Daniel Spiro continues his interview series with recent graduates from the School of Adaptive Agriculture.
Like a steady bass line, Kevin Edmonson walks the grounds of the SAA quietly taking care of the myriad tasks that he has taken on, from helping to muck the stall in the barn where the sheep sleep, to turning and re-turning the compost pile in the vegetable field. Kevin, a practicum program graduate and current Capstone student, is, by the accounts of his fellow students, equal parts unflappable, funny, and dependable, a stolid worker with a deep dry wit. By his own account, Kevin, 21 years old, is simply here to learn as much as possible. Growing up in Santa Rosa, he had little exposure to growing food and the practical skills championed and taught at the SAA. His older brother James was among the first graduates of the SAA Practicum Program, and James’ experience inspired Kevin to quit his deli job and pursue a life that he would find more meaningful and fulfilling.
D: So you saw your brother James go through the program, what made you want to do it too?
K: I was working at Oliver’s which is a local healthy food’s store in Santa Rosa. I was good at it, but it gave no sense of fulfillment. Before that I was working at Papa Murphy’s for a year, and it was like I was just moving from job to job every year. I started to realize that all these generic jobs, food or retail, these standard jobs got me some money, but they weren’t really sustainable.
I went to Santa Rosa Junior College and took some general classes that I thought were pretty useful, like psychology, philosophy, anthropology. These classes gave me tools to do some deductive reasoning and ask, what does a person actually need to have a good, happy life? Money doesn’t really lead to happiness. You need food, shelter, water, good social interactions, and some sort of recreation. This lifestyle covers all that.
I wanted to learn practical skills, electricity skills, carpentry, plumbing, how to grow your own damn food. Before I came here, I didn’t know what half these plants looked like. I had no knowledge, and I felt like it was wrong to be that disconnected from where your food comes from.
I see value in what I’m doing here. My last jobs I was incentivized by money; here I’m incentivized by my psychological and physical needs actually being met. Community living also is very relevant to these times, and you need to develop skills to work with people.
D: You finished the Practicum Program in July, and you’ve stayed on as a Capstone student. I know you’re focused on creating a better compost system here at the school. Can you tell me about that?
K: In terms of closing the loop, trying to be as local as possible, composting to me is a clear part of that circle. If you take that out, it’s an incomplete circle. If you’re not using your compost, you have to bring in fertility from somewhere else. You should be composting all of your unused plant products, manure, because if you do it gives your whole operation the fertility to grow more crops.
D: And you’ve said that you’re thinking about going into education in your future?
K: My dad was a teacher, his dad was a teacher, teaching’s in the blood. I think there’s something important in educating the masses. There’s still too big a gap. Some people have no idea how to live sustainably, the idea doesn’t even really convey anything in their heads. When I was going through the education system, they didn’t teach me how to plant things, manage crops, they didn’t emphasize sustainability. And that’s incredibly important.
I could see teaching kids maybe. With all this conventional agriculture feeding the majority of America, small scale local agriculture feels like an uphill battle. Most people go to Safeway. So how do we get these people to stop going to Safeway, to buy local and organic? You just have to start teaching kids at a young age. People are creatures of habit and it’s incredibly difficult to change their habits. Takashi (the SAA’s industrial arts teacher) says I can fix anything, but I can’t fix people. You’ve got to instill it at a young age.
Something like less than 2% of Americans are involved in any kind of agriculture, not just sustainable. That to me is a little heartbreaking. Education can push more people into becoming sustainable farmers too. Where I grew up nobody would confidently tell their friends “I’m going into farming!” which is sad, because these are the people supplying our food. People take their food for granted. I’d like to help change the whole idea of farming.
But I’m still really learning all this stuff. I’m a very skeptical person, and it’s hard for me to adamantly teach things, because I’m prone to doubting myself – is this really what I should be saying? I want to keep learning until I know enough to really teach it with conviction and confidence. There are still so many aspects of this lifestyle that I’m learning about, questions I don’t know the answers to.
The School of Adaptive Agriculture is currently accepting applications for their 2018 Spring and Summer terms.
Are you seeking hands on experience with sustainable, community driven agriculture? Are you curious and inspired to learn about the science, art, and business of food production? The School of Adaptive Agriculture is located on a diverse working ranch that is fertile ground for innovative, creative, and productive projects. Every year the SAA hosts two 3 month residential programs in which we provide comprehensive training in animal husbandry, vegetable production, orchard management, and grain and seed production. As we understand that a farmer must be as self-sufficient as possible in order to succeed, we also provide instruction in small engine repair, carpentry, electricity and plumbing, as well as business and financial planning. Field trips to dozens of outstanding farms in this rich agricultural area and practice in community dynamics round out this intensive, exhilarating, and unique training experience. The 2018 Spring term starts in April and the Summer term in August. Apply today!