Some sights in the neighborhood were so common that I had stopped noticing them; but then one day they came into view. While driving down Harold Street on the way to my cousin’s house, I noticed a vacant lot on my left and then, just a block down, I saw two large vacant lots on my right.
Many people relate to angels and have their own definitions of them. In the food system world, “angels” are investors, often known as venture capitalists (VC), typically focused on startups that hold promise of fast growth and exits to allow for large financial returns. VC investors understand that only 1 out of 10 investments will likely succeed, and often choose to invest in the technology sector.
Our food system’s successes and spectacular failures account for nearly one trillion dollars of US GDP, yet the media spotlight is usually reserved for the sexier tech and financial sectors. I hear regularly about growing populations, water shortages and rapidly changing international trade policies, and still, food and its ancillary industries seem to be taken as a given in the American economic schema.
Salmon return. Boomerangs return. Hindus return. When things work out, investments return. Letters with insufficient postage return. So do infections, mosquitos, prodigal sons, wandering eyes, sideways glances, the hands of a clock, circular reasons, not-quite-infinite seasons, pendulums, memories, criminals to the scenes of their crimes, and stories to where they left off.
For many years, agriculture—or the production of food and fiber—has resulted in the massive degradation of billions of acres of land worldwide. Now, the same industry finally has been acknowledged as having the unique ability to sequester carbon through the improvement of soils.
We live in a world in which the complicated has been made simple and the simple has been made complicated. Pushing the power button on your computer, simple. Having an authentic conversation with your neighbor, complicated. Buying a bag of potato chips, simple. Growing potatoes in your front yard, complicated.
The notions of “alt-right,” “alt–National Park Service,” and other similar concepts, along with the idea of “fake” news, recently got me thinking about my own work, and about how there’s something edgy, subversive, and radical about investing in soil.
Henry David Thoreau lived 200 years ago, but his influence continues, inspiring the likes of Tolstoy, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., E.F. Schumacher, Wendell Berry, and Bill McKibben, to name an illustrious few.
John-Paul founded Waste Farmers with $9,000 and a belief that idealism and capitalism can coexist. Waste Farmers has evolved into an innovator respected by leaders in the global community for developing simple solutions to the complex problems of modern agriculture and food security.
We can’t all be Noam Chomsky or Ayn Rand or Wendell Berry or Bingo Pajama,¹ but that doesn’t mean each and every one of us can’t get the hint. We need a new story. Maybe even a new myth. We need to rediscover imagination.