Nudging Our Way to Difference

Hello, summer!

It’s been two weeks since I graduated from Sewanee, and after time on the road visiting family and friends, I’ve finally settled down in Raleigh for the summer.

Graduated! Could not have done it without you two

In this period of transition, I’ve been reflecting on my college experience and my current path forward. Over those 4 years, I grew – a lot. I gained a better sense of self, not only in who I am, but who I’d like to be. I developed an amazing group of friends, that, though geographically scattered, I know will always be key players in my life. Most importantly, from my liberal arts education, I learned not only to think quickly, write well, and collaborate with other people and disciplines, but also how to claim knowledge.

To the left goes Colorado, and Vermont to the right - but no matter!
To the left goes Colorado, and the right to Vermont – but no matter, that’s what planes and phones are for

Growing up, I, like many others, was conditioned to view knowledge as something to be learned – processed, if you will. In truth, knowledge is everywhere – in our kitchens, backyards, gardens, neighborhoods, gyms, offices, grocery stores, and the list goes on and on. Knowledge is everywhere – waiting for us. It’s in the stories of our neighbors, the conversations with strangers, and the stew of experiences, creativity, and ideas that occurs when people get together. It takes gumption, awareness, a discerning eye, and a humble willing spirit, to claim it. So, a huge thank you to Sewanee, for teaching me all that and more.

In thinking about my goals for the summer before heading to Vermont Law School in the fall, this notion of claiming knowledge is a bit harder to sustain in the “real world” than I thought it would be. I want to learn as much as possible about the urban food corridor developing right in my neighborhood. I want to meet local business owners and those working on the Raleigh City Farm to hear their stories. I want to read the 30+ books I’ve acquired since the beginning of the year, since I now “have time”, in “theory”, to do so. I want to deepen my yoga practice at my local studio. I want to do all these things and more, and I will (I will!), but, man, this transitional period is a bit awkward.

With no 9:00AM classes, weekly scheduled meetings, hours at the greenhouse, “breaks”, or any of my usual routine markers, the “real world” is a bit harder to navigate. I’ve been struggling to find time to read, write, and work on projects, because I’ve been unpacking, servicing my car, going to doctor’s appointments, figuring out student loan payments, and getting settled in for the summer. All very real and practical things that take a lot longer than most expect.

Horton Grove Nature Preserve | Bahama, NC – Site for REI Outdoor School: Outdoor Photography
The Group

In my frustration, I’ve searched for outlets to inspire and motivate me out of this post-grad funk – rock climbing, outdoor photography, volunteering, and just walking around my neighborhood to see what’s new. I was reading the June issue of Outside, and there’s a compelling Into the Wild-eqsue piece on Francois Guenot, a disenchanted outdoorsman who rejected consumerist ideals and modern societal practice, holding much disdain for the excess and waste of the world (it’s starts on pg. 74 if this guy peaks your interest). Francois trekked over 3,000 miles through Quebec, the American Southwest, California, Yellowstone, and the Alaskan peninsula, all on borrowed skis, department-store bikes, and makeshift boats. Though Francois ultimately shared the same fate as Chris McCandless, everywhere he went he connected with the community, with the people. He sought freedom, wilderness, and difference, but he cherished connection and simplicity. His adventures and journey were an admonition against capitalist excess and gear junkies who think experiencing the outdoors requires the latest and most hi-tech gear. “He challenged you to live differently.” What a thing, to live differently.

A selfie taken by François during a 2012 pack-rafting trip. Photo: Outside Magazine, courtesy of the Guenot family

Francois’ story is at once both stereotypical and astonishing. He’s been written off by some as another ill-prepared, ill-guided wanderluster, but also remembered and admired for his commitment to simplicity, community, the natural world, and self. One of the most powerful questions I’ve ever been asked is, “What would you do if money were not an object?” How much good would you go out and do, if money were not a barrier. I think one of the most remarkable things about my generation – the too often quoted “Millennials” – is that the answer to this question for many of us, is that money is not a barrier. We are willing to take risks. We are willing to go into debt. We are willing to be poor, dirty, and vulnerable. We are willing to do the hard thing, in the hopes of achieving a better outcome – no matter what the scale.

Jez, who is heading to Greece in 3 weeks for a summer of permaculture and exploration
Jez, who is heading to Greece in 3 weeks for a summer of permaculture and exploration

One such example is my good friend Jez, who recently graduated from Yale majoring in molecular biophysics and biochemistry. Jez is going into public health, and was originally planning on dabbling in investment banking before medical school. He has since been inspired by sustainable agriculture, food sovereignty, and systems thinking – becoming an advocate for integrative approaches to health that incorporate science, economics, community dynamics, and culture. Almost a year ago, I was meeting him for lunch in New Haven telling him about WWOOFing at Pay It Forward Farm, and during our conversation he heard the word for the first time – “permaculture”. This summer Jez is headed off to Greece to get his Permaculture Design Certification. Time, change – difference.

We are nudging our way into economic markets, food systems, community groups, government organizations, law firms, hospitals, and other far off and at home places in order to make a difference. The “nudgers”, as Dr. Rebecca Dunning, Senior Research Scholar of Horticultural Science at NCSU, called us during my orientation with the North Carolina Growing Together (NCGT) initiative. We are nudging change forward. Difference, what a thing (what a thing!).


So, in looking towards my goals for this summer, I’ve decided to aggregate them under one big umbrella goal – difference, for self and others. I’m going to go out and claim the knowledge and experiences around me, no holds barred. Starting June 1st, I’ll be working with the NCGT Initiative through the Center for Environmental Farming Systems as an 8-week apprentice. My mentoring business will be Firsthand Foods, a sustainable meat aggregator based in Durham. The focus will be marketing, social media development, and communications regarding locally sourced and sustainably raised meat, pushing forward the use of the whole animal (permaculture, yeah!), environmental stewardship, university food systems, and supporting small and middle range farmers in the larger market.

In nudging forward, this passage from one of my graduation gifts, Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems, ties together the importance of claiming knowledge, experience, and connection:

“[T]he emphasis on relationships inherent in the local food push is the most exciting aspect of it all: we are consciously making the choice to build new economic relationships, rekindle traditional ways of doing business, support those in need, and even invent new technology-based social networks that can, rather ironically, link neighbors… The narratives of this good work start to drive the numbers… It is though these stories that we move the local food agenda forward.”

Building, rekindling, supporting, inventing, and linking stories to push things forward. In whichever cause that inspires you, whichever mission that drives you, and whatever goal you want to achieve, go out and claim all the knowledge available to you – learn the stories, but keep in mind that difference is not only in success, but in the process.

Carpe summer!
– E


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