Serving Land and People, Part One


Connecting Soul, Soil, and Society
by Joshua Stearns, SCA Board Member and Alumnus

In recent years SCA has taken its work out of the wilderness and into the community, changing lives and serving nature in local classrooms and community venues as well as state forests and national parks. This is important because while SCA has long been helping young people develop an ethic of care and stewardship for the natural world, they are also now helping students build a civic ethic as well as a land ethic. More and more, SCA members are building communities as well as building trails.

The work that young people do through SCA consistently counters the stereotypes of apathy and laziness that have been attached to this generation, while further connecting them to a community outside of themselves. SCA’s urban outreach and diversity initiatives, in particular, illustrate that the organization deeply values the inclusion of people from all classes, races, and geographic locations in conservation. Many of the students who find their way into the woods through these programs end up continuing on, helping others connect to the natural world around them. In addition, conservation interns across the country work with agency staff and non-profit partners who come from widely different backgrounds, and serve communities struggling with diverse issues.

It is hard to be hopeful when I look out and focus in on any one solitary issue. Global warming. Renewable energy. Consumption. Pollution. Instead, I tend to find hope in the intersections””those places where people, problems, and imagination come together. I draw my hope from these dynamic places where people are trying new things, bringing ideas together, building bridges instead of walls. These are places where questions outweigh answers. It is no longer enough to simply protect land, without paying attention to how land shapes the community that surrounds it. It is no long enough, to be passionate about the environment, without articulating that passion to others. It is no longer enough to volunteer in your community without knowing who your neighbors are. We can’t think of service as an individual act, because we need each other now more than ever.

This is why I think of “social” ideas like community, justice, and democracy, as necessarily interwoven with “ecological” ideas like watersheds, air quality, and species extinction. For me, the health of our communities, the health of our democracy, is bound up with the health of our farmland, our forests, and our waterways. Talking to our neighbors is as vital as writing our senators, and hosting potlucks is as important as doing soil samples. To me this is more than just “green living” though that is of course part of it. It is about living together. It is about, in Peter Forbes words, another way of being human””a way that protects both land and people’s relationship to the land. He calls this “connecting soul and soil,” to which I would add society.

How does community and conservation intersect in your life? Let us know in the comments section.