Interviewsand Articles


Reasons to Feel Encouraged

by Richard Whitaker, Jul 6, 2008



Issue #7 marks another first for us at Included in our newsletter is a podcast from the New School at Commonweal, which Michael Lerner describes as a collaborative learning project exploring ecology, culture and consciousness. In this audio portion, Lerner interviews Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka, Innovators for the Public. Drayton is most associated with the term "social entrepreneur" and is, himself, an outstanding example of what it means to be a social entrepreneur, someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to create a venture dedicated to beneficial social change. Drayton’s work in this broad realm is astounding. He’s one of those people doing more than most of us can imagine is possible. Michael Lerner, an old friend of Drayton’s and very much a kindred spirit, is ideally suited to address the full sweep of Drayton’s work if only in an hour and twenty minutes. An inspiring conversation!
It happens that the other conversations included in this issue resonate strongly with ideals of beneficial social change. You will meet the founders of Vancouver’s City Farmer, one of the first organizations devoted to advocacy for growing one’s own food inside city limits: urban agriculture. Thirty years ago Bob Woodsworth and Michael Levenston had a vision. As Woodsworth says, “I went to a four-month training at a school north of here and it had a vegetable garden. I thought, this is absolutely the way we should be going as a society!” As Michael Levenston says, “We just put our university experience, our research and our writing together and tried to get this information and what we were thinking out to people. And it just went from there.” And keeps going. Bob adds, “We always felt from the beginning that City Farmer and everything to do with growing food is positive!” 
Under Levenston’s guidance, City Farmer has become one of the world’s premier sources of information about urban agriculture and all things related to how to tear out your front lawn and turn it into a vegetable garden. And why not trade in your water guzzling lawn for a garden producing organic tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and—well, that's just the beginning…
Then we bring you a conversation with photojournalist Denise Zabalaga. Swiss born and thirty-three years old, she has already traveled extensively in Syria, Damascus, Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and other countries and, remarkably, always alone as a single woman. She chooses this way because of the wish to meet those of other cultures directly and not via some media representation of the other. Unlike most of us, she says that, for her, “There is no separation from the other because I am the other.” She does not carry the fears of those we don’t know, especially those of foreign cultures and ethnicities. As she says, “I would sometimes be surprised with people reacting to me, because, of course they would see that there was something different. But I didn’t feel myself different.”
We all know that tremendous forces are at work in the world today for both good and ill. One of the intransigent problems we face is the result of our universal tendency to project our fears on the other. Denise Zabalaga speaks of another possibility and is herself an inspiring example of the power of openness, courage and the wish to see things for oneself.
Rounding out this issue, you’ll find two stories a friend, Rosemary Peterson, told me that I’ve been moved to share with others. What is it about our relationship with animals that can touch us so deeply? Is it because we don’t suffer from the same kinds of dysfunctions that can plague our human relationships? Peterson, who grew up on a farm, has a profound sensitivity for animals. Across A Great Divide is about Alex, one of her family dogs, and a cat that lived in the barn. The Skittish Stallion is about a horse that no one could get close to. Even without Rosemary’s great voice and storytelling style, I think these stories convey something special. And I can’t help wondering how many other wonderful animal stories are out there. If you happen to have one, we would love to hear it.—RW


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