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Earth Day thoughts

Apr. 22, 2010

As I drove from the Columbus OH airport towards Athens, I passed a billboard that read “Every day is Earth Day for a farmer.” A dairy barn on my left, fields on my right. I was headed into the home of the pawpaw, a locavore hub, where community gardening is thriving, and food producers are local celebrities.

I was there to be part of Earth Month festivities at Ohio University, having been invited by their sustainability coordinator, Sonia Marcus. I realized that a few years ago, food would not have been part of the conversation on Earth Day, and it’s a marker of how far we’ve all come that we recognize that food--the production and transportation of which have a massive impact on our ecosystem--is an essential part of any sustainability conversation. Ohio University was amongst the first to have a position called “sustainability coordinator” and they are doing a great job of all kinds of things, including robust programming and education, as well as composting all the food waste on campus.

It was a super fun day during which I visited an Environmental Journalism class, participated in a round table lunch discussion, chatted with a News Writing class, and gave a talk focused on Building Online Communities in the food movement (subtitle: "how does twitter help grow food?"). We talked slow food, GMOs, potlucks, Jamie Oliver, blogging....and on and on. One student asked me what my professors taught me about blogging and I had to explain that when I was in college there was no such thing as a blog. Nothing like undergrads to make you feel old!

I really enjoyed talking with the students, and having the opportunity to reflect upon my writing, and how it ended up being the foundation for allowing me to "become"/call myself a writer. In thinking about these things, and in being asked to answer smart questions, I came up with answers that surprised me sometimes.

Professor Hans Meyer covered my talk here. My main takeaway: every time I see a photo of myself giving a talk, that is what I am doing with my hands. Also, n.b. that his students were assigned to live tweet my talk, and I really enjoyed reading their commentary once the talk was done. You can read the comments here. If the link doesn’t work, do a search on twitter for #oj314.

I talked about the ability of social media to bring people together into online communities, all in the service of eventually getting people to have face to face interactions. In the end I addressed the conundrum of slow food and the fast pace of social media--aren’t they a contradiction? In many ways, yes. And I do think that the lightning speed of things like twitter run counter to some tenets of the slow food movement. However, it is also a tool that be used to bring larger numbers and further connectivity to the people in the food movement, and therefore larger strength to the movement itself. For me, it’s about balance, knowing when to step away from the keyboard, and put the iphone down and sit down at the table, face to face with my community.

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