What a beautiful and rainy Spring this has been at Highlander! Baby birds right outside the back window sing between mouthfuls of food, and a young lizard ventures from the porch as if to greet our guests. The hills, woods and pastures, and their inhabitants are alive with Spring and the great bounty – and work – of the land. We have geared up for important new goals on land preservation and sustainability education, and we are writing to invite you to be a part of this new effort. We hope you are inspired to support this work with your generosity.
As you may know, last fall Highlander purchased an 80-acre property adjacent to our current grounds to protect it from development as well as to provide opportunities for creative new programming. The purchase of this new property, especially in these times of economic and environmental crisis, spurred us to rethink our stewardship of all our land and its deeper connections to our program work. In that regard, Highlander’s return to earlier practices of gardens and environmental justice organizing is strategically moving forward as well.
We have created a Land Vision element of our movement building work. Board and staff have been prioritizing and implementing this vision for the preservation and sustainable use of Highlander’s land, and the expansion of our education and training programs in this area.
We ask your support for these exciting and challenging parts of this plan:
- Transition our newly acquired 500-tree apple orchard from conventional to organic, an intensive, multi-year effort.
- Plant an organic vegetable garden to provide produce for our Workshop Center, be an interactive space for workshops participants and demonstration garden for visitors.
- Harvest rainwater for use in watering our vegetable and flower gardens.
- Create hiking trails so workshop participants and visitors can enjoy woods on our property.
- Develop curriculum for workshops on land/food/ sustainability issues that can be presented in local communities and that can be included in Highlander’s other training programs, including our Seeds of Fire Youth Leadership Camp and THREADS, our multi-racial, intergenerational leadership and organizing institute.
To assist us in this work, we have hired two interns-Josh Diamond and Jenny Paris, and I’d like to introduce you to these hard working young leaders and the exciting work they are doing here at Highlander.
Josh Diamond hails from Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he was previously teaching English to migrant workers in the apple orchards of the Shenandoah Valley and facilitating conversation around immigration and workers rights. Meaningful dialogue with workers helped define language needs, and as a result of these conversations, he created a curriculum based in language on wage negotiation and financial accountability from orchard owners. During this time, a co-worker gave him a copy of Myles Horton’s autobiography, The Long Haul, which provided a context to Josh’s interest in popular education. As he was seeking ways to better connect with orchard farm workers and to build more meaningful relationships with migrant workers of Shenandoah Valley, he also was searching for a new project that would help him grow as an organizer and popular educator. This interest led him to help organize an “Interpreting for Social Justice” workshop in Harrisonburg, facilitated by Roberto Tijerina, education team member at Highlander who leads the Multilingual Capacity Building program. Josh recently co-facilitated this same workshop here at Highlander. Previously, Josh worked on a campaign against a privately run immigrant detention center in Virginia, and helped organize a protest while educating around issues of private prisons.
Jenny Paris has intensive training in sustainable agriculture incorporated with social justice organizing. She hails from Nashville via Olympia, Washington where she attended Evergreen State College and pursued coursework in Environmental Studies, including organic agriculture, natural resource management and land planning along with critical social thought. She is experienced in plant propagation, plant pathology, soil amendments, seed cultivation, plant breeding, irrigation, and compost, experience gained through participating in a year-long program, “The Practice of Sustainable Agriculture,” and through work-trade programs on several other farms. In 2005, she went to New Orleans and volunteered with Common Ground, working among other things on the Healthy Soil Project. She sees sustainable agriculture as intrinsically connected to farmworker rights, rebuilding local economies, teaching and learning about nutrition and diet-related diseases, and protecting indigenous and local knowledge. She hopes that the garden at Highlander will be a source of inspiration and ongoing coalition building around these issues already being addressed at Highlander. Months before Highlander had announced or even conceived of a farm intern, Jenny had daydreamed of spearheading such a garden project during her first visit to Highlander at the 75th anniversary celebration.
This is a very exciting time for the Highlander Center. In keeping with Highlander’s celebrated traditions of popular education for social change, we are forging ahead with imaginative and cutting edge work grounded in working the Highlander soil and apple orchard in ways that are sustainable and nonviolent and bring people together. As we plant and grow the organic garden and transition the apple orchard to organic cultivation, you help us make important transitions to learn, model, share and preserve sustainable practices that will nourish our own bodies, our families, and our communities across Appalachia and the South.
Thank you for being such an important part of this work to further develop our collective power of good stewardship and sustainability, and to further the cause of economic and environmental justice.
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