Are we raising activists?


I have a tattoo on my arm that says, “I am Pro-Pasture”.  I am not at all the tattoo type, but I let some man in a plaid shirt put it on my arm on Saturday in the Homegrown Tent at Farm Aid. 

For those who don’t know about Farm Aid, the short story is this – Farm Aid is a day dedicated to supporting farmers.  Willie Nelson (who is now 80 years old and going strong) started it 28 years ago, with a vision to bring together some of his musician friends and farmers and advocates. This year in Saratoga Springs, over 27,000 people gathered and over the years, he has raised over $43 million dollars to promote strong family farms. It is humbling to see what one person can inspire.

Now I admit – I only went for the music.  One concert with Dave Matthews, Jack Johnson, and Neil Young?  No question; I’m there.  The bonus is that I was introduced to some new favourites too – the Bahamas are an awesome young band from Toronto and Willie Nelson’s son, Lukas, is a talented heart-throb.  (There’s just no other word for him – look up one of the closing songs where father and son play “Just Breathe” and you’ll see. You might even fall for both father and son…)

But here’s the thing – in addition to the incredible music, there were tents with amazing local food and groups everywhere advocating about every issue related to farming.  While the plaid-shirt man soaked my arm with a sponge and gripped it to let the tattoo seep into my skin, he told me about how it is best for cows to roam free.  My tattoo is not a permanent one, obviously, but it has a picture of a cute cow and I wore it proudly, mostly because it seemed that most people in the crowd at Farm Aid had a real tattoo, and I like to fit in. 

I chose the tattoo, but others lined up for anti-fracking stickers, bandanas in support of organic food, and t-shirts in support of a range of other causes.  There were games and interactive displays and people everywhere, craving more information. I was so inspired by the passion of the farmers and activists.  Rather than listen to the music, they stood in these tents to share their stories and convince the rest of us of the value of family farming and getting to know your food. Farm Aid was full of passionate people, and that tattoo felt like a symbol of those who are living intentionally and dedicating their time to making the world a better place. 

When Kevin and I got home Sunday night, Kathleen really wanted to show us a YouTube video.  We were tired from a full weekend and a long drive, but we hadn’t seen her all weekend and wanted to indulge her in her interests.  I thought it might be a scene from Modern Family or some other funny video, but instead she wanted to show us “The Story of Stuff.”  As we watched activist Annie Leonard on the iPod set up in our kitchen, Kathleen pointed out that this was her favourite part and told us to listen carefully here to the story of consumption.

Turns out, Kathleen was feeling inspired by a homework assignment, and as we watched “The Story of Stuff”, the spark in her eyes was such a reminder that children have an innate desire to make the world a better place.  Our responsibility – as parents and educators – is to ignite that spark and nurture it.  Fortunately, I see it in our CAIS schools all the time.

At the moment, I am writing this blog at Onondaga Camp where over 100 CAIS Middle School students from across Canada are gathered for three days to learn more about taking risks, finding passions, and making a difference.  There is a terrific line-up of speakers and activities; the surroundings alone are an inspiration.  These students have got that spark, and I look at them and I wonder:  which of you will be like Annie Leonard, or Willie Nelson, or a farmer?

As for me?  I like my tattoo and I refuse to scrub it off… it is a good reminder of a good weekend and it makes me think of my own passion – to develop passionate students who want to change the world.  

Who knows?  I might even get a permanent tattoo in support of that cause.


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