Writing Our Futures with LaDonna Redmond

It is 7p.m. now and almost light still and outside it smells wet and muddy and green. I even saw improbable buds on the ornamentals outside the dentist’s yesterday, but a few weeks ago, under six feet of snow in central Massachusetts for the Northeastern FoodCorps Mid-Year Gathering, the air was the sort of dry that constricts your nasal passage and we laughed at our presumption in drafting spring planting plans.

For FoodCorps service members, spring signifies garden builds, outdoor lessons, and for those of us in the northeast, the courageous arrival of the season’s first delicate greens. But spring is also a reminder that the clock is ticking and our one year service terms are two thirds through.

In LaDonna Redmond’s session at Mid-Year, we sat at round tables with people we didn’t know well. When she prompted “I am drawn to” and started her timer, I wrote:

I am drawn to the land. Not just any land I guess, of course, mostly the land of my childhood. That is, the northern forest— mostly secondary growth on abandoned grazing lands— left by farmers in the late 1800’s for the flatter, richer soils of the midwest, and the remaining farmland in my native central Vermont.

I didn’t have “four in the ground” growing up, my parents were flatlanders, part of that particular suburban exodus in the 70’s. Not hippies or especially fanatical, just people drawn to the outdoors. I regretted or resented even my lack of roots, that the family history wasn’t deep, and so concentrated my efforts and my narrative on the land itself. I was fascinated by the woods and the stone walls that ran through them, the rusted barbed wire that crisscrossed among the trees behind my house…

LaDonna’s session was one of many we attended at Mid-Year—from peer-to-peer workshops on planning our spring gardens, to conflict management trainings, we shared our challenges, successes, and our inchoate plans for the future. Yet hers was the session that stood out the most for me. Her prompts were quick and open-ended, and evoked startlingly varied and substantial, if rushed, responses. LaDonna’s framing of the exercises and the immediacy of our compositions— we couldn’t have had more than two minutes for each— seemed to help us extract the meat of our values and motivations, a result that isn’t obvious in a conference-type environment. For many of us, weighing our options for life after FoodCorps, the exercises were powerful in their ability to extract reasons that usually nest under layers of more superficial motivations.

Mid-year gathering is one of the many times that FoodCorps gives service members the opportunity to learn and connect, and pushes for one of the quieter goals of the organization— to build a network of new leaders in food, agriculture, education, and nutrition. Mid-Year Gathering and LaDonna’s workshop in particular, were not only a welcome push to see the winter through, but a powerful tool for those of us mapping our lives after FoodCorps—thank you LaDonna and thank you FoodCorps!