Citizenship and Service through Farming

It’s been a busy spring for Concrete Beet Farmers. We started intensive planning for our farm in the dead of winter. At the time, spring couldn’t come fast enough, and all we wanted was to get our hands in the dirt. As the snow finally melted and we began working outside, the pace of life seemed to increase tenfold and this thing that had just been a plan on paper suddenly became a real live farm. Now we’re standing at the end of May, looking June square in the face- exhausted, dirty, and thrilled for what we know is going to be an incredible season.

Before we embark on a summer of blogging about the farm work, the vegetable selling, and our little part in changing the agricultural paradigm in this country, we wanted to take a few moments to sit back and reflect on this spring. In between finishing up classes, spreading compost on vacant lots, and planting seeds, we were able to attend some truly wonderful sessions at Macalester on citizenship, service, and ethics.

At the Civic Forum, we were excited to have an opportunity to hear about some incredible scholarship by our peers and respected professors about the Somali-American experience. Although most of the papers presented delved into the political and theoretical issues behind the topic, we were able to make some important connections to the hands-on work that we’re doing in the community. There are at least three Somali families on our block and, while we reach out to all our neighbors and hope to form strong relationships with as many folks as possible, language and cultural barriers are real sometimes. While all of us speak Spanish and can easily converse with our Hispanic neighbors, it’s harder to strike up  conversation with Somali parents who might not speak English well. We’re finding, however, that kids are often the best way to start engaging neighbors. They’re always excited about making new friends, they’re fascinated by watching things grow, and they almost always speak some English. The Civic Forum was a great reminder about the many struggles for belonging and citizenship that the Somali-American community faces, and it renewed our commitment to forming relationships will all of our neighbors.

This spring, we also had a wonderful chance to slow down and take a few hours to reflect on what it means to be doing service. The session with Professor Jamie Monson and Eily Marlow was a great reminder of how important it is, especially as a group of six people coming from different backgrounds, to take time to get on the same page. It’s important to recognize that we may have different ideas about what it means to be doing service in the community. Is it a better service to give away some of our produce to the church down the street sometimes, or to sell that produce to a nice restaurant so that we have more financial security and a more viable financial model for small farms? It was also great to hear from Eily about the importance of reflection- especially when working in a group, it’s essential that we take a moment to step back and be up front with one another about how we feel things have been going, and where we want to go from here.

The sessions this spring were a welcome chance to come inside after a long day on the farm and put our hard work in perspective. We’re not toiling away in the fields for nothing- we’re creating a new dream for how agriculture can be done in this country. It can be an act of true citizenship, the ultimate engagement with the Earth and with our neighbors. We’re farmers, and we want to serve our country food.


Reflecting on service and learning, I realized how natural it has become to think of projects in these terms: as involving both service and learning, or more learning and less service, or otherwise. For instance, giving charity might be seen as service, not learning, whereas reading a book about an issue is learning, not service.

However, in the context of MEZA – Resetting the Table, the sometimes natural distinction between service and learning becomes muddled. Meza is a summer program that seeks to explore ways to interact responsibly with people using cultural forms through community based projects. The name Meza is similar to the word for table in Hindi (mez), Spanish (mesa) and Swahili (meza), reflecting the program’s focus on the Global South. From my experience with Meza last year, I cannot distinguish service and learning. They happened through three weeks of a participatory process of exploring. This summer, Meza will take shape during two weeks with many participants including five artists in residence with backgrounds in visual art, theatre, music, food and film. After a week of exploring one of these media in greater detail, we will travel to Ahmedabad for four days and collaborate with organizations there. On returning, we will imagine ways to take these ideas and projects further. Going into Meza for the second time with a new format, the expectation I carry is the expectation to participate.

Just as service isn’t giving and learning isn’t taking, I think the possibilities of any interaction get reduced when measured in these categories. Beyond the classification into service and/or learning, it might be interesting to re-think and re-imagine the possibilities of an experience, and of global citizenship.

Do residents want community?

Over the past two weeks, Bethany and I have been immersed in the culture of Clare Housing.  We have met many staff members, shared our project ideas, and now feel comfortable at Clare Midtown.  Last week we had the chance to go door-to-door passing out information booklets previously made by a girl scout.  The booklets are guides of resources around the Twin Cities (nearby banks, taxi services, bus routes, grocery stores, etc.)  For the residents who answered their doors, we had a chance to hand them a booklet, introduce ourselves, and briefly explain our summer project.  Many residents seemed excited to meet us and willing participate in activities.  They helped us brainstorm ideas of events they wanted to see at Midtown.  One resident really wanted a bowling night, so we ended up planning one for Sunday, June 5.  We placed a sign up sheet on the front desk at Midtown, and within three days, over ten people had signed up.  Now we just have to wait and see if all of them actually show up on Sunday.  After hosting three events, we are beginning to change our definition of success.  Is an event a success if four people participate?  Ten people?  We hosted a cookie baking event last week, and only resident helped bake the cookies.  At first we were disappointed–we wanted a large turnout because that would indicate that our community building strategies were working.  However, upon reflection and discussion, we realized that we did affect one resident.  This was a chance for his voice to be heard and for him to feel welcome in a community space.

Our biggest challenge is figuring out how to meet the needs of the population with which we are working.  We realize that we do not come from the same background or share exactly the same experiences as someone who is HIV positive.  I often find myself wondering if residents would prefer to be left alone, and simply don’t care that they don’t know their neighbors.  Since this is apartment-style living, every resident has the right to privacy.  We are still trying to find a balance of reaching out to residents while respecting their personal space.  However, I believe that there are residents who would love to feel like part of a community and just need someone to schedule events that will make them feel comfortable in new social situations.


On Global Citizenship

This Caroline Karanja. Currently reporting from London. IGC has given me the opportunity to pursue a project at Hekima Place. My project seeks to converge education, women and enviroment. Hekima Place is a childrens’ home for young girls orphaned primarily due to HIV/AIDS. They are currently located in Kiseran Kenya. The home hosts 63 girls (from infants to late teens) for which it provides food, shelter, school and mentors as to assure they given the necessary resources to overcome their circumstances. Hekima Place is located in the Rift Valley, an area considered to be one of the most naturally endowed in Africa. However, due to climate and environmental changes, the people living in this area are finding that they must begin to find ways to adapt to the changes. Hekima’s location and purpose means that in order to create an effective and substantial change, one must address the environmental and societal challenges. Thus, this project seeks to create a small but substantial ripple addressing both these factors by creating a more sustainable environment, more conducive to healthier living and learning and empowering the young women of Hekima Place. The project will take place in the month of August.

Macalester College is a place that emphasizes global citizenship and community relationshop. To me, global citizenship, as a basic concept, refers to the idea that we belong to a global community as much as a national community as much as a local community. The imaginary nation, state, ethnic, language, cultural, class boundaries drawn that are meant to distinguish between peoples can never change the fact that we share this earth together. We are responsible for the physical and social state of each community across difference. Before apply for the Live It Fund, I had never thought to name these ideas. I am really excited to be able to invest my time in this project and more than anything else, Im excited that the IGC supports such projects.

Farming in the City: Discussions with Professor Samatar

The session with Professor Samatar was quite helpful for Concrete Beet Farmers to contextualize its project within the greater global issues of the 21st century.  Often the calamities and problems exacerbated by and facing the human race seem too overwhelming to begin tackling.  Often I have spent the day in an existential muddle, unable to think critically, constructively, or creatively.  As population rise and technological innovations continue to accelerate exponentially, it can be difficult to place one’s own actions in a moral framework.  How does one take action to counter the development of an increasingly militarized, environmentally harmed, and impoverished world?  Professor Samatar affirmed that an easy retreat into an isolated shell aggravates these global problems.  The cultural points of contact made feasible by the Internet, commerce, and air travel have been essential in developing a global consciousness and responsibility to the world population.

I believe that Concrete Beet Farmers provides an interesting lens with which to view and tackle these issues.  We are starting an urban farm in the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis and are committed to providing low-cost produce to the surrounding area in a way that reduces off-farm inputs and works mutualistically with the surrounding natural environment.  While we see ourselves as part of a global movement of farmers, lobbyists, academics, and politicians battling the environmental and social injustices wrought by corporatized, conventional agriculture, we operate as locally as possible.  Our farm is in an accessible, urban neighborhood, trafficked by people of all backgrounds.  We meet closely with other urban farmers to compile bulk orders and order compost, limiting fossil fuel expenditures.  While we aim to establish an economically salient business, we also want to connect closely with the immediate community surrounding the farm, learning about the cultural traditions of the Hmong, Mexican, and Somali residents and growing food for them in return.  We hope that our actions on a local scale reverberate globally through our neighborhood cultural exchanges and connections to farmers throughout the globe, stymieing worldwide destruction in the process.

-Alex Liebman

The Start: Global Citizenship and Expectations

Hi! My name is Nora Kassner, and I’m a rising sophomore on the IGC Student Council. Since we’ve asked Live It! participants to share their engagement with global citizenship on this blog, the Council thought it was only fair that we take part as well and share our own reflections on global citizenship.

This summer, I will be working on Mac’s Roman-era archaeological dig in Israel between May 19th and June 20th this summer, and I hope to post regularly about my experiences.

Going to Israel will interact closely with my conceptions of global citizenship in a couple major ways. Mac’s site, Omrit, is in the Golan Heights, the northernmost part of Israel.  It’s close to both Syria and Lebanon, and not too far from Jordan either. As a result, it’s a site that’s likely to be closely affected by the Arab Spring. What does it mean to be in Israel during the Arab Spring? How do Israeli politics—religion, (usually unfriendly) relationships with neighboring countries, history with the US, internal tension over the future of the country—affect this volatile region? What do some Israelis perceive as the possible consequences of the Arab Spring? I’m hoping that I’ll have a chance while I’m there to ask these questions and begin to understand revolution from the context of a country that is outside these conflicts, yet intimately connected. This part of looking at the region is all the more important for me as someone who is Jewish-American, but in no way pro-Israel. I’m hoping that looking into these questions will help me begin to negotiate my own relationship with Israel and with my cultural and religious background with a fuller understanding of what is at stake.

Right now, global citizenship for me means engaging with the changing face of community in the twenty-first century. Community, from the Latin communis (I’m a Classic major—had to bring this up!) has at its heart the idea of what is public, common, and shared. However, what is shared has changed drastically in the internet age. To some extent, we are all now part of a community because we have access to common information that can make Twitter start a revolution. However, even within this idea of the new public space, the worldwide community, we have myriad histories that intertwine but are not the same. To me, personally, to be a global citizen in the twenty-first century means acting as a witness to history. I believe that we cannot create lasting change without understanding what has come before, what forces have shaped identity and created difference, what parts of a culture’s past are too important to lose. The best way that I can think of for me to contribute as a global citizen is to help myself and others learn about our histories as a first step to enacting meaningful solutions to global problems. This is the work to which I hope I will be contributing in Israel as I help uncover a history of conflict and the politics of empire in the ground of a region filled with modern turmoil.

Global Citizenship

Before applying for the Live It! grant I never had a clear definition of global citizenship.  I assumed it had something to do with the expectation to serve others, the importance of being aware of global issues, and having the motivation to act when necessary.  However, throughout this process I realize that there are many definitions for global citizenship and there are many characteristics of a global citizen.  Dean Samatar explained four themes of global citizenship in our session:  Peace/War; Freedom; Economic Inequality; and Environment.  Through his explanation of global citizenship, I realized that my project is very complex and will serve the community on many levels. First, Bethany and I will raise awareness about the importance of building a community in a space that does not currently have a very strong one.  Second, we will listen to the residents and give them the freedom to decide which activities they want.  These activities, over time, will build friendship and a sense of community among the residents.  Third, we will set up sustainable programs that can be continued by residents of Clare Midtown once we leave.  Fourth, we will encourage the surrounding neighborhoods to get involved with Clare Midtown, which will spread awareness and help form a larger community.  And fifth, we will compile our reflections and experiences in a guidebook that will be given to Clare Midtown.  Clare Midtown can choose to distribute this guidebook to other facilities if they choose, as a way to share our gained knowledge with others in order to replicate our project in the future.  This last part really fits under the definition of global citizenship, because we are not only thinking on the very specific, community scale, but also on a much broader scale.  If our project is a success, it will be an example for other people in the future.  We will be open to change and transformation in our project, and will remain mindful of the impacts we are having locally as well as globally.

Service and Reflection

Service, to me, means seeing need and figuring out the most efficient way to address that need.  I think that service is only successful when the second party welcomes what I provide, participates in the project, or is somehow engaged in the work I’m doing.  I never want to make assumptions about what someone needs; instead I want to ask them if they need anything and discover how I can use my skills to help.  This mindset fuelled the idea for our Live IT project.  After leading a Christmas party sing-along at Clare Housing, the volunteer coordinator emailed us saying how much she loved our performance and how it truly touched the residents present.  She also briefly commented on how she is constantly trying to bring more residents to events and even though 25 of them say they plan to attend, only seven will actually show.  When I heard this, a light bulb went on–the volunteer coordinator needed help.  Bethany and I decided that this was the project calling us and this is where our skills could be used to serve others.
The first few weeks of our project will be spent having casual one-on-one conversations with the 45 residents of Clare Midtown.  These conversations will be used to 1. get to know the residents and allow them to understand who we are and the details of our project, and 2.  figure out what community means to each of them.  We will ask questions to discover ways to better build a community in Clare Midtown.  Through these conversations, I know that will we learn an overwhelming amount of information.  Not only will we learn how the residents want to build a community, we will also begin to understand them as people.  Forming relationships will be an incredible experience that will teach us how to interact with all different kinds of people.

Most of our learning will happen when we process the information we gather and when we consciously reflect on the progress of our project.  Bethany and I plan to reflect daily on our experiences at Clare Housing.  We also plan to be in regular contact with Eily in order to keep her updated on our project and receive her feedback.  Our reflections can be used as a tool to teach others about the successes/failures we experience and how we deal with them.  We are hoping to use our project as a model for the future on “how to build a community.”  Ideally, this could be repeated in many settings–retirement homes, hospitals, schools, etc.