Being Heard: Creating, Connecting & Putting Yourself Out There

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This past week I had the awesome opportunity of having my writing published on National Geographic’s The Plate, an online blog dedicated to the discussion of our nation’s food system. The published article was a reworked version of my very first blog post from last November. I was (obviously) very excited about this opportunity, given my status as a new blogger, but the journey from my first post to having a much larger audience seeing, reading, and actually wanting to know more about me and my experience was and still is crazy to me, but also very exciting.

For starters, my first post “Delayed Beginnings, Ongoing Inspiration” was a while in the making. Over the summer I had toyed with the idea of keeping a blog during my internship on the farm, as many of my friends had during their own internships and semesters abroad, but my days were busy and I had little time to dedicate to writing. At least, that was my excuse. In the fall, I returned to school after an enormously freeing and inspiring summer. I felt stifled. I felt like I was no longer advocating, acting, or working on a cause that I was so deeply passionate about. I felt trapped in a cycle of waking, learning, studying, sleeping, and repeating day in and day out. After a couple of weeks of wallowing in this self enforced state of mind, I realized that I could be doing something. Regardless of my location and my schedule, I was capable of continuing my efforts in the good food fight. I just had to find the right outlet.

One day while checking my mail at the student post office, I passed a flyer for a community event about journalism and the environmental movement. The guest speaker for this event was award-winning journalist and former CNN reporter Frank Sesno, who is now the director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University. Unfortunately, after checking my week’s schedule I realized the talk was during one of my classes, but, an opportunity to meet him for coffee and discussion before his talk was presented to me via email. So, I met with Mr. Sesno, along with 4 other students for some hot coffee and compelling discussion.

Frank Sesno
From Planet Forward’s Newsletter

He asked us about our interests, our passions, and was completely sincere in doing so. He shared with us his own experiences in college, working in the world of journalism, and highlighted the changes in that world today. Social media savvy, he said, is one of the biggest advantages our generation, the “Millenials”, has over our predecessors. Blogging, tweeting, and engaging with social media interfaces are highly influential and far reaching avenues to activating both our voice and potential, all of which Mr. Sesno emphasized. While he encouraged us to put ourselves out there, he also shared with us the work and mission of Planet Forward, a project of the Center for Innovative Media at the School of Media and Public Affairs that serves as an online public forum facilitating discourse of energy, climate and sustainability. Before we parted, he encouraged each of us to get out there and write something. So, the idea of blogging came up again.

In the days following, I approached various mentors about the subject and received incredibly mixed reviews. One said go out and do it! Another cautioned that I should worry about anonymity, which confused me because if no one knew it was my writing, would it still be my voice?! Another told me to ditch the idea altogether and wait until I got my Master’s or PhD so I would know what I was talking about. But, what about the whole “voice of the generation” thing? What about finding my outlet? Fortunately, a good friend of mine didn’t give me an answer when I asked for one. He asked me to ask myself if this was something I wanted, and if I cared what others would think. The answers were easy. Yes and no. So, I sat down with my computer, a cup of tea, and poured my thoughts and feelings into my writing. Into this blog.

At first, the responses from my friends and peers were enormously supportive and motivating. But once the initial hype died down, what kept me going was the fact that I was doing something. I was going out and meeting members of my local food system, and those in other locales, and asking them the hard questions for which, in this day and age, we need the answers. No longer can we go on unaware of our local resources and the good being done in our neighborhoods and communities. I realize I play only a small role in all this, but, when I sit here and type out these words, I know that I am playing some sort of role – and that’s what matters to me.

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”John Lennon

Fortunately, my role was acknowledged by the amazing team over at Planet Forward. After sending Mr. Sesno my blog, I was connected with Taylor Cook, a spunky, fun, and incredibly inspiring woman who serves as an outreach coordinator for Planet Forward. Taylor hails from the South and is a graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she organized several grassroots campaigns for sustainability and social justice. We Skyped one day and had a great conversation about food, farming, activism, and the increasing role young people are playing in it all today. During our talk, she mentioned my blog and asked if I would be interested in having my piece about WWOOFing featured on Planet Forward’s site and on National Geographic’s the Plate. Would I be interested? What a question. After ending a truly enjoyable conversation (I keep finding more and more reasons to love this “career” path I’m headed towards, and Taylor, you’re one of them!), I began the process of editing and expanding my work, with the guidance of Planet Forward’s managing editor, Mike DeVito. From beginning to end, it was a great experience and I am very grateful to have my writing published on both these sites.

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The connections didn’t end there. Another outlet for change and personal happiness I am pursuing this semester is with Mooney’s Market and Emporium. I’m currently working with Joan to manage the store’s garden, which, coupled with research and interviews for the blog, has reconnected me with the root (literally) of my passion. My mind is working, my hands are dirty, and my heart is full.

It's a weedy world out there
It’s a weedy world out there.

One day, while in the garden, I joined a conference call with Planet Forward. The agenda for the call was planning their Feeding the Planet Summit this coming April. When I jumped on the call, I heard a little “ding” and was prompted by Mr. Sesno to introduce myself, since at that point I was just, well, a “ding”. After introducing myself to professors and researchers from the University of Mississippi, Furman, Sewanee, and other institutions, Mr. Sesno passed kind words about my Campus Voices feature on The Plate and the Planet Forward pages. For about 45 minutes, while I weeded and tilled, I listened to propositions and plans for engaging experts, activists and students over the issues of climate change and agriculture. I was also asked for my input, which I gave breathlessly – sometimes my excited nature dispels the reality that I need to breathe. I put in my two cents advocating for permaculture keynote speakers for which I have contacts up North. Though my battery died before the call ended, I smiled, put my phone away, and continued my work in the garden. A few hours later I received an email from Taylor relaying what I missed and a promise to keep me in the loop for further developments. More smiles.

This above all; to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

William Shakespeare

This experience has taught me that being heard is important, because we all have something to say. What’s difficult is figuring out the how. How will you be heard? By who? Fortunately, through the connections I made, and with the support of others, I bit the bullet and put myself out there, vulnerable to the virtual elements. But, what came back was not only crazy but it really was exciting. Yes, I have an article published on two pretty well known sites, but I’ve also made a few new friends, and have enriched my awareness of my own capabilities, and have honored my voice all along the way.

– E


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