Dear Terra Summer family and friends,
Happy New Year! I hope this finds you well and healthy, living life with serenity and looking forward to a good 2012.
I am writing to tell you that Terra Summer in Mills River, as we know it on our verdant, generous farm, in our beautiful green building, has reached its natural ending. The three-year seed money that started this wonderful venture in 2009 has run out as scheduled, and we have been unable to find a replacement of donors, grants, or a combination of the above to continue. I regret this.
Personally the past three years have been enriching, challenging, edifying, and absolutely precious in the relationships it gifted me, the connections and encounters it brought me with others, and the personal moments of painful but rewarding growth. I had never done this before, and thanks to my generous donors, I had the opportunity to realize a concept I had dreamed of for many years. It was not without hiccups, but I like to think that it was giving, meaningful, and forever lasting in some way for everyone involved. Certainly, I have much laughter and joy to remember, and many new friends.
I and all of us at Terra are grateful for the generosity of our donors who invested in the idea, paid for three years of the program budget, and built the beautiful building for the program. Unfortunately, we have been unsuccessful in finding other donors to support Terra or institutions to give grants. While the Asheville and Hendersonville communities seem to embody the philosophy of the program, they appear to not have the resources to sustain it. To top that off, our host has decided to use the building built for Terra to host a year-round preschool for his children. Though there was an agreement to continue Terra’s summer lease for two more years, the lease does not make sense if we cannot pay for the program. So, that leaves no future. Only a new home, higher tuition, and new donors could salvage Terra Summer Asheville.
I consider the Terra vision fodder for the rest of my life, and I will persevere in continuing to build it elsewhere. Nonetheless, I am chagrined and saddened that this experience, our first home, our launch, has truly ended.
I hope we made at least part of the contribution we set out to make in the community – we didn’t have enough time to reach all the families and children I so hoped to reach -- and I hope that all you Terra Summer students and families carry our experience together, its lessons and memories, in your heart, your purchases, your decisions, and in your daily lives for as long as you eat.
I am joined by my wonderful staff through the years – Al, Taylor, Jessica, Pat, Rocco, Mollie, Steve, and Christine – in wishing you the very best. We thank you and the Asheville and Hendersonville communities for all that you shared with us.
All my best,
Founder & Director
Terra Summer/The Terra Project
Eating is a daily practice, much like breathing. I will not call it a ritual because the routine nature of the practice has made it rather commonplace and deprived it of its specialness. But there are times of the year – the holidays – when eating takes on a special meaning: We replicate old family recipes; we prepare special and intricate dishes; we show off our culinary prowess; and we share smorgasbords of foods with other people, including those we do not know at all.
At no other time during the year do we cook as much or consume as much. And because of the sheer volume of what we buy and what we serve, it is at this time of the year that our food choices contain the loudest statement about what we stand for, what we care about, what we condone, and what we want no part in. Indeed, as we discuss at Terra Summer, food has real power – food is a social and political choice -- and the holidays could be our chance to grasp it.
Imagine a Thanksgiving or Christmas table that is violence-free – a table that stands by the principle of non-harming. A table on which everything was produced by people who can make a living by doing their job; a table adorned with foods whose production or raising did not pollute our waterways or cause pain to another being; a table where there is no slavery, no unfairness, no abuse.
What, you say, what about the turkey? There could hardly be greater blasphemy than Thanksgiving without a turkey, or Christmas without a pig. Or collards without pig. Or desserts without gobs of whipped cream and chocolate. Just the thought makes you feel stripped of your rights and left naked in a tub of peas.
But just think: What, in the spirit of the holidays, could be more heartwarming than choosing to stay away from foods that cause violence? Does it not make you smile to think of buying things that do not enslave or trap others? Indeed, it is exactly at this time of year that it should come more rather than less natural to choose, patronize, buy, give and eat things that are free in spirit and in body – things that enrich others and enrich our soul and our tables. So maybe we can consider making something that does not require chocolate from corporations that purchase cocoa beans grown and picked by poor and enslaved children; maybe we can consider making dishes that require no or less butter or milk. And most sublime, we can choose to not eat any animals bred in prisons, chained, unable to move, kicked, tortured, vilified, kept in their own feces, pumped with hormones and drugs to the point they cannot stand up or turn around.
Even just for the upcoming three or four days that could make a huge difference.
We talk a lot as a society about sending messages to corporations that we think run our lives and make bad choices for us – banks, lending institutions, insurance companies, even our government. We should put food corporations at the top of that pile, for they make endlessly bad choices for us all the time by ruining our environment, playing with food prices, and getting us to buy foods we really do not need or want. And we can start sending them a message against cruelty, against abuse, against underpayment of workers and unfair conditions by not buying their stuff exactly when they are counting on the sheep to line up mindlessly so they put more stuff on the tables. Just say no. There are tons of beautiful, nutritious foods you can serve and eat for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s that don’t require violence or unkindness towards others. Give it a try. It will make your heart glad. Isn’t that what the holidays are about?
Thank you, and happy holidays.
Founder & Director
Terra Summer/The Terra Project
We are grateful to have had three important visitors at Terra in the past week – symbolic, each, of values we try to explore and treasure in our teaching, learning, and eating! And, we hope, our living in general:
The first was Janell Kapoor, founder of an organization called Kleiwerks, which teaches people around the world how to make housing out of clay and other products of the earth. Her group is teaching teachers to teach people how to make shelter, and is reaching thousands of people worldwide, mostly people who would otherwise not have shelter at all (we take shelter so for granted here …). But her work in housing is part of a larger philosophical approach to living that proposes to partake as little as possible in the contemporary monetary purchasing system and to live simply. She believes, basically, that we should limit, where feasible, our participation in the paradigm of working all the time to purchase things that we do not need AND that do not increase our quality of life. Working to buy, working to buy. So, she advocates, get what you can for free or for barter, enriching other people’s lives in the process; use other people’s still-usable waste; don’t produce much waste yourself; and don’t enslave yourself for futile objects. Janell told the kids at Terra about her dumpster-diving days, finding an abundance of good food in cavernous supermarket dumpsters; about clothing-trading parties where people can get rid of the old and take in the new – free of cost and with warmth of heart; about her establishing relationships with stores and farmers to barter her homemade sauerkraut and other products for other things she needs. Janell calls herself an opportunivore – she finds opportunity all around her to live freely and sustainably – and happily -- actually diminishing waste in the world. There are many profound things in this message: non-harming, non-polluting, mindful, freedom, and respect. We enjoyed her visit, and will try to apply her message where possible.
Our second guest of great note was Gene Baur – co-founder and president of The Farm Sanctuary, America’s greatest farm animal protection and advocacy organization, with sanctuaries in Upstate New York and California. Gene’s organization rescues animals, from farms big and small, who have been abandoned, abused, neglected, and harmed, and gives them shelter (a continuing theme here …). The Farm Sanctuary also lobbies politicians to pass laws that protect farm animals and ensures their safety in the production of food. It is a thankless job, though it gives Gene great joy, he said – and he shows it. It is sacred work – working for the unprotected. It seems that this would no longer be necessary if people were not greedy and unkind and mindless. The children at Terra learned about the suffering of farm animals, the investigations into animal cruelty that The Farm Sanctuary conducts, and the life that the animals have once they are rescued and been given sanctuary. They also learned about the political process involved in getting cheap inhumane food and how to combat that. Gene also told the children about the things they can do to make things better – such as eating less meat, eating no meat, and thinking of all animals and treating all animals as individuals we should all care for. Gene’s was a powerful visit we will remember for a long time.
Our third visitor – a group -- came to talk about the living conditions and the rights of migrant workers involved in the production of our food in Hendersonville County, North Carolina. Our guests were Ana Oviedo, Daniel Benavides, and Martha Mendieta, all outreach workers from the Blue Ridge Community Health Services in Hendersonville. As the term says, they “reach out” to people who come to work in this area as migrants in the fields, the people who plant, harvest, and do whatever else so that some kind of vegetable ends up on the plate of Americans cheaply. These are people who, often, while working here, do not know where they live (a middleman takes them to and from the field by truck, so they never get their bearings, they actually DO NOT KNOW where they live, and are never independent); they don’t make enough to pay for decent housing, health care, and child care for their children. Everyone in this country needs to know this – not only teenagers at Terra Summer in Mills River, NC. When it comes to choosing what we eat, patronizing farms that employ migrant workers but do not ensure living standards that are basic to most Americans should be unacceptable to all of us. That is what we need to think about when we choose what to eat. And that is what we care about at Terra.
Our visitors this week touched on common themes, and all touched our hearts in some way. May students at Terra, and all of us, take these issues of social justice forward in our lives and hearts.
The Terra Project
I’ve got to award today the Best Food Day of Terra Summer 2011! Absolutely beautiful and delicious, harmonious and fun.
Not that in Session I there was not some good cooking. The plating exercise with edible flowers, linked to a lesson on symmetry in food, produced poetically beautiful dishes. The children also did interesting work with eggs – making soufflés and omelets -- and with Asian food, cooking Japanese pancakes, sushi, and spring rolls
But, I have to say that Day 2 of Session II hit a high mark in Terra culinary. Session II has attracted a group of children, for the most part, who have been to Terra before. They are really interested in food and how it works and what it means – what it requires of them and what it requires of the world – truly, people and animals and the environment. This week we discuss wheat, and we spend two days making breads and two days making pasta. Today we used the breads they made – absolutely fabulous breads of different kinds they made with Pat Battle in our outdoor oven – to make vegetarian sandwiches from different parts of the world: A vegetarian Sloppy Joe from the US; a Man’oushe’ from Lebanon; a falafel with tzatziki (debatable from where – and we don’t want to fight!); and an Asaltado Vegetariano from Peru. It was a celebration of the sandwich, a nearly universal way of putting foods between slices of bread for convenience, speed, or fun. The sandwiches were vegan (with the exception of a dollop of homemade mayo and a little cheese on the Asaltado), but most important of all, they were absolutely delicious. Divided in teams, the kids made the breads for their assigned sandwich, they prepared all the ingredients, and arranged their stations for the assembly of the sandwich. It was a beautiful sight and each sandwich was special. We could hardly eat it all – and the kids commented on how delicious everything was (we topped it off with vegan ice cream sandwiches). I hope that after this experience our students can reconsider the traditional meat-piled-high sandwich they are so used to. Yes, food can be good and violence-free.
The highlight of Session I was its culmination -- the preparation of the $12-meal. For readers who may not be parents of Terra students or of the Terra family, this exercise required children to come up with a series of dishes comprising a lunch to serve their families, spending no more than $12, that considered the following principles: Humanness; health; sustainability; and locality of the ingredients. The exercise, which included list-making, ingredient- measuring, pricing, and shopping, resulted in wonderful foods -- from a spread of homemade tortilla chips with bean dip, to a nutty pesto, to an-over-the-top chard soufflé, and an equally impressive spanakopita served over sautéed vegetables.
It truly was a “thinking through food” exercise: The kids learned that (almost) everyone has to live within a food budget (“At first I spent around $18, but then I subtracted some stuff and I got it down to $14”); that there are choices that have positive and negative repercussions (“My ingredients were not sustainable because they came from far away”); that they can make compromises and find alternatives in food choices (substituting tempeh for meat in beef Stroganoff); and that ultimately putting food on the table includes a series of complicated decisions that, if one is MINDFUL, can be taxing and can require all the moral care and information we have (“I learned to not just suppose something about something just because it’s on the package”). Dariena, who made pesto, learned that pesto is expensive, not so local (pine nuts), and not humane (a little bit of Parmigiano), but delicious and perhaps worth the compromise; Myles learned that spanakopita is also expensive, and while the presence of leftovers might have compensated for the extra expense, it did not cancel out the presence of animal products. For Myles, who is, newly, a vegetarian, that did not sit so well (“most of my dish is humane but the feta is not; cows are treated poorly to get feta.”) Some children made entirely vegan dishes and stayed within budget; some heaped on the eggs and the cheese. We hope they will give it some more thought in the future.
Food is indeed complicated, but also so joyful. We will continue to celebrate that here at Terra for the rest of our summer; we hope you do the same.
Session III starts August 1. STREET FOOD!! Register now!!
We are a handful of weeks away from the start of Terra Summer 2011, and I am excited to report on the fun work we have planned for your children. I don’t want to give it all away, but just enough to get your taste buds watering and your minds spinning with exciting ideas.
As you know, Terra Summer is a food-centered program that focuses on farming and cooking and teaching children to do and savor those life-affirming activities; equally important, it focuses on the ideas stemming from food, how the food world works, what’s in food, who grows it, where and how, and how all of that impacts people and other beings. That includes getting us to reflect on our posture and position and role in the world through our food choices: Is the food we eat non-harming? Who is our food chain helping or hurting? Is it fair? Where does our runoff go – in every sense? Do we even know? In sum, what do we stand for?
It is also simply about helping children connect ideas and what we adults may call humanistic disciplines in a more circular and natural way of thinking and absorbing and using information: In an artichoke is a little bit of history, geography, botany, folklore, and the Fibonacci series. Not to mention good eating.
The first session, from June 13 to July 1, offers the nuts and bolts of the history of food and how we as humans got to where we are – from hunter-gatherers roaming the fields in loin cloth hunting and looking for lambs quarters, to our humanity with stores and banks, to our humanity beholden to fast food, and finally the fallout of our contemporary food system. Children learn the basics of growing, harvesting, and cooking their food, and reflect on the connections that so magically intertwine our natural world. And they learn the basics of vegetarianism -- the concept of living peacefully, sustainably, and with respect towards all beings. This is our original Terra Summer curriculum, and it continues to be full of fun and discovery.
Our second session, which runs from July 5 to July 22, is titled Grains, Tubers, and Social Justice, and is a new addition to the Terra roster. In it, we will lunge into a deeper study of grains and their history and role – notably wheat, corn, and rice – exploring the topography and cultures of the places whose cuisines are intimately tied to those grains; we will also learn to perfect their cooking and spend some significant hands-on time making breads and pasta. The study of tubers and legumes will follow, including time cooking beans, lentils, and potatoes in a variety of delicious and sustaining ways; understanding the role they have played in the world; how they have shaped specific countries and their food cultures and diets. In our last week of the second session, we continue our culinary adventures with eggs and other delicious things that can be difficult to cook. Sprinkled throughout the session will be issues of social justice related to food – for example, the movement of peoples in search of food; migrant work; hunger; food sovereignty; commodities, food monopolies, and discrepancies in diet between the rich and the poor. These sound like huge, complex topics, but they can be boiled down to simple principles that children can understand. The goal is for children to walk away knowing how to cook specific foods and understanding what they are about. It is going to be a great session!
Our third session, which lasts the two weeks from August 1 to August 12, takes vegetarianism one step further, to veganism. We will talk about the philosophy and history of vegetarianism and veganism (did you know that Pythagoras was vegan?); the ethical and environmental arguments behind a vegan lifestyle; the truth about milk, eggs, leather, animal testing, and other related issues. We will also discuss and practice vegan farming; we will practice yoga, and most importantly, we will discuss the connection between a spiritual life (non-denominational) and our food choices. The goal is to put out information and discuss concepts (the concept of owning, for example, or of superiority) that help children make informed decisions that fit their moral values. Some fun guest speakers such as a vegan celebrity chef, a vegan super-athlete, and some vegan yogis will round out the session. From a culinary perspective, we will discuss meat substitutes and their value, and we will explore in depth food cultures around the world that are rich in vegan dishes – the diets of countries around the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and the Far East.
This is really exciting stuff. Each of the sessions will be rich in opportunities for edifying culinary practice, time in the sun and in nature, some drawing, talking, making friends; growth, development of independent thought, and the fostering of skills that will empower, bolster self-esteem, and make your children aware of their fundamental importance as thinking, choosing beings.
Summer is at our door! Register now!
This summer we administered our first real Terra Summer parent and child survey to gauge how satisfied you are with us and your experience with us. (Last summer, our pilot, we administered a survey, but nearly no one returned it. Thank you to all parents who returned it this year!!) The goal of the survey is for us to understand what is working and what not; what you like or dislike; and how well we are accomplishing our main goal – to offer children a glorious and edifying summer of learning (through food).
Our survey this year was designed with the help of a professional educational assessment group. Each program is unique – Terra perhaps more so than others -- and the survey questions need to hone in carefully on that uniqueness to get accurate feedback. We will continue to work towards that goal.
I have not finished tabulating every result, but those posted on the survey page linked here are the most important, in my view: The ones that measure the amount and scope of learning and change in the children from the perspective of child and parent. Although the responses were overwhelmingly positive, I see lots of work still to be done. If even one child felt that he or she did not learn what we set out to teach, we fell short. If one child felt that his or her eating habits, or understanding of where our food comes from, or ability to connect food choices to environmental impact did not improve through Terra, we fell short somehow. We strive to correct that.
We also will strive this year to reach out to more children in need – children who do not have the positive influence of family or role models already well-educated about food sources, or who do not have the advantage of year-round experiences that expose them to a more thoughtful and healthier life in food, or who would benefit even more greatly from the academic summer stimulus that Terra can provide. So, we will continue to work on that. I am also working on redesigning the Terra Summer program for 2011. One complaint I hear from parents is about the length of the sessions. Four weeks is too long. I am considering a different set-up for next year, and will make announcements soon.
In the meantime, though, please click here to read our survey results. Perhaps the single number that gratified me the most was that more than half the children said Terra was one of the most fun things they had EVER done – coupled with the fact that most said they learned at Terra that their food choices can have a large impact; they care more about animals now; and they pay more attention to their food choices. Having just ended our second year of life, this makes me proud. Moreover, it proves, as I have long argued, that important learning happens – can happen -- while kids are having fun. It also means we are doing something good: Changing the lives of children by offering them something special – that made them feel special – and that will stay with them for a long time to come. Let’s keep it going.
Thank you for your help and participation.
It seems that fall has inched its way back to us once again, with a tinge of yellow in the leaves and the chugging of the school buses in the afternoon traffic. For all intents and purposes, summer is already so far away. Yet, to me, so steeped as I am in Terra as a summer program right now, summer is never far away, neither in memory nor in prospect. And I remain filled with wonder for the gifts and excellence of Terra Summer 2010.
I think a thank you is due to all those who helped it come together and contributed in some way:
To the wonderful, giving, talented Terra Summer 2010 staff – Mollie McDonald, Taylor Kirkland, Al Schwartz, Pat Battle, Rocco Sinicrope, Kristine Oblock, Rosie Barger, and Sara Martin, whose nearly tireless efforts, expertise, flexibility, smarts, ability to multitask, and commitment to what Terra stands for made our program full, soulful, and all around top-notch. In compiling the results of the surveys, one thing I noticed at first glance are compliments to the excellent staff. Thank you.
To Doug Elliott and his wife Yanna, who, as is now Terra custom, welcomed us not once, but twice, into their lush farmstead in Rutherford County, and hosted us for a day of foraging and being in nature. Doug, renowned raconteur and enthusiast of all things natural and pristine, taught the children about gathering food, sang us songs, and imparted pearls of wisdom about living a simple life, away from the packaging and the noise. Their home and land are a labor of love, knowledge, and profound thoughtfulness, and being in their midst is a privilege.
To our guests and contributing teachers: To David Mason, owner of Black Mountain Chocolate, and Dan Rattigan, owner of the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, who gave generously of their time at Terra sharing their experiences making chocolate (from cocoa beans) and making chocolates, respectively. They helped us give the children a little more background and insight into the provenance, complexity, politics, and deliciousness of the chocolate world, and, I hope, made chocolate a bit more of a meaningful gift in their eyes.
To Mackensey Lunsford, food editor for the Mt. Xpress, who shared her talents and worked with the students on their food writing; to the Fletcher Academy, which allowed us once again to pick in their luscious berry patches; and to Jeff Brookshire, who toured us twice around the Transylvania County Landfill and shared his wealth of knowledge about trash disposal and treatment. The landfill (or the dump, as our student Ocean preferred to call it), as sanitary as it now is, has lost the romance and lore of old landfill stories (I have always imagined finding someone’s diary there and reconstructing a rich romance out of faded, half-nibbled pages) and is in some way anti-climatic to children expecting piles of fetid raw garbage. Then again, thank goodness we are finally treating our garbage and preserving it more sanitarily for posterity.
To Asheville animal rights activist Stewart David, who spoke to the children at Terra about animal treatment in the contemporary food system and veganism and other actions we can take to support the well-being, freedom, and happiness of animals. Stewart served on the board of The Farm Sanctuary, a fabulous organization in Upstate New York that rescues farm animals from around the country who are abused and otherwise in need to sanctuary. Please visit their website at www.farmsanctuary.org. Fortuitously, I am working with the Farm Sanctuary to find ways to celebrate our common grounds, of which we have many, and to get Terra Summer involved somehow in their work. Perhaps next year Terra Summer and students could adopt some animals at the Sanctuary’s California and New York farms – and, who knows, perhaps visit! Adoptions defray the cost of the lifelong care for the animals there. I bet the children at Terra would love it and would take the experience forward into their lives. I will keep you posted.
Thank you to the Henderson County Young Leaders Program, the Asheville Big Brothers Big Sisters, OpenDoors of Asheville, and all other organizations that tried to help us locate and recruit children who would benefit from the experience of Terra Summer. Some recruitment efforts are successful, and some outright discouraging. It is frustrating to have such a beautiful gift to give, and fail to reach those who could benefit the most. But we will continue to work relentlessly to make it happen, and I hope we can form stronger and more successful partnerships in the future.
Thank you also to all the parents who sent us their children and trusted us to teach them and give them a meaningful summer; to those who carpooled and took care of the transportation of children who otherwise would not have been able to attend; and to those who took the time to fill out the surveys so we can know how we are doing, what we are accomplishing, what the children are learning – or not -- and what we need to improve.
And finally a profound thank you to our current donor, without whom Terra Summer would not have begun. It is a gift of huge generosity, and I pay tribute to you ever day in my heart.
I hope everyone’s generosity, time, and commitment to Terra Summer are justly rewarded. The work we are all trying to accomplish will, I hope, make this a better place to live.
Happy Fall and alla prossima (to the next time!), as they say in Italy!
Two weeks have passed since groups of children have changed guard at Terra Summer 2010, and in recent days, a bit in disbelief, I have searched my heart to figure out how I felt about it all. Joy – and a little nostalgia -- came to me most strongly. After all the planning and doing, the thing that most resonates in my heart at the end of the day and the week -- the thing that most makes me feel that this is truly an alive, worthwhile thing -- is the great joy I feel being in the company of children -- your children. If I ever get transported to the past or the future at the end of the day at Terra, all I need to do is snatch myself back to today – the sweet, unencumbered smiles, the grumpy hellos, the frenzy of activity, the light voices, the tentative approach, the reliance, the trust. Ah, how complex life is.
Getting to know the children of Terra Summer 2010 has been a viscerally sweet thing for me. I come to this without children of my own, out of the love for education and the great appreciation for what a good, soulful, thoughtful education can do for one’s life. Out of the outrage that unequal and inadequate and fear-driven education causes in my heart. Out of the desire to help make education better for all children. Throughout the year, I read, I plan, I write, thinking about the ideas I would like for Terra to confer, and about the principles and high-minded ideals I would like for it to instill. About the topics I want our curriculum to cover and the scientific principles and culinary lessons I wish for us to impart. All of that is important, and it is what we give you, I hope. But what I get in exchange is the company of these children and the wonderful lessons that us as adults should never forget about life -- about the beauty and magic of our precious lives and about who we were a few snapshots back, before we were here. It is not so long ago that we were them …
And when we think of the pain and trial and newness of growing up – a one-time, no-return experience -- it is much easier to forget how difficult we may be as kids. Yes, at Terra there are children who have their temperamental moments, and who act out their lives. Don’t we all? There are children who don’t learn exactly the way we would like them to learn; and there are children whose personalities manage to so greatly overwhelm their surroundings that there is little left to say. And the beautiful thing about it is to let them be and see where they will go.
For centuries we have debated the nurture versus nature theories, like it is either a pre-programmed collision waiting to happen or some kind of Claire de Lune – under a patch of zucchini flowers. It is neither and both, and I see it in the children before me every day. They are little evolving beings, and I am glad to watch them be at Terra Summer; glad to contribute, perhaps, to who they will become – hopefully kind, thoughtful people – kind, mostly, for I think kindness and compassion go a long way toward being contributory. At Terra that is what I aspire for us to do.
This week we had a movie company visiting to film a documentary, a generous gift to help market and raise money for Terra. During an interview, they asked me what my greatest dream is for Terra. And I said: My dream is for Terra so contribute to the world by helping educate children and young people who are smart thinkers, who can connects the dots of an issue, who can analyze problems and learn from history, who can become thinkers and agitators and activists and problem-solvers, who are aware of the realities of the world and welcome the understating of those realities, who can appreciate good things and be thoughtful about the bad ones, who can be kind to themselves and others, who can think in non-violent ways towards all people and animals, and who can harness the power of their being and their choices to make the world a better place. Because we all can and must contribute to make the world a better place. That is my dream. I didn’t manage to say all that, but here it is.
The children at Terra Summer fill my heart beyond any possible stretch of the imagination because watching little people grasp a concept, seeing the dormant strands of their mothers and fathers, seeing who they will become -- already perhaps written in the clouds above them -- is a gift: Seeing them cook and make connections between fingers and head; seeing them benefit from being around someone new; seeing them touch something or taste something and be changed immediately; seeing them laugh, lose themselves, smile, be happy and mischievous, plot, plan, connect among each other, then disconnect and reconnect elsewhere, finally overcoming differences among peers of class or skin color or language; seeing them lead; overcome fear; grasp, for a moment, that they are important; seeing them become who they are going to be. That is what brings me the most joy. I can easily put myself in their shoes, with their pain, their happiness, their discomfort as social beings, their want for love, their need for laughter, their inclination towards mischief …. It was not so long ago, and those little people inside us never go away. Out skin may grow old, but our 6th birthday never changes. We are still those people – and we should never forget that.
May all children have the joy of childhood unbroken and realize their full potential.
All my best, and thank you for sending us your children.
We closed our first session of Terra Summer 2010 – our second year!!! – with a great party on Friday, and I feel ecstatic, full of joy, satisfaction, and pride, mixed with a sense of loss, and a heart full of hope, all at the same time. Wow!
The great reward of this work is the time spent with the children – and being in their company and getting to know them is a great privilege and opportunity. And now these children are going on their way. My fuel for Terra Summer is my commitment to children’s education – to create a fun, interesting, intriguing way to connect children to learning.. That is what makes a great society fair and kind and successful for all. I believe it is our duty to make memories for and give great lessons to all children so that they may become the people they could be, they should be; so they may tap into the powerful burgeoning seed they have inside. I don’t think any child should miss out on love or a good education.
Terra Summer is designed to give both, I hope. And I hope that this session we did this. You are probably thinking, this is a summer camp! Are you not too serious about this? Not at all. Summers can be times of loneliness and loss of learning and loss of opportunity for all children – black or white, rich or poor, born in luxury or reared in disadvantaged situations, who may have single working parents, or two parents who work a lot. Summers are immensely important – a quarter of our lives - and what a waste to spend them without fun, love, or learning!
I feel idealistic about what this is about. Again, my goal is not for children to excel in chopping, or excel in farming, though those are fun and important things to learn. My goal is for them to connect those incredibly grounding skills and fun, rewarding activities to something greater: Their heart, their soul, their ability to think, make decisions, become who they really are, what makes them happy -- digging and cooking through the layers of surface that people, expectations, society, structure, prejudice put on us. I want cooking and digging and planting and buying food to put them in touch with the opportunities for connection that all of that offers – connection to themselves and the world out there. For them to be ONE -- with themselves and others.
To all the Terra Summer 2010 Session I students, thank you so much for spending part of your summer with us! Enjoy the rest of the summer and come back to see us again!
All my best, with great affection,
We kicked off Terra Summer’s second year with a great start last Monday with a new group of smart, energetic, kind young adults interested in food and the world around them. It’s a sweet beginning and a bit of a relief after nine months of preparations, designs, planning, and setting of intentions. The staff is talented and giving, and it is so very nice to start the session in our new building – finally! Everything is beautiful and clean and a joy to work with.
The first week took us all over the hill of the nervousness that all beginnings and new introductions seem to bring, and launched us on the path of learning about the connections and impacts that our food has – or lacks – to the world around us, the ground under our feet, the people we know. It is a complex thing, full of history and chemistry and ideas, but everyone seemed to navigate it – or at least hang in there.
Under the guidance of our farm team, Rocco Sinicrope and Pat Battle, the children learned about the farm plots where they will grow their plants, seeded their first plants, and harvested their first potatoes. Our science teacher, Beth Ripley, taught them about pollination and germination. Our chef, Al Schwartz, introduced them to the kitchen, starting their culinary experience by teaching them how to use knives safely and how to make bread dough. And our humanities teacher, Taylor Kirkland, guided them through the beginnings of an understanding of our complex contemporary food system -- an intricate interlocking of distributors and storage and trucks and stores -- contrasted with the beginnings of man’s history as a hunter-gather, finding nourishment from the direct and mostly uncomplicated supply of the bounty of nature. And we talked about vegetarianism, sustainability, and compassionate living.
Linked to all that was our first field trip to visit naturalist/artist/singer Doug Elliott, in Rutherford County, whose simple lifestyle on a pristine homestead full of flowers and plants most closely resembles that of a sort of contemporary hybrid farmer/hunter-gatherer. With the guidance of his expert eye and knowledge of the land and vegetation, Terra students learned to recognize and find their food – and fish it as well. We foraged lambsquarters (a close cousin to spinach but way more nutritious and delicious!) and stinging nettles, and visited with a patient and benign snake who was passing through. Then, to be truthful to the experience of hunting-gathering, we killed and cooked a fish caught by Doug and the children. While the ethical vegetarian in me screamed inside (we no longer need to do that, really), it seemed more intellectually honest to allow them to experience killing, gutting, and cleaning the animal. They squirmed, then ate (some of them). But at least they saw what it’s like – and the way it should be if one really wants to eat animals.
Perhaps the neatest thing was to witness, at the end of the week, a team mock debate on the pros and cons of the lifestyle our ancestors had as hunter-gatherers versus the lifestyle we have because of our contemporary food system. Teams representing both lifestyles correctly identified a lengthy list of pros and demonstrated a good grasp on the nuances of the implications of each: Lots of hard work and exercise to hunt … great convenience at the grocery store; greater connection with the environment and knowledge of plants... not knowing where our food has been; taking from nature only what we need … destruction of resources; respectful treatment of animals … horrible animal cruelty for massive food production. And so on. They really got it.
And so we are off to another fun week, with lots to learn and understand.
I thank my generous donor for making all this possible again this year – and I am sure my staff and students echo my thanks. We sincerely hope our Terra Summer Food Revolution is making a difference; in my heart, I know it is.
In recent weeks a new food wave has swept across America – the Jamie Oliver Food Revolution. If you have not seen his show, it is worth the time: He takes on a small West Virginia town – the most unhealthy town in America, according to statistics – and challenges it to change the diet in school dining halls and kitchens across town. It is TV at its best, full of good American drama, good versus evil, tradition versus change, and backed by millions of dollars of ads. I hope Jamie has an impact. He is taking on school food establishment, and that is a war to be won.
But there are small thoughtful food revolutions going on in many places across America – and some of them push the envelope well beyond the limits of the fat content in school lunches. Attached to all food choices are ethical, social, and environmental issues of equal if not greater weight, and that is the fodder for Terra Summer and the Terra Summer Food Revolution:
What we discuss with children here at Terra are the ethics of “taking” natural resources that belong to all of us; the taking of animal lives for food; the inequitable distribution and consumption of water and food across our planet; the environmental footprint that our food choices have; the human cost that cheap food carries with it – the social, cultural cost of fast food and the wages its industry pays, for example; and the wages that are paid to people who pick, process, and transport our food. And finally our power to demand that corporations serve our society better – instead of taking, taking, and taking. The connection to the importance and weight of those choices – appealing to a child’s sense of fairness and compassion and intelligence – in my mind is more effective than telling them, at 12, when they feel quintessentially immortal, that it is bad for their heart. We tell them that, too – but much more. They have choices – and with knowledge, that is fundamental. And I hope that when they grow up, they will remember that and embrace it.
In our 2010 curriculum we will talk about our social lives as hunter-gatherers; the anthropology of agriculture and how we came to accumulate food and be sedentary; how the search for foodstuff elsewhere pushed us to adventurous travel and exploration; how we learned to store food; the development of mass agriculture and its consequences; and how our relationship to food has changed the way we eat and the way we view all transactions and their final purpose: Profit. The concept of profit. Ambitious for a summer camp? Perhaps. But that is our attempt to bring ethical change to America – by being more compassionate, more in tune with the needs of our greater world, and less damaging to the environment.
Thus Terra Summer is an entirely vegetarian program. At my yoga studio, Jivamukti Yoga, we spend a lot of time discussing the concept of ahimsa and the practice of non-harming: We are at peace when we live without harming others – in all ways – when we cease to inflict pain or violence on others. That includes what we think, what we say, and finally what we eat. Thus we are vegetarian – because I would like for children to consider this compassionate choice. But even if you are not concerned with the suffering of animals, the miserable conditions in which they live or die, it is a fact that the raising of animals for meat takes an environmental toll that generations will pay. And since we talk so much “green,” I would like children to be exposed to this more sustainable way. It is the greenest step of all (and cutting out meat is the fastest and easiest way to reduce consumption of fat).
More than 10 billion animals are slaughtered each year for food in the United States. That statistic is staggering considering that there are 6 billion human beings in the entire world. Take a look at the facts (the sources are endless):
That is why Terra Summer is vegetarian, and why those issues are part of our curriculum.
Summer is fast approaching, and we are getting ready for our 2010 campers. We want them to have a life-changing, fun, edifying experience. I am excited to report the hiring of a talented new staff for the summer (please see our new staff bio page); we are working on developing the children’s plots, where they will learn to grow some food; and stocking our materials and plans for our cooking time with our new chef/kitchen master, during which they will experience the mindfulness of preparing and eating food. We are planning our field trips and fine-tuning lists of activities and games. We are almost ready – and slots are filling up quickly.
We look forward to having you part of our own Terra Summer Food Revolution.
Bring it on, one thoughtful child at a time.
Recently, in an interview for a piece in the Mt. Xpress, Anne Fitten Glenn of “Edgy Mama” fame asked me, if you had to leave people with one thing, the most important concept, about Terra Summer, what would it be? Posed in one form or another, this is not an infrequent question, so it seems to be good time to clarify what Terra Summer is really about.
Terra Summer is not a gardening program. In fact, it is not even a culinary program – though it is a little of a gardening program and more of a cooking program. We do, in fact, farm and cook at Terra Summer, happily, with wonder and fun, most of the day. But I want to say it without any confusion: At heart, Terra Summer is an activist program – a program that uses food, its essence, its very being, its cultivation and its cooking to position children to learn about the world and take an active role in it. Thus, Thinking through Food.
Terra Summer is an activist program if by activist you mean that your child’s mind is active in thinking and questioning the appearance of things; discussing issues; learning; questioning; making connections between realities; wondering; trying to figure out how the world works and how we fit in it. That is activist. We do not accept the status quo – particularly as it relates to food. And farming and cooking are vehicles, really – perfect, fun vehicles -- for children to gain knowledge and use their heads about important issues about the world in which we live.
One principal thing that inspires me about food as a vehicle for learning is not only the incredible interconnectedness of humanistic disciplines and intellectual ideas that spring forth from everything about food, but the visceral compassion and global connection that it can inspire. There is no food in this world that does not connect us to a precious resource, a person, an animal, or a corporation, often thousands of miles away. That alone should make us wonder who or what is at the other end of the line – at the other end of our mouth, of our purchases, of our purchasing power. How they live, where they live, what they eat. I want Terra Summer to inspire children to wonder about that.
In my Jivamukti yoga practice (in Sanskrit Jivamukti means liberation while living) we talk a lot about the practice of yoga being about a quest for truth, a yearning to look beyond what is obvious in order to seek liberation from ignorance. And so it is here at Terra Summer that I want that recreated through food.
Terra Summer is fun. Because food is fun. Because summer should be fun. Because childhood should be fun. I believe in that fundamentally – and wish that for all children. I had that in my childhood in sun-filled Italy, romping in the fields and woods, picking flowers, eating figs from trees on hot August afternoons, making fruit syrups to quench our thirst, learning to make fresh pasta, picking olives, making wine, riding on the combine of my friend Stefano’s dad, and playing soccer in the streets. I want our lives to be fun. All lives should be fun. But the reality is that they are not. The lives of animals in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) are not. And the lives of those who toil thanklessly and in poverty half a globe away to grow or extract the resources that corporations transform into our luxury products or processed foods don’t either. And particularly in places where life is way more fun than in others, fun does not excuse us from thoughtfulness or compassion or awareness.
The core of Terra in not gardening for the sake of gardening, or cooking for the sake of cooking. It is about the wonder of organic tomatoes – the beauty of the red and the sweet smell only a tomato can have -- but it is also about the meaning of tomato and of organic – and the provenance of the tomato. Where did it come from? What does it make us think about? Who picked it for us? Why does it cost what it costs?
Part of the point of encouraging children to learn this kind of engaged information, connected to the real world, is to inspire them to think early on about solutions and about being solutions. It’s to plant a seed of interest in the science of food, of energy, of the environment; in geography, languages, and the history of humanity; in languages; in economic and ecological intelligence -- because they might then want to pursue those fields in adulthood. We hope to plant intellectual curiosity and to empower through knowledge and the ability to apply knowledge. But the other part is to tap into the great dignity and sense of justice and fairness that children possess.
So, if you would like your child to wonder how the cow she ate last night lived, or was fed, or where its poop went, and to feel compassion for that cow, enroll her at Terra. If you want your child to know that the triple cheeseburger that cost $4.99 should actually cost something more in the range of $250 because of the tremendous cost to the environment, the land, people and animals, send your child to Terra. If you want your child to consider the concept of “common” as in belonging to all, or “sustainable” as in capable of being sustained, to question how her or his actions and choice can make a difference in every step of his or her life, send your child to Terra -- because those are things we talk about.
I think children have great compassion and care, and I have found that they prefer to know what goes on in the world rather than not. That is what Terra Summer is about -- entrusting them to figure out what they care about; tapping into their fabric as little human beings; getting them to venture into the great infinity that is the web of the world; equipping them to be thinking citizens of the world through connections they make through the fun and the beauty on their plate. Think buon appetito with an edge.
Best to you,
Founder and Director
We launched Terra Summer’s first series of parent-and-child cooking classes Saturday with a class taught by renowned Asheville chef Mark Rosenstein. While the first snow of the fall melted outside, Mark led a group of forty adults and children through the process of creating three simple, delicious dishes from one base made from seasonal and mostly local products —pumpkin, winter squashes, and sweet potatoes. It was great, messy fun.
The goal of the Terra Summer cooking class series is threefold: To offer something valuable and fun to children and adults in the Asheville/Hendersonville community; to instill the art of cooking as a bonding, fun family endeavor; and to draw families to Terra Summer to get to know us and to learn about our mission. I think we are off to a good start.
Mark’s collaboration with Terra is a happy one not only because Mark is a kind man, an accomplished chef, and an able teacher, but because what food means to him and his relationship to food — and what I think he wishes to teach about the relationship with food — are in harmony with what Terra stands for and wishes to teach children about food — and about life: The magic of food – its meaning and soulfulness —is captured through the process of working with food, the experience of understanding its life and human cycle, and from the mindfulness and kindness that we bring to it.
It’s a message that serendipitously has popped up three or four times in my life in just a few days, most saliently in a yoga class in which we talked about the meaning of the practice. It’s the beauty of the practice itself – not some final goal – that should take us to the mat every day. It’s the being in the moment that is the privilege. And it is the surrender to that practice in itself that leads, as a byproduct, to a result —a bit of enlightenment and betterment, we hope.
And so it is in life and in food: It’s the voyage, it’s the moment, it’s the presence of being there that matter. It’s the getting lost in the orange hues of the vegetables and the heady smells of the spices and the buttery-ness of the dough. It’s the sensing of a texture, the decision to add more flour, the instinct that lets color and smell tell you something is cooked. From there comes the grasp of the cycle of food, of its connections, its preciousness, its provenance that make working with it and eating it and sharing it such a heartwarming experience and privilege. It’s our presence, our mindfulness of the experience and its value, that make it sacred. If we never thought that milk came from a cow, that veal came from a calf, that butter was churned from milk, that tomatoes were planted, tended to, and harvested by a person like us, that cocoa beans are harvested and processed by farmers, often by children, living in poverty ten thousand miles away … well, we would never get it at all. And that is what it is about.
I would like the food children create with us in the Terra kitchen to teach them a sense of pride and accomplishment that they can give themselves and others again and again through life. I also want them to savor the fun of food and view it as a platform to ask questions about themselves and the world and think about the myriad things to which food connects us — people and children around the earth, animals, family, our past and history.
Mark likens his pumpkin-squash base to a paint pot from which he can mix all the colors he wants. He can stop them and start them, add more white, change them. The point is, it’s not a fixed recipe that is important: It’s a sense, a skill, an understanding, an appreciation that you can take with you in your mind and apply it to any recipe or formula with your own imagination and creativity. That is what counts. It’s a vehicle to think, connect, question, assess, pause, ponder, create, rejoice, be grateful, and, yes, enjoy. It’s in you.
It is wonderful to finally have Terra Summer’s beautiful home up and running, full of smells and voices and warmth. It fills me with excitement for the upcoming summer and many more — the new students we will meet; the things we will do; the voyages we will have; the people we will become. I look forward to the moments we will experience around food and the gladness they will bring us.
Check back with us for upcoming classes. We look forward to seeing you.
Founder & Director
You might be surprised to visit our Web site today and find us with a brand new identity – a feisty green sprout logo in place of our iconic beet. The two are related -- intimately, in fact – and stand for the same values. We hope that, in due time, the sprout will earn recognition and grow to be iconic as well. But, yes, Terra Summer has a new face (and a new Web address - www.terrasummer.org), and this is why.
Terra Summer is an offshoot from an original conceptual seed, that of the Terra School, a full-fledged rigorous independent middle school (in the making) that uses food to teach the entire academic curriculum. When it comes to be, the Terra School will also be a think-tank of sorts for conversations about and involvement in all things environmental, economic, and social related to food; a center for entrepreneurial activities for youth; and home to a formidable digital kitchen lab that will connect Terra kids to the rest of the world, in farming and cooking. We are in the process of laying the groundwork for the creation of the Terra School – chiefly, seeking seed money to start the heavy lifting that founding a school entails: Business plans, curriculum design, conceptual building drawings, site location, and more fundraising. Much work is to be done to meet the inaugural goal of fall 2012.
In the meantime, though, Terra Summer has become a vibrant capsule, if you will, of the greater Terra School concept, reshaped to fit a summer camp calendar and adapted to the wonderful rhythms of summer life. So, because the Terra School is in the making but does not yet exist, while Terra Summer exists and is growing, we thought it best to give Terra Summer its own related but separate graphic identity. But, like the two entities, both logos, designed by Aram Stith, our graphic designer, symbolize growth, the universality of learning, and the hope of creative thinking – out of the box. The esthetic and symbolic similarity of the logos stands to stress the communality of vision and purpose between Terra and Terra Summer.
Moving forward, you will likely see both logos intersect in your dealings with Terra. We hope, however, that any and all confusion is now cleared.
We are busy at work getting ready for our two Terra Summer 2010 sessions. Applications will be available in January. Children who apply and are accepted before the end of March will receive a $100 discount off tuition for a session. So, start thinking early about summer camp!
Founder & Director
All too quickly, the inaugural year of Terra Summer has come and gone in a whirlwind of busyness and fun, field trips and activities, experiments and farming. And if I am not mistaken, our breathless first year was a resounding success.
On the surface, the biggest story of Terra Summer 2009 was that we never received a Certificate of Occupancy needed to use our brand new, state-of-the-art building on the farm that is now Terra Summer’s home. A zoning official for the Town of Mills River brought by the long-awaited document in the early afternoon hours of our very last day of camp. Even she appeared puzzled by the timing.
But the real story of our first year is that we had a fantastic program in spite of not having a building at all. In fact, the CO became almost an afterthought, as did the anxiety and stress that went along with waiting for one. We made do on the farm, with its rolling hills and sheltering greenhouses; we took many field trips to beautiful and exciting places; enjoyed lots of educational time with our knowledgeable farm team, Pat and Rocco, and much well-planned learning with our talented teachers, Taylor and Jessica. And, we improvised a good deal.
I would be naïve to ignore that not having use of our glorious kitchen caused everyone a bit of regret and disappointment, including children who had hoped to cook more with the chef. But we also had occasion to review one of life’s most important lessons: That we live more happily and more gratefully when we let go of expectations. Staff’s ability and willingness to regroup and reinvent at almost every turn made it possible for us to maintain the course and at least touch on, if not peruse, most topics we had planned. We met the most fundamental goals of Terra Summer: We explored where our food comes from; we taught children to question how fairly food is produced and at what real cost; and to understand that behind most everything we eat these days is an intricate, complicated story, and most often a person or an animal that suffered. That is the seed I hoped would be planted.
There were other significant accomplishments: Parents tell me that after just a few weeks of Terra Summer their children became more inquisitive; that on shopping trips to the grocery stores they began to question certain purchases; and that their self-confidence was bolstered by learning that their choices, actions, and intentions can make a difference. And I noted personally the undeniable surprise and joy produced in the children by the discovery that, with encouragement and positivism, they could perform better than they themselves had expected. All of that is exhilarating.
Unbelievably, less than ten months ago Terra was just a thought on paper – a concept, a dream, a far-flung idea of teaching about the world of academics through the study of food and its rich history and life. Now we have behind us our first summer program, our first young alumni, and our first wonderful, enduring memories (see our gallery for more!).
During the coming fall and spring we will host cooking and learning events at our building in Mills River and we look forward to the visits of parents, community members, and education leaders who are interested in seeing what we are doing at Terra Summer. We also look forward to exploring ways for Terra Summer to become more involved in the community and to foster growing relationships with others interested in the world of food and its meaning. We hope you will join us to explore future possibilities and to start planning for 2010.
We have much work to do to make this the force of growth and change that I aspire it to be – for it to educate children about the world they live in and to make them informed, empowered, and aware citizens. The first summer is under our belt. We wish for many more.
In the meantime, Broden, Marcelo, Shiquane, Christina, Marlynda, Jacob, Joseph, and Drew, I thank you for the time you spent with us at Terra Summer 2009. You were much fun to have and teach. Your voices still ring in my ears, and they will for a long time to come.
Thank you. With gratitude and fondness,
Founder & Director
Terra Summer/The Terra School
Summer is just a few shades of color away from the sweet green of spring’s newborn leaves, and much like nature, here at the Terra School we are fast at work to ensure that this summer is fruitful, juicy, and nourishing.
This year we celebrate the birth of our summer program—our pilot—on a working organic farm in Mills River, North Carolina. We decided against calling it a camp or a school in favor of thinking of it as an experience—something academic yet soulful and rewarding that, when all is said and done, makes both the children and us more knowledgeable and thoughtful beings.
The heart of the Terra concept is to use food as a lens into the world, as a way to link and make sense of everything that’s taught in school—geography, history, biology, math, economics, physics and chemistry, reading and writing. It’s a fun vehicle to teach material that can seem dry and disconnected.
But it’s really about connecting all of us to the rest of the world through the understanding that our food doesn’t just appear on our table: There are people and a story behind everything we eat. Someone grew it and tended to it, sometimes thousands of miles away; someone picked it; someone packaged it and maybe shipped it; someone raised it and slaughtered it; and very often, someone suffered for it. And this is a universal lesson, something that binds us all, inside and out, wherever we live. It has something to do, perhaps, with the change we feel inside our soul while nurturing vegetables outside in a field; something to do with connecting with people on the other side of our planet when inside our kitchen we sauté a pan of food that was grown cleanly, that was treated humanely, that was paid for fairly, and that embodies the principles that make our land, everyone’s earth, healthier for everyone.
Our hope is that, after attending Terra Summer, your children will start school in the fall better prepared for the academic year and for life—because they learned some geometry and plant biology and geography, but also because they learned to connect it all, to use it to think and ask questions, and to realize that everything they do matters. They matter.
It is a very exciting time.
Construction continues on our beautiful state-of-the-art kitchen classroom/lab, the heart of Terra, the place where we will cook our food and learn about food science and food history. Because of construction delays, we are forced to postpone our opening to July 20. Therefore, the program this year will be four weeks long.
I hope any inconvenience brought on by building schedules will be offset by the importance of the sum of what we want your children to take with them at the end of the summer and by our commitment to help mold them into young people who can see themselves as a source of knowledge and transformation.
Do not hesitate to call or e-mail me if you do not find here all the information you need to make a confident decision about sending your child to Terra Summer this year.
Founder & Director
Terra Summer/The Terra School
The Terra School and its programs, including Terra Summer, do not discriminate against applicants for admission on the basis of race, color, gender, national origin, religion, disabilities, or any other characteristic protected by state or federal law.
© Terra Summer 2009-2011