Responding to Eco-Anxiety: Educating the Next Generation Back to the Land

Reader Contribution by Jodi Kushins and Over The Fence Urban Farm
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A few weeks ago, the world learned the Amazon rainforest, affectionately referred to as “the earth’s lungs” is burning at an alarming rate. Upon hearing this news, I caught myself spiraling down into a dark place, feeling hopeless about the future of Gaia.

Sadly, after a growing season that started with torrential rains and rolled into months of urban drought, our little urban farm in Columbus, Ohio is offering a clear analogy to the climate crisis. The soil is dry despite my best efforts to keep it watered and the rats are stealing the last few tomatoes. Our farm, a place I can usually turn to at a moment’s notice to immerse myself in beauty and to do something meaningful, has become another site for my eco-anxiety.

Psychologists define eco-anxiety as “the overwhelming and sometimes debilitating concern for the worsening state of the environment.” Eco-consciousness led me to begin farming, could eco-anxiety propel me to keep going? Or would it cause me to give up?

Caroline Hickman, a psychologist who works with the Climate Psychology Alliance, works with adults and children to better understand and address eco-anxiety. When asked recently on the podcast World Affairs what advice she would offer those of us feeling anxious about climate change she replied, “I hope you do feel some eco-anxiety because that’s the price you pay for being alive and awake in the world and in connection with yourself and others and the reality we’re facing.” She went on to add “Feel enough to take action but not too much that you collapse into despair.”

I admit I have been despairing more than a bit lately. But Hickman reminds me I need to take a moment to celebrate the small differences I have been able to make. Because, while it’s increasingly clear we can’t control legislators in Washington, we can control ourselves. I need to recognize I’m making a difference everyday, on my own backyard farm.

As a teacher turned small scale urban farmer, I provide value-added products in the form of experiential education. Each season hundreds of people visit my postage stamp-sized farm and bear witness to an alternative reality. They learn about small scale urban agriculture and how farmers like me are rebuilding local food systems. I work with my CSA members to grow nutritious and delicious food to feed ourselves. Local garden groups visit to get new ideas for crops that grow well in our area and how to extend the growing season. And kids come with their teachers, scout leaders, and on their own to dig in the dirt, plant seeds, see how their favorite vegetables grow and taste new ones.

For the past three seasons I’ve hosted a kids garden club sponsored by my local farmers market.The kids think differently about where their food comes from after growing their own and selling it at the farmers’ market. They see firsthand the impact a dry season and invasive insects can have on crop yield. And they experience the joy of digging up earthworms and the satisfaction of feeding seeds from sunflowers they’ve grown to the chickens.

Parents often accompany their children, increasing the impact of the program. In addition to visiting my farm each week, we venture out to other urban farms throughout the city. Through these experiences they are exposed to the idea that growing food for other people, on small allotments of land, is a real possibility that can make a difference in people’s lives and change the way we relate to the environment around us. 

In addition to formally organized programs, people reach out to me informally to schedule farm visits. A few winters back a young man contacted me. At the time, Leo was a freshman at The Ohio State University which is just down the road. He had fond memories of gardening with his parents and was looking for a place to fill that void. I told him to get back in touch with me in a 6-8 weeks once the soil thawed. All my prior experience with adolescents and communication told me I wouldn’t hear from him again, but he remembered. Then one day he showed up on his skateboard. He’s been back a few times and even sent his sister and some of her sorority sisters over when she came to the city for school last year.

As I’m sure MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers are well aware, kids around the world will be skipping out of school today to raise awareness of our climate crisis. My almost 9-year old daughter will be among them, and I’ll be standing with her.

While I’m not convinced protests like this make much concrete difference, regardless of the issues they address, I still find myself drawn to them. I’ve brought my daughter to a number of rallies over the past few years. This time she’s bringing me.

And, when the kids at the rally ask me, “Are you doing all you can to help to slow our reliance on fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions?” I’ll have an answer. While I don’t yet drive a hybrid vehicle or have solar panels on my house, I’m making a small but beautiful difference everyday.

Jodi Kushinsowns and operatesOver the Fence Urban Farm, a cooperatively maintained, community-supported agricultural project located in Columbus, Ohio. The farm, founded in 2013, is an experiment in creative placemaking, an outgrowth of Jodi’s training as an artist, teacher, and researcher. Connect with Jodi on FacebookandInstagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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