Wild Goose Farm Shows the Power of Community-Centered Sustainability (And What it Means for You)
Jun 08, 2017 02:55AM
By Melanie Heisinger
By Erica L.
Under the tutelage of David and Kathy Kristjanson-Gural, the Lewisburg-area community has participated in cutting-edge projects to demonstrate the viability of growing local, organic, affordable food sustainably on Wild Goose Farm, the couple’s homestead located six miles outside Lewisburg.
Through their experiences with food-related projects locally, and in Costa Rica and Western Massachusetts, the Kristjanson-Gurals utilized project-learning to teach the importance of sustainability. But their mission at Wild Goose Farm goes beyond.
This family-owned and -operated membership-organization is an experiment in learning and teaching about healthful and sustainable lifestyle practices, and shifting our consciousness from convenience to regeneration.
“This struck us as a great remedy for the angst we feel about the fact that the planet and the climate are changing, and it doesn’t look like our leaders are going to do anything about it very soon,” said David, Professor of Economics and Senior Fellow, Social Justice College, Bucknell University.
How this plays out
Under the sustainability umbrella, activities on the farm have multifaceted objectives: support a transition to green living; undo consumerism and classism; connect with nature; integrate artistic expression; naturally support health and wellbeing; demonstrate social enterprise; empower young people; and learn together.
“The questions became: how can we move from a place of passive acceptance of a danger to actively doing something, however small, however seemingly insignificant” explained David.
After reading Last Child in the Woods, for example, the work about the divide between children and the outdoors by child advocacy expert Richard Louv, Kathy—whose background includes progressive education, resettlement work with refugees, parenting, homeschooling her children, community organizing and a love of play and the outdoors—was inspired to make the woods surrounding the farm more inviting to families and young children. She engaged Bucknell’s Management 101 students, led by Daniella Kotowitz, to initiate an Interactive Play Trail, a 25-minute path through the woods designed with a number of places along the trail to engage with a piece of art, build a structure using natural materials, or play on a colorful long-roped swing.
“Nature has so much to offer us; a walk in the woods slows us down, reduces stress and reminds us of the pleasure of simple things,” said Kathy.
In fact, the forest surrounding the farm is poised to play a starring role in the farm’s future. The Kristjanson-Gurals secured a grant to hire sustainability experts to write An Environmental Quality Incentives Program (Eqip) Grant for the Restoration of a Privately Owned Woodland Properties. If secured, the grant would provide funding to eliminate invasive plants and replace them with food-bearing ones—fruit, nuts, berries, medicinal herbs, perennial vegetables—to depict food-growing possibilities.
“It would involve a 10-year commitment, and a labor-intensive process, but one that, as we draw people in, allows people to begin to see the possibilities of growing their own food, of turning their yard into something that is both beautiful and productive,” said David.
In its full implementation, this philosophy would include the incorporation, more specifically, of paw-paws, hearty kiwi, goji and goose berries, and even grafting English walnuts onto black walnut root stock to yield a delicious nut that’s easier to shell.
“Paw-Paws don’t last long on the shelf, so you don’t see it in stores,” said David. “But if you plant it in your yard, you’d have this supply of delicious fruit part of the year. Berries grow prolifically, and require little care. Hearty kiwi berries are about the size of a large grape and highly prolific. They’re all beautiful plants that also are edible.”
One obstacle challenging the acceptance of sustainable ways is the class consciousness associated with consumption. “The consumerist mentality has created a stigma around doing things frugally,” laments David. “We get our status from being able to demonstrate we can do things that are wasteful, like expanses of lawn that don’t feed anyone. So part of it is changing our class-consciousness about how our practices are really self-defeating.”
Another facet of farm-related activities is the depiction of new ways of thinking about things, including living spaces. Last fall, Bucknell’s environmental humanities class built a green micro-shelter with timber sustainably harvested from farm-trees felled by Hurricane Sandy. The trees were taken to local lumber mill and cut into rough planks. A project designed to demonstrate the viability of the micro-shelter movement, the building utilizes a sustainable foundation—using packed earth to float the building—and passive solar energy through judicious placement of the structure.
“It’s a rudimentary building, but it demonstrates that we need less living space than we think, and we can curb our expenses by doing so,” said David.
The younger generation
Passing on sustainable ways to the younger generation is a key goal at the farm, and is assisted by the couple’s two children. Emma, 15, dreams of becoming a professional dancer and moving to New York City, helps Kathy with the summer Youth Theatre/Arts/Food Week, and Rudy, 11, helps with farm tours and caring for the farm’s chickens, dog and cats. During Theatre/Arts/Food Week, 8 to 10 teenagers spend a week creating a theatre piece, immersed in the arts and cooking and eating locally grown food.
“Participants work in the garden, feed the chickens, take out compost and cook their own breakfast,” said Kathy. “It’s easy for them to see how organic, local foods that don’t have to be shipped reach our plates fresher and more delicious, and don’t depend on fossil fuels.”
Monthly farm events throughout the growing season showcase local, sustainably-grown organic food, and campfire sing-alongs encourage connections among the farm’s more than 50 members, and the community at large. Ongoing workshops teach skills, include growing organic garlic, sowing seeds, and tree-planting and pruning.
“These events encourage and inspire people to take steps to not just be out in nature, but protect and preserve it by adopting what we call ‘sustainable solutions,’” explained Kathy.
Special events take learning to another level. The Beyond Recycling: Building Sustainable Solutions weekend June 15-17 hosts sustainability experts Johnny and Leah Tewksberry and Rusty Omwer, recent recipient with his wife Claire of a Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) achievement award for their work creating Quiet Herb Farm, a sustainability education center in Western PA, and others. The experts will teach a variety of skills including how to install drip-irrigation to extend the growing season and conserve water—while making growing less labor-intensive.
“We welcome the community to come and see displays of a number of simple, affordable and regenerative solutions for growing nutritious food, using water and energy wisely and living better, as we continue to move into a post-carbon future,” said Kathy. “People can come and see what works for them, and leave with something they can put to use right away—everything from a solar dehydrator to composting techniques.”
The response to these high-minded ideals has been mixed.
“The ideas have been embraced enthusiastically by folks who have woken up to the idea that we have to make these changes,” said David. “A lot of people don’t want to admit we’re in a crisis—so we get a fair amount of skepticism. We’ve done enough community organizing to know that we have to persist, and as you persist people catch on.”
“We love having new people get involved in what we’re doing,” adds Kathy. “You don’t need to commit to being 100 percent sustainable! The idea is to learn from each other and find new ways to support rather than harm the natural world.”
Visit SusquehannaLife.com/WebExtras to learn more about Wild Goose Farm.
If you go
The community-wide Beyond Recycling event takes place Saturday, June 17, at 2 p.m. The Youth Theatre/Arts/Food Week performance is open to the public and takes place Sunday, August 20, at 3 p.m.
To learn more about workshops, membership in the farm or visiting the farm, visit WildGooseFarm.com.