Photo Credit: Dr. Chad Harvey
‘Change happens in the smallest, obscure and unlikely places’. The first time I heard the saying I did not believe it, to me this saying is just another piece of flashy jargon that gets thrown around to inspire people to make change. I must admit though that the saying does appeal to me because I aspire to make sustainable change through food. For me, food is a great way to combat climate change because it is a daily activity we participate in that can either work with or against the planet. I think it is remarkably empowering for us to have an immediate and personal contribution in helping our planet’s condition simply by changing what we eat—and if we switch to eating tastier food we are laughing!
The first change-making tip I can offer is to find a partner that is as enthusiastic towards the cause as you are. I still do not know what I did to deserve my partner, Dr. Chad Harvey the beloved McMaster professor of integrated sciences. Not only has Dr. Harvey taken me under his wing in every sense of the word and provided me with the most nurturing mentorship, but also his enthusiasm and devotion towards making change through sustainable food exceed my own.
To help push along the wheels of change Dr. Harvey thought that it be best that I attend a McMaster grant writing session in January. I thought that this grant writing session would be bustling with swaths of young bonafide McMaster students that had social change exuding from every pore. However, such was not the case. Instead, the room was a cold white washed setting in which 5 other people were in attendance… and the grant writing session was an initiative of Change Camp. The story of change happening in the most unlikely places was taking shape before my eyes.
My mission at Change Camp was to get advice on how to write a stellar grant application for this specific grant in order to get funds to help create a permaculture garden at McMaster. Permaculture is a sustainable agricultural design that replicates nature to produce food, but a proper story on permaculture deserves more time to explain, so we will endeavor into this topic at another time.
While I was quickly jotting down every point on how to write a successful grant a tall man busted into the room. His name was Karl Andrus and he is the Co-chair of the Stinson Community Association. It was quite serendipitous for Karl and myself to meet at Change Camp, because he was there to seek grant money to help build a community garden in Stinson in order for the neighborhood to have a greater source of healthy local food. One of the major reasons behind creating a permaculture garden was because Dr. Harvey and I wanted to help McMaster students have more local healthy food options as well. Before we knew it Karl, Dr. Harvey and I were writing a Change Camp grant to create a permaculture garden in both locations.
Grant writing can be an excruciating and laborious process, but my experience was smooth as it gets because Dr. Harvey is a modern day Michelangelo who has the mind and work ethic that is beyond reproach, he took this grant head on. In addition to this, the manger of McMaster’s Office of Community Engagement Dave Heidebrecht, played an invaluable role in guiding me understanding of the similarities between McMaster and Stinson. Finally, Kate Whalen, the senior manger of academic sustainability programs at McMaster, made me understand why it was so important for McMaster and Stinson to be working together to create a better food system that honors the planet. This serves as a key lesson in making change, and that is to seek insight of others, as it provides one with a much more nuanced perspective. Also, young change makers should always ask for help, as they will continuously be surprised with resounding responses and this will allow for them to fly much further.
So in February Dr. Harvey, Karl and myself were awarded the $1000 Change Camp grant and we broke ground to create the community garden in Stinson during the first weekend of June. Talk about a quick transition, this is due to Karl as he as been tremendously steadfast and judicious in creating this community garden in Stinson. We do not need to be reminded that Stinson is a Code Red neighbourhood, in which many things are not going well. One of the things in Stinson that is causing adverse health effects is food insecurity. Similarly, the problem of food insecurity looms large at McMaster too. One of the reasons why Dr. Harvey and I took this project one was because it is senseless for McMaster and Stinson to both be dealing with the problem of food insecurity in isolation when both parties could be working together to address this issue.
The beautiful thing that I experienced this weekend while in Stinson building the garden is that change making has a marvelous byproduct—and that is relationship building. When we were moving 1 ton of soil and 250 pounds of gravel, lifting cinder blocks, leveling the land and building 12 garden beds we were not thinking about the heavy work, rather we were happy to be with each other and to learn about one another. We were laughing at how it was suppose to thunder storm all Sunday even though all we saw was sunshine, we were joking about how one of the residents would not divulge his secret french toast recipe, it was delightful to see how some of the younger children from Stinson thought the pile of soil was mountain of snow that required climbing or how some of the McMaster student volunteers made pizza sandwiches because eating one slice at a time was not enough to satisfy their hunger after building the garden beds and how we constantly encountered massive pieces of buried asphalt in the ground that thought they were enough to stop us from building the community garden. What happened in Stinson this past weekend was an incredible experience because most people assume that change making is chore, yet in Stinson the ‘job’ of making change quickly blurred into an activity of forming social bonds, having fun and feeling like we were a part of something indestructible. The point here is that we came together to make change, but stayed because the experience was invaluable.
When people come together to make change and stay together because they sincerely enjoy being with each other rather then the transformation that they are working towards the most remarkable change has already unknowingly occurred. This is because people are meant to be together and engage with one another, as we are creatures that are meant to interact. Sadly, we have lost our way, as we have largely been disconnected from real face-to-face engagement, contact with nature and community participation. Instead, we have become hooked on the material world and superficial fictitious commodities. If we are ever going to turn around climate change we need to be able to re-learn how to have fun with one another and derive fulfillment from simple experiences rather then complex items.
Or put in other words, thinking of climate change as a journey of self-sacrifice and drudgery will not get us far in dealing with this massive problem. To effectively deal with climate change we have to change how we approach it, one way to do so is to understand that participating in change can unlock the greatest and most meaningful social experiences. Building the community garden in Stinson taught me that change is not good just because the outcome, but instead making change taught me what our world needs just so happens to be a great deal of fun.
The final lesson of change I learned is that change is in all of us because we all have energy and effort within us. Having this means that we have a real power, as we have the potential to make change anytime we please. It was confirmed that some sort of change on some level was made this past weekend in Stinson because Karl told me that building the community garden “is a something for Stinson”. Providing anyone with the opportunity to have something to improve their condition should get people electrified with excitement because to be in a position to give to others allows for us to express our common humanity. It was a privilege for me to see a space literally transformed from spotty grass to a community garden that will grow food, educate people on food and act as a hub for inclusivity. Dr. Harvey, Dave, Kate and Karl thank for allowing me to be part of building the community garden in Stinson.
And to answer the question at the beginning, indeed change does happen in the smallest and oddest places, so next time you see the slightest chance of making change arise do not think… just jump on it. My only advice is be ready to have fun.
Adam Chiaravalle is a 4th year Political Science student at McMaster that is devoted believer of local food in Hamilton. Everything starts with food and this why it should be near and dear to our hearts.
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