 years. I have a deep passion for teaching, and currently the way that I see myself contributing the most in an area I care for is teaching appreciation and understanding of nature to children, and teaching Permaculture to young adults. Lin is big on encouraging everyone to take their own passions and transfer it into a project at the farm.
Usually volunteers stay longer than I was able to stay, and there are also usually other volunteers together, this allows them to engage in larger projects that require more work hours. The time I was here was particularly rainy, and without a lot of partners to work with I set myself on task to further the farms endeavors to improve children’s education, and Permaculture by writing up curriculum and project ideas. These being two big focuses of Uncle Qiang and Lin. This particularly suited me with my teaching experience, and also with Permaculture because I have been training to transition out of full time teaching into a Permaculture farm and education path. To this end I have done quite a lot of training in Permaculture online, books, and of course in classes on farms (most notably with Permaculture icon Geoff Lawton). With my task in mind I went forward.
The main idea behind educating children is to let them learn about nature, and most importantly develop a deep and lasting connection to nature. You can not protect what you do not love, and if we want to have any chance to protect our natural resources we need children to grow up with a deep attachment to nature. This is not easy with children growing up an increasingly urbanized population, so we need to work hard to help them make this connection. This is the ultimate goal of the project, and if designed right the children will have an amazing experience.
After putting together, a collection of proposed activities for children to engage with nature, and Permaculture projects for the farm to use to beef up their Permaculture systems I gave a presentation to explain my ideas. I hope to have a chance in the future to help with them implementation of these ideas.
If I were to give advice to the following volunteers, which seems to be the standard on the blog, it would be to come here with an open mind and heart, jump right into as many areas of the farm as you can, try to understand those things, and then roll that over into whatever passion or skills that you have to create something of lasting benefit and beauty to the farm. If you have the fortune to have other volunteers around see if you can explore some ways to have synergy between your abilities and create something better than you all could have done on your own. This return of our own passion into the project is the positive exchange that you engage in when you come to the farm.
I believe most people will have similar feelings of my above advice. I would like to add a few additional thoughts that might be of some benefit if you choose to volunteer here. Speak Chinese. As intimidating as this sounds if will benefit you a 100 fold for your effort. Do you have to be fluent? No. Learn as much as you can though. Even if you do not speak one word, which I didn’t when I went to Taiwan 9 years ago for the first time, you can have a great time. Your Chinese ability should be seen as a multiplying factor. For example if you have a great attitude, and can speak no Chinese you will have a better time than someone who is fluent with a unpleasant attitude, but learning Chinese will make that good attitude unlock a lot more doors of understanding and strengthen relationships with the people here. Even learning the basics (listed on the men’s toilet door, sorry I didn’t check the females) is big, it says to them that you respect their culture, and you are trying to learn their language, even if you’re terrible, which we mostly all are inevitably when starting to learn Chinese, it will be a huge value to you. I’ve studied Chinese for a while now, and here are some resources to look into while you’re here: Pleco App- even if you don’t stay long, this is a great dictionary, if you’re here for longer try Yoyo Chinese or Fluent-U online to help your speaking, and if you are particularly interested Practical Audio and Visual Chinese 1 is the standard textbook used in most Chinese Language Centers that will introduce you to writing, and reading.
Whether you are a visitor or a volunteer enjoy your time here, soak it up, pour out your worries and let the Walden Farm replenish your stores of peaceful content. Take advantage of the pool for nice swims, and take long walks around all the beautiful ponds reflecting the the view into double, walk down the dark paths free of street lights and soak in the stars. When your time to go comes, say goodbye to the good people at Walden Farm, and take whatever peace, hope, and appreciation of the earth you have gained here and spread it to wherever you may go in the world, that is the greatest justice you can do to this place and the reason it exists.