by Eden Kinkaid (2012 Byron Fellow)
I remember my time at Turkey Run fondly. I try to hold onto, to protect, the spirit it awakened in me. Byron was full of those moments that stay with you. Moments that frustrate and transcend explanation; moments that change everything moments that make their way in somewhere deep and reside there for a long time.
Byron left me with a sense of Having-Overcome. I am not entirely sure what it was that was overcome, but something definitely shifted in me after that week at Turkey Run, and it has yet to settle. Byron gave me a new vocabulary – orbiting around the words vision, authenticity, vocation – which has come to define how I move in the world. More than anything, after my week at Turkey Run, it seemed like everything was within my reach; anything was possible.
It is this same feeling that returns to me these days, catching me off-guard, surprised, amazed.
I’ve been in India for 8 months. This statement alone betrays explanation; the experience is not nearly as cohesive as this neat and factual sentence suggests. No, in the moments when I let everything arise – feelings, memories, hopes, fears – it all comes spilling out, seriously complicating the task of articulating for you, or even for myself – what I am doing here. Then again, maybe I am overdoing it; it is a simple enough task to explain the work I am doing here. But so much of me dwells underneath the surface, in the vague trailing of meaning and memory, so I hope we can remain attentive to these subtle things too – the stirrings of emotion, the moments of transcendence, the confirmation of intuition – that is to say, the finer scale processes of learning. It is this learning that was reawakened by Byron, and which cannot find a moment to rest here in India.
I vaguely remember the process of applying for a Fulbright grant more than a year ago. It occupied me for some eight months. I daydreamed and had nightmares about the possibility of living in a foreign country for 9 months. I dove into it, spending hours a day alone in the summer contorting my mouth to make the yet indistinguishable sounds of the Hindi language and rewriting my application essays over and over. Too, I ran away from it, giving up on it, shoving it off as too narrowly academic, too constrained. It both aggravated and soothed the struggle that has defined my relationship with my education since I was a child; on one hand, it demanded that I pay mind to the oftentimes reductionist measures of GPA and the self-flattery of my curriculum vitae, but it also offered something in return: an unprecedented amount of intellectual, personal, and financial freedom to carry out a project I dreamed up at a desk in my native Ohio.
So that is the simple story of how I got here: I applied for a research grant and got it. It is the answer I offer when I don’t have the energy to draw it all up, or when I sense my audience is not one for tracing my non-linear, fuzzy etiologies, for chasing after the connections which I suspect render my life cohesive, directed, divined. Maybe you’ll indulge me for a moment at least; maybe your path is crooked and winding too.
I guess it all started many years ago in my father’s garden. I remember a night alone in our ramshackle greenhouse, planting seeds in little peat pots under the florescence of the grow lights I received as a Christmas gift, unable or at least unwilling to wait until the sun returned before instigating new life. Or in the same season, years later, suspending plastic flats from my dorm room window filled with moist soil and happy tomatoes (it was nearly the perfect conditions in there, given the uncontrollable centralized coal-fired heating plant that cooked us during the transition from winter to spring). The labors of the first garden of my own. And the next year, when I dug up the front lawn of my college rental and achieved something nearly perfect, something wild and courageous, knowing all too well that it wouldn’t last. The scandalous play of smuggling unpasteurized milk out of the farmers market on my bicycle. Living rooms full of fresh warmth and glowing food at Saturday potlucks after the market. The eclectic scene of dreadlocked hippies, Appalachian farmers, and the Amish that converged at Chesterhill twice a week for the produce auction, the impulse buys and drastically over-budget bills, and the car stuffed full of melons and flowers leaving the gravel drive and gliding around the thrilling curves of the country roads. The plant exchanges with neighbors who too were working in their garden on that perfect and unseasonable morning. The anticipation of a lone swelling pumpkin, and the grief of its loss to someone who mistakenly thought I had forgotten about it (then again, maybe I had). The excitement, the prelude to spring, inaugurated when I pulled out an orphaned drawer full of seeds and began this year’s envisioning.
It is all this, and so much more – so much forgotten, waiting to be remembered; so much that has lived in me, decomposed, transformed, and lives again; so much that lives under my soil, lying in wait for the right conditions, the perfect opportunity to burst forth into fullness – that has led me to my passion for food. I don’t remember a precise moment when this passion first became articulated – maybe it was upon meeting the Black Krim tomato, or learning in PBIO 211 the molecular dance of an electron whose fancy footwork transforms sun into food, or bullshitting in a Appalachian double-wide house trailer with a full time seed saver and conspiracy theorist, with all his cigarettes and paranoia and stories filling the hot July air – but it seems like ever since, everything has gravitated around this passion. Maybe it was at Byron, two years ago, that I, seemingly rather casually and haphazardly, set the intention to realize my vision for food systems.
Yes, I think it was there, in the possibility café that something came into focus. At that time, a Fulbright in India was a distant and abstract possibility that had yet to fully possess me, though I was talking about it, which is the first step in manifesting. I set an intention to self-publish a booklet on seed saving, which has since found its way into many hands, as well as Cleveland public libraries, and will soon be reworked into a second edition and perhaps incorporated into a curriculum here in India. I’ve won several scholarships to learn about food systems, volunteered and been paid to teach kindergarteners, high schoolers, my peers, gardeners and other curious folk. I’ve written a 187 page manifesto masquerading as a thesis detailing my experimental holistic vision for agriculture and been met with accolades.
All this has led me to where I am now: leaning up against cow dung plaster walls at the School of the Seed, which has been my home now for eight months, recounting this journey to you. This place has done nothing short of transform me. What do the days here hold? The most fascinating moments, sitting amongst potatoes and peas listening as farmers talk about change, challenge, and opportunity as I try to understand what globalization is and what it could be. Conversations that bridge generations, nationalities, and cultures. Bellies way too full of organic food straight from the field. The regular visits of minds like Vandana Shiva and Satish Kumar. Perspective shifts and homegrown theories. Charged of global policy, intentional communities, and activism. Geckos in the bathrooms and bare feet all the time.
Here visions are being born all the time: over the table in the dining hall, amongst the three sisters in the field, on a crowded bus ride to the city. Moments where you can feel learning, how it stretches, aches, and comforts you; how it challenges you to change yourself, to live beyond your boundaries. A hotbed of transformation – not unlike Byron – where seemingly ordinary people seemingly randomly show up and make something happen. Something quiet, something subtle, something you might miss if you didn’t know that the most profound things are silent and invisible, like the force that animates the seed and everything that follows from it. I’m not quite sure what it is that happens in places like these – what happened at Byron, what has been happening to me here – but I trust that through this searching, this mystery, this overcoming everything becomes clarified, becomes manifest.