Of course, the poor little bird was clearly at odds with itself! The nest was so snug and comfortable. The ground so far down and rocky. It surely doubted its chances for survival. After all, it had never experienced anything like this before. I bet it felt impossible. But instinct told it that there was a good reason to take this terrifying leap of faith. The only way for it to learn to fly was to fall.
I have to confess I’ve been trying to write this letter to you all for over three weeks now. It’s quite possibly one of the hardest things I’ve ever written in my life. I struggled with self-doubt and feeling incredibly inadequate to know what the “right” words were for this monumental moment in time.
Navigating Covid-19 was more than enough challenge for one lifetime. And then the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th split wide open a festering wound long overdue for healing, shattering any smidgen of “normal” that remained. The first week of June, when the streets of Philadelphia, my city, filled with peaceful protestors and entirely too many additional examples of police using terrifying tactics, it felt like we were on the brink of falling into a deep chasm. My brain was already overwhelmed and my spirit limp from the exhausting journey this spring has been. Perhaps you felt the same? The constant and dizzying Covid pivots depleted every last resource I thought I had. I was (am) running on fumes. Still, I joined my voice with others to demand change, to value black lives, to reconsider our entire cultural framework, all the while feeling like I was falling.
That tailspin was at full throttle when it came to leading this vibrant and immensely valuable organization of flower farmers this spring. Rightly so, ASCFG members have strong and varied opinions on how we, as a professional organization representative of our niche industry, should approach this heavy chapter in history. My inbox was flooded by member messages. I did my best to listen to each of you and to respond. I hope that I did not make any major missteps along the way. I learned so much from each of your valuable perspectives.
When I took on the (volunteer) role of ASCFG President for a three-year term, I really only expected to lead the Board of Directors in a new initiative to develop a formal Strategic Plan and to help bolster the abundant existing educational resources for members pursuing professional flower growing. Oh, and to write a quarterly letter in this magazine that would hopefully contain a few valuable nuggets for floral entrepreneurs. I never would have thought the role would broaden so enormously to include navigating a worldwide pandemic and an intense narrative on anti-racism.
Myself and the rest of the all-volunteer ASCFG Board – to whom I am so very grateful for shouldering an immense leadership load to date in 2020 – have been propelled into collectively confronting the notable lack of diversity in our membership and the need to be much clearer on our stance about anti-racism. I can only speak for myself: I’ve had so much to learn along this path. And there is so much more to come.
I feel a strong kinship to that vulnerable robin fledgling, teetering and then falling to the ground, trusting that this scary fall will make really good sense in the long haul. Like the robin, I am figuring out how to navigate the world from a completely different perspective than I knew at the start of my life as a farm kid growing up in a tiny town in a remote valley at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains. I am committing much of my energy this summer (and beyond) to connecting with farming/gardening and food justice organizations in the Philadelphia region that are serving black and brown communities. I am eager to stand in solidarity with them, to enter new conversations, to do what I can to lift up farmers of color, to acknowledge conscious discrimination and unconscious bias, and to keep supporting change. I hope the ASCFG will do the same.
As we move forward, I wanted to leave you with a powerful thought; one that I read in the wonderful book, Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Ms. Wall Kimmerer is an indigenous woman with a PhD in plant ecology. In the pages of her book, she weaves together wise and age-old observations of the natural world with digestible lessons in academic science. In one chapter, entitled Allegiance to Gratitude, she tells about how the Onondaga people, a tribe original to the Iroquois nation that now calls central New York home, hold fast to a centuries-old “Thanksgiving Address”. This Address is recited at the start of each day at Onondaga schools, the same way you might pledge allegiance to the flag.
The chapter is beautifully written and far too extensive for me to do it justice in this brief missive to you. But, in short summary, the words the Onondaga people say in unison each day bring their minds together to focus on all the natural gifts the earth has provided for them. They thank the sun, the rain, the wind, the small plants, the trees, the birds, the animals, and the land for unselfishly providing food, shelter, water, fire, and much more to us humans. Ms. Wall Kimmerer then makes an astute observation that has been sitting with me as the uncomfortable (and incredibly necessary) conversation about racism and oppression came to the forefront of so many of our minds this summer.
Ms. Wall Kimmerer observes that the Thanksgiving Address of the Onondaga people reaffirms on a daily basis that everything necessary to sustain our lives is already freely available. Voicing words of thanksgiving out loud each morning gives a sense of contentment and acknowledges respect for the gifts Nature provides.
“You can’t listen to the Thanksgiving Address without feeling wealthy. And, while expressing gratitude seems innocent enough, it is a revolutionary idea. In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition. Recognizing abundance rather than scarcity undermines an economy that thrives on creating unmet desires. Gratitude cultivates an ethic of fullness, while economy needs emptiness. The Thanksgiving Address reminds you that you already have everything you need. Gratitude doesn’t send you out shopping to find satisfaction; it comes as a gift rather than a commodity, subverting the foundation of the whole economy. That’s good medicine for the land and the people alike.”
Oppression is driven by one person wanting more than they have. And so, they take it from others. An economy driven by a sense of emptiness heightens our desire to own more and to have more, usually at the expense of many others. What if we all decided instead to sit with a heart full of gratitude for the beautiful flowers and the nourishing livelihood that Nature so graciously gives each of us in our fields? (I know we all work hard at our farms, but you can’t deny that Nature is always in control and gives generously more often than not.) And with this deep-rooted sense of gratitude comes a greater desire to warmly welcome others rather than guard against them. There is plenty to share. After all, Nature brings new blooms and lessons to our fields every single morning.
I still do not feel I have the right words for this letter. I need to be at peace with that and hope that you will all graciously provide a cushioned landing whenever I might falter in my brief leadership of this incredible community of thoughtful and caring flower growers. I look forward to the day when our collective focus can once again be entirely on flowers. But, for now, we’ve got other work to do, and I hope you will join me in seeking new connections with black, indigenous and other people of color, particularly those in the world of agriculture and floriculture, to stand in solidarity with them.