A Youth Lab for Agroecology

I wrote this article to create fertility for those working with education and farming, to share my vision of the future of agriculture, and to ask for help, since this idea is just emerging.

One year ago, I dropped the project of Agroecology Travelling School in my TCL notebook. I wrote this project in English after a friend of mine, Jose Edson Santos, told me that I should not « stay within the borders of France », and that students and farmers from the world should benefit from it. I wrote this project on TCL with the strong intention of bringing the Theory U inside the agroecology transition. The result: Rachel Hentsch (I am so grateful) found me and invited me to a TCL session

Back to France last year, I was thinking about how I could use U Theory to prototype the agroecology school, when Maurice Sanciaume, also into U invited me to connect with Dieter Van den Broeck, who happened to be my internship supervisor 8 years ago. Dieter told me about this Youth Lab idea they are implementing within his organization, Commonland. I love this idea, and Maurice is helping me to make it happen.

I will explain here the context of a Youth Lab for Agroecology, adapting the amazing generative scribing drawing of Kelvy Birds for the purpose of this project. Be careful: even if I try to adopt a global point of view, there is a French influence in my article and some things have to be adapted to each context.

Seeing the challenge of Agroecology with a holistic view

Many people – from students of agriculture schools to neo-rural people – have a narrow vision of what is agroecology. Drawing 1 shows the 3 divides and their connection to some specific figures.

Ecological divide: We lose our soil, not only with erosion and desertification, but because we build supermarkets, residential areas, on our fertile soils. Climate change added to the loss of biodiversity is catalyzing the loss of resilience of our landscapes. This comes from the disconnection between Self and Nature. 

Social divide: Producing healthy food is the most important job on this planet, but the society doesn’t connect with farmers through moral/financial support or getting involved in their projects. Many farmers work alone on their farms and don’t even eat what they produce. 1/3 of french farmers, aged more the 55 years old, plan to get retired within 3 years.

Spiritual divide: many farmers don’t really know anymore why they are doing this job. And despite the fact that 160 000 farmers are going to stop their activity within 3 years in France, we don’t have enough young people willing to farm to take care of all the land that is going to be free, and to produce healthy food.

The challenge of an Agroecology Youth Lab prototype would be:

Create a learning environment for young people to co-shape the emerging future for agroecology, by getting them involved in farmers projects at a landscape scale from global to local. 

> The « student », the one who gets involved in the « Agroecology Travelling School », would get involved in different agroecology projets in different contexts (from one region to the world) during a period of 6 to 12 months. The journey is built together with the participant, going through the U and starting with an intention. 

> At a specific landscape level, we would bring different communities and generations together and help them in the U journey, and, because there would be the Youth Lab « physical platform », the students that are participating to the Agroecology Travelling School would be the catalyzers, messengers, the « eyes » and « hears » of the farmers and other people who cannot travel so much. Here, the student has a beautiful responsibility: not only learning and helping farmers in other regions/countries, but based on the understanding of the needs of the local communiiteis, they will be getting ideas that were born in a different context, and adapt it to their own landscape. 

> At a global level, the student will catalyze the communication between farmers in different countries, by adding a human level at the technology level (social networks already help farmers to share their ideas but that’s not enough). I give here the exemple of Sébastien, a farmer from Quebec that I met during my own experience of travelling around the world. Many farmers saw the interview I made of him on Youtube, but when he came to France, I « catalyzed » exchanges between him and farmers, resulting in 2 French farmers experimenting his agroecology methods in their own farm.

A vision for farming in 20 years

Working with farmers for 9 years now, and even more the last 2 years since I stopped teaching to live and work directly with farmers in 13 countries, I could let emerge, together with them and with communities around them, a future for agroecology that I can sum up like this:

  • From Ego-system to Eco-system farming: not only farmers will make decisions from a deep connection Self-Nature, but they will also have a collaborative way of working on the farm. The « Ecosystem farm » is an emerging model on the planet. Some « big scale » farmers don’t want to work alone on their farm and manage one production anymore. They want to diversify the farm and invite people from different backgrounds to work with them. This is an incredible opportunity for youth to start working on the land, and for the land to be transferred into « good hands ».
  • « What is it like to be you? » I love this sentence from Charles Eisenstein, which sum up how different communities could learn from each other with an open mind, open heart and open will. This mindset would help farmers connect with citizens, and citizens understand farmers life and challenges.
  • The new generation of farmers need to know the Holistic Management decision making framework.
  • Agroecology landscapes and fields would integrate animals as a tool to regenerate the land, successional agroforestry (or Syntropic Farming) to cultivate not only horizontally / one year but vertical / long term, diversify productions, create biodiversity and build farm resilience. Animal and trees are 2 tools that, for me, are necessary in a « No pesticides / no-till » challenge. 

A learning environnement 

To go through the U journey for Agroecology, at a personal, landscape, and global scale, we need to create safe and supportive places, platforms and environments. 

  • Students AND other generations and different communities would gather regularly in a farm, to connect to the soil and practice agroecology together
  • The core team would help students and other people to create a learning environment using the Presencing Toolbox.

The Youth Lab for Agroecology would include the Agroecology Travelling School (ATS). Let’s illustrate that using Bretagne (North West of France) as the region for setting up the Youth Lab.

We have a group of 20 students from 18 to 25 years old, wanting to follow the ATS course during 1 year. They will start by gathering in a farm during 2 months, to connect with themselves, the place, the local challenges, and build their agroecology journey, with the help of facilitators. During those 2 months, they will be at the center of the Youth Lab, connecting with the landscape going out and seeing what is happening. One student choose to travel in Brasil and Canada to get involved with agroforestry and no-till organic farming during 6 months, because he sensed that this might help farmers in Bretagne and… all the landscape resilience. Coming back from his journey, he will use this experience, together with the 19 other students, inside the landscape.  

Drawing 2: Youth Lab for Agroecology : the vision and journey

We need help to build this project

I wrote « We » because the « Les Agron’Hommes » community is growing, but I am stil the only one in the team that is devoting all my day time to this project. Yet, I have a moral support from so many farmers, students, teachers, citizens who everyday tell me that this project is amazing. And I feel that the resources for this project are on their way, that’s why I am writing this article. The Youth Lab for Agroecology might be the Agroecology School of tomorrow. 

Some ideas for you to get involved:

> Need inspiring musics (made local, if possible) for the agroecology videos of my Youtube Channel

> Need people to translate videos (english/french/portuguese and other subtitles)

> I need creative people who would like to inspire youth with their video making, photography, drawing skills related to agriculture

> Need a project manager since my creative and pedagogy skills are taking over

> Need people who could help to organize the first Agroecology International and Multi-Generations Festival, especially facilitators in the U journey and generative scribing facilitators 

> And yes, if you have a bit of funding to start the prototype, that would help too 😉

Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtJyZlRgsqX2qSkeJtHHLzQ

Get involved with your talents: https://forms.gle/czXGgVaBt37pYxM28