A little goes a long way: Life lessons from board member J. Paul Sampley, community connections, & social farming activism
One thing that the pandemic has reminded us, here at front porch, is the importance of community and the ties we create within these groups. Being essentially isolated over the lockdowns and physical distancing really drove home how grateful we are for such bonds. As society has slowly ventured out of coronavirus pods (family, housemates, etc.) and have begun to reconnect with people in physical proximity, we have become more aware of some wonderful community connections outside our own household. The pandemic exposed a framework within societies that has at once been kind and compassionate yet also destructive and discursive. In this newsletter, we focus on how the seemingly small acts of generosity and inclusion go a long way towards constructing a healthier, more connected social family within communities both large and small.
Grants to fund expansion and diversification of BIPOC-owned farms
The Southeast region of the United States is home to a good amount of black- indigenous-and people of color-owned farms, many of which struggled to fund projects that would enable their farm to expand, diversify, or create economic opportunities for their communities. Enter the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI)-USA’s Farmers of Color network, a program was designed to support farmers of color who are using innovative ideas and techniques to develop their farms, promote their local economy, or preserve cultural heritage, often through the use of traditional farming practices.
Farm owners applied for $10,000 grants to do just that; in one notable example, as highlighted in the Daily Yonder’s February 2021 article, a farmer who needed to increase his farm’s revenue turned to developing a project that would preserve heritage land, making it off-limits to farming, instead of turning more soil for agricultural products. With the goal of supporting marginalized farmers, RAFI-USA’s grants have made it possible for many farms owned by people of color to thrive, instead of merely surviving. $10,000 may not seem like a lot, but for these farm owners, these grants have made all the difference in the world.
Community activism thru regenerative farming & food security
Earlier this month, our rural town’s discussion forum hosted the webinar “Regenerative agriculture, food justice, and nutritional outcomes,” which was designed to increase awareness about the importance of regenerative farming. A further aim of this webinar is to propel action towards sustaining small agricultural enterprises in New England, which has the potential to amplify positive impacts in the communities surrounding these farms. As community members and farmers strengthen the links between healthy soil and access to fresh, local foods and the subsequent benefits to nutrition, communities can grow healthier connections on many levels. With a perspective emphasizing social justice, the panelists present their content partly as a launch pad for further local discussions that can have far-reaching benefits.
The participation of community members in actionable programs such as these intrinsically connect rural residents with multiple resources, from supporting local farming and increasing economic opportunities to improving food security and providing avenues for deeper community connections. While the discussion facilitators did not necessarily hail from our own town, the forum’s hosting of the event bodes well for future community-led discussions and possible initiatives for the immediate rural areas as well as on county and state levels.
Local community offerings & connection
Directly impacting our local residents are the programs offered by one of Charlemont’s own church-based communities, the Federated Church of Charlemont. Church volunteers operate a weekly food pick up location for families struggling to keep nutritious meals on their tables. Recipients of the Tuesday night meal distribution need not be members of the congregation of the Federated church—the only requirement is that they show up to receive the meals. This gesture of community outreach and support is based in the simple desire to help build a stronger, healthier, and more connected community. It is the small things, like the availability of a consistent food access point for those who need the support, that create larger, lasting positive effects for everyone involved—and even for those who are not. Connected communities are just stronger and more resilient, a benefit to all.
Closely connected to the Federated Church of Charlemont is one of our own board
members, J. Paul Sampley. Having retired from teaching theology for many years at Boston University, Paul came to Charlemont for some quiet retirement years. Perhaps he simply could not give up teaching because Paul became the Federated Church’s pastor, leading the congregation in community involvement and connection. Paul is truly one of the “good guys”; his open, easy acceptance of everyone with whom he comes into contact—and with his own life’s challenges—makes it feel very natural to follow his lead of generosity. In Paul’s own words, he relates one example of an experience in which he both is a giver and a recipient of little things that make a big difference:
“I offer two related determinations, one on either side of a little vignette of my recent life that I’d happily share.
The first determination: when you boil it down, the consummé of life is relationships. Period. We’re built for relationships; they are the most important thing in life. Not prestige. Not wealth. Not status.
My little story: At 85 and with a 43% efficient heart I thought I would never again exercise by daily walking, my longtime favorite. I was wrong. My new cardio prescribed an effective pill that reduced my chronic afib enough that I could get breath to walk further than from the bedroom to the kitchen. In fact, I found that I had enough oxygen to leave our place on Rainswept Way, go up to the end of Cornet Way and return home, a total of about one half a mile, if. . .
I stopped once in a while, rested my wasted muscles and got my breath renewed. I needed more than just to stand a while; I had to find another more helpful way to take a mini-break. We all know the expression “from pillar to post.” The fire hydrants offered themselves as my perch and immediately “from pillar to post” became my “fire hydrant to fire hydrant.” Just what I needed—and so nicely spaced for my purposes. One hydrant was low enough to sit on; the others were curiously higher, but still great for leaning against.
My neighbors soon caught my daily walk and sit/lean pattern and began to tease me about the hydrant part of it. “Paul, you are encroaching on the dogs’ places.” Or another, “People driving by will be concerned about you and stop to ask if you need help” (one kind lady did!). I told them “I don’t mind the dogs; I’m just checking to make sure these hydrants stay straight and strong.”
The best walk I had in this whole time was last week, when I rounded the corner onto Cornet Way and my first fire hydrant. Hanging on the yellow hydrant was a little Christmas bag with a sign on it saying “PAUL’S REST AREA.” In it was some energy food, pistachios. I had to stay there a little longer than normal because I laughed so hard. At the second hydrant: another bag with the same visible sign on it and some goodies inside. And ditto for the last hydrant!
It took me a couple of days to sleuth out who were the pranksters—and the false leads I checked in the process got a kick out of my dilemma, but all my early suspects knew who were the loving culprits—but they smugly offered no help.
My other determination, related to the first: Let’s not get lost waiting for blockbusters. Let’s not hang on till something totally gobsmacks us. If we do, we may miss all the little mini-moments and mini-situations in which love and joy find us and, like a gentle tap on our shoulder, bid for our attention. There are no small moments of love and joy; they are all bigger and richer than they might first appear. Relish each one of them with gusto.”
We at front porch are deeply grateful for Paul and his many contributions to our little organization. With him, along with the rest of our amazing Board, our mission to connect low-income rural peoples with life essentials—at whatever magnitude—has greater potential to make all the difference in even one person’s world. That is all it takes to make our world a better place. We hope you’ll join us.
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