On this day 49 years ago, Gaylord Nelson, a then US Senator from Wisconsin, spearheaded the first Earth Day as a national day to “raise public awareness and concern for living organisms.” Although now honored internationally, and recognized as the birth of the modern environmentalist movement, this important day did not come about easily. Struggling to gain support from his political colleagues, Nelson instead proposed April 22 to the American public as a day to speak out against the environmental issues they faced regularly. The first Earth Day received such strong public support that it galvanized Congress to acknowledge increasing environmental degradation, and to create important environmental protection legislation.
Here at Hawthorne Valley we feel a deep connection to Earth Day. Formed out of the vision of a group of Waldorf educators and biodynamic farmers, our founders realized the importance of farm-based education long before the concept as we know it today even existed. Like Nelson and the environmental leaders who came before, the founders of Hawthorne Valley thought long and hard about our unhealthy distance from the natural world, from the source our food, and from our sense of spiritual wholeness as individuals. They knew that experiencing the natural world that sustains us through a biodynamic working farm could greatly support our individual health, the health of future generations, as well as the health of our planet. This is the reason that Hawthorne Valley exists today.
As Earth Day nears its half-century mark, Hawthorne Valley, too, moves ever closer to its own 50th anniversary in 2021. So, in celebration of the 49th anniversary of Earth Day, and to fittingly launch our Valley Voices blog, we asked Hawthorne Valley community members a simple question, “What does Earth Day mean to you?” Their thoughts offer reflection on our present, hope for our future, and words of caution in an increasingly mechanized world. More than anything, though, they illustrate our innate connectedness to our planet and to each other, and remind us that, like those who spoke out during the first Earth Day, our voices can be a powerful force for change.
Here’s what they said.
Steffen Schneider, co-Director Institute for Mindful Agriculture
“Earth Day happens to also be my wife Rachel’s birthday, so this day holds an extra special meaning for me. Celebrating my life and work partner together with the honoring of our ‘Mother Earth,’ it doesn’t get any better or precious than that.
As a farmer, in many ways and in reality, every day is Earth Day, as the earth and the soil are the actual ground and support all our work is based on. And in this spring season, the fragrance of freshly turned soil, the smell of life, new beginnings…
I think it’s also fitting that we celebrate Earth Day on this particular day in April, because in the end, it’s the renewed interaction, the re-awakened relationship between the sun’s light and warmth and the Earth’s soils and plants that evoke the feelings of new life, letting go, breathing out, releasing, hope, and joy!”
Betsy Brennan, Program Manager, Hawthorne Valley Farm Children’s Program
“To me, Earth Day means honoring the future. It means paying attention to our actions and consequences, and remembering that they’re not our own, they’ve never been our own. To work with children is to witness the future every day, and on Earth Day, I feel renewed hope for what forces they will bring in the healing of the Earth.”
Cece Graham, Retail Manager, Rolling Grocer 19
“My family loves this reflective day, and I actually stretch Earth Day out to a full week of camping and walks through trails. Being mindful of all that the Earth is to us, beyond our home, is so essential. Earth Day, for me, is a chance to make a promise for another year of mindfulness of gratitude, and care to the only home we/I know. Earth Day reminds us through seasons, water, shade, nutrition, medicine and beauty. The amazing earth remains very special in our lives.”
Meaghan McKenna, 4th Grade Class Teacher, Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School
“The meaning of Earth Day is contextual – we can look at it both on a micro and macro level. I feel very fortunate to reside in this beautiful valley, and Earth Day serves as an added reminder to give thanks for the abundance that is provided to us through the farms, the forests, and the rivers and waterways that bring ever-new life to us each day. Earth Day is an opportunity for me to inwardly ponder my gratitude for the planet on that micro level, while at the same time I consider the hopes of mindful care taking of similar abundance all over the world. Each of us has a small part in the care of this beautiful earth and its vitality.”
Olivia Strompf, 3rd Grader at Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School
“Earth Day is Mother Earth’s birthday and a day to pick up garbage.”
Chandra Strompf ’03, Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School Alum & Farm Store Operations Manager
“Earth Day, to me, is about remembering the importance of taking care of our planet so that our children and generations to come have a clean and healthy place to live. In my family, we like to go pick up garbage on the road on Earth Day; it’s amazing how much there is. Everyday should be Earth Day!”
Tom James, Hawthorne Valley Board of Trustees President
“Earth Day calls for an ethic of care, not only toward nature all around us, but toward nature within us. That ethic teaches kindness, the greatest power in the cosmos. Treat nature kindly, around us and within us, and we can flourish together.”
Lucas Cipkowski, Farm Store Cashier
“Earth Day to me is a cry for help. We have become so detached from our home in nature that our practices no longer follow the rhythms of our environments, and we have fallen into habits that are substantially unsustainable. Today should spread a reminder to examine our everyday actions and impulses, and a message that if we do not change, the planet that we are born from and share may do so itself and cast us out to better its health. It’s not that we need to progress, we need to revert.”
Stu Summer, EARTH Program Lead Teacher
Thirty years ago, I said in a Hawthorne Valley School faculty meeting, “The children just need to get out into nature more.” Henry Barnes, one of the founding teachers and wisdom keepers of Waldorf education replied, “Yes, but it matters how you do it; how the children experience nature.”
Many of us feel a strong pull to be outside. We experience that “something happens” that is healing or restorative. Some of us do this through hunting, others through bird watching or botanizing, most just like “being” in nature. Many people treat nature as the most enjoyable exercise gym.
It is a little like the dynamic of a child to his or her mother/parent. Often, our mothers provide us with much of our physical, emotional, and early intellectual strength. As children, we return to them when we are tired, hungry, hurt, scared, or bored. Gradually the relationship can mature to one of touchstone, inspirer, mentor, collaborator, or friend.
In an unhealthy way, we can look on our parent as simply a source of material satisfaction, and we can do the same with nature. We can lack wonder at our mother’s inspiration, her resourcefulness and creativity. We can lack wonder.
The Earth is a wondrous being! And there is no doubt that we take her horribly for granted, enough to make her increasingly ill. Children have the possibility to experience all of her wonder: her wondrous ability to feed us, to heal us, to give us joy, and her ability to lead us to ever deeper meaning. This has life-long significance. The EARTH program strives to braid her beautiful, long hair with the garlands of human and spiritual wisdom that is Waldorf Education.
Carla Seddio and family, HVS parent
“Throughout the year, we strive to engage with environmental issues, to cultivate awareness and appreciation for our environment, to make progress through collaboration and conversation – and so Earth Day is a moment each year to come together to celebrate and honor our Earth and to re-confirm our commitment to our interconnected living community.”
John Feldman, Filmmaker & Farm Store customer
“Every day should be Earth Day: A day to celebrate water, soil, and food, and a day to marvel at the ecological cycles that sustain and nurture us. If we, in turn, nurture the Earth, then the cycle is complete and we can breathe easily.”
“To work with children is to witness the future every day, and on Earth Day, I feel renewed hope for what forces they will bring in the healing of the Earth.”
“Each of us has a small part in the care of this beautiful earth and its vitality.”
“We have become so detached from our home in nature that our practices no longer follow the rhythms of our environments, and we have fallen into habits that are substantially unsustainable.”
“The Earth is a wondrous being! …Children have the possibility to experience all of her wonder: her wondrous ability to feed us, to heal us, to give us joy, and her ability to lead us to ever deeper meaning. This has life-long significance.”
“Earth Day: A day to celebrate water, soil, and food, and a day to marvel at the ecological cycles that sustain and nurture us.”