News From The Field

Replacing hubris with humus

03 October 2013

By Martin Ping, Executive Director at Hawthorne Valley Association

Recently, I was filling out a form where I was asked for my ethnic origin. As I scanned through the list of choices I decided on “other” in deference to recent articles I have read citing that, as human beings, we may be only 10% human and 90% bacteria (see TED Talk by Bonnie Bassler of Princeton University). As I ponder the implication of such a discovery, I can’t help but wonder if it doesn’t represent a physical expression of a deeper spiritual lawfulness that we are all interconnected and interdependent, not just as human beings, but as a whole biotic community. If this is so, how can we give rise to experiences that will honor this truth and help us to re-member ourselves into this larger web of life?

Rachel Carson, scientist and author of Silent Spring, wished for all children to be instilled with “a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strengths.” The disenchantment and disconnect that Ms. Carson spoke of may be understood as root cause for most if not all of our modern day challenges. Environmental degradation, disproportionate distribution of wealth, and increasing signs of despair and desperation at all levels of society may spring from our self-imposed exile from nature and the subsequent loss of relationship, context, and meaning.

For instance, dualism and reductionist, materialistic thinking have permitted us to view nature as nothing more than a collection of resources to be commoditized and monetized for human consumption. In this mindset farming has become mining of the soil, plants and animals have become units of production, and eating, the delivery of minimum daily requirements at minimum price. In stripping culture from agriculture, the fabric of community has frayed and hubris too often replaces humus. This is not to ignore the fact that there is much to be celebrated in the realm of human ingenuity and creativity. But in our razzle-dazzle world, where time is measured in nanoseconds and efficiency becomes both the means and the end, are we allowing adequate space for reflection on what we may be sacrificing to the blind spot of our own cleverness?

HawthorneValley OliviaStrompf

Going forward (not backwards), I believe that farms can play a huge role in ameliorating the impact of alienation and isolation by reconnecting us to the land, to our own sense of self, and to each other in community. I am privileged to witness this on a daily basis at Hawthorne Valley Farm (, where children and learning opportunities are integrated into a diversified biodynamic farm. To see a child’s eyes widen with wonder as he or she pulls a carrot from the garden and discovers for the first time that “food comes from the ground!” is a reenactment of the sense of wonder that Rachel Carson wished for.

The growing, preparing, and sharing of a meal seems so basically human, and yet somehow this time-honored experience has all too often become a casualty of our highly industrialized, technological times. Technology clearly has its place—as servant, not master. It is all a question of balance. As such, are there experiences that we can provide our children, and can participate in ourselves, that bring balance to our lives, perhaps making us more whole in the process? Healthy farms, in addition to growing nutritious food, can provide nourishing opportunities for hands-on, place–based learning that offer a healing quality by re-connecting us to soil, soul, and society.

Martin Ping has been at Hawthorne Valley for more than 20 years. During most of that time, he taught practical arts in the High School and for 14 years was director of facilities and served as project manager on several million dollars of new construction projects. For the past ten years as Executive Director, he has balanced his time developing the working relationships amongst the Association’s diverse enterprises, and the 150 coworkers who carry those initiatives, with cultivating collaborative relationships between Hawthorne Valley and other organizations in the Upper Hudson/Berkshire region, as well as like-minded initiatives nationally and globally. He has been instrumental in initiating several new programs and has several more in the works. Martin is also co-founder and storyteller for The Magical Puppet Tree and has served on the boards of several not-for-profit organizations.