Every person who passes through Lily Springs Farm can identify that there is something different, something significant about the place. However dulled our senses may be from phones, the news, traffic, and the daily demands of life, all have recognized the magic that imbues the air, the shadows, the dirt of Lily Springs. Some visitors cannot put words to the feeling, and simply say, “There’s something special going on here.” Others resonate with specific projects and gravitate towards our pollinator protection work, the livestock, or the low-waste weddings. A few delightful folks, however, visit often enough and over a long enough period of time to begin to see the inner workings of the farm. They learn to differentiate between the wider world’s approach to sustainability and our land ethics. Avery, our current HECUA intern, fell gracefully into her role at Lily Springs Farm, and we’ll sorely miss her work ethic and curiosity when her internship ends this month. With deep gratitude for her season of contributions to projects, conversations, and future visions for the farm, I share Avery’s reflections and observations about Lily Springs Farm.
Signs of Regeneration
As the days grow increasingly shorter and a layer of snow settles over the frozen ground, working outside becomes more intentional and the cold air creates space for introspection and reflection. During the past three months, I’ve observed small, incremental change in the landscape at Lily Springs Farm, slowly learning to pay attention to easily overlooked signs of regeneration. Working alongside living ecosystems reinforces a natural connectedness we have with the changing seasons, fostering a closer relationship with the landscape and the many beings that occupy it.
During the past three years I’ve spent studying environmental science, I’ve encountered an ever-increasing divide between practices labeled as sustainable and actual connectedness with our environments. We draw a line in the sand between what we consider natural spaces and what we consider human spaces, rarely considering that human habitat has rapidly encroached upon most “natural” spaces to some degree. Our environment is all around us, and we occupy it with millions of other organisms whether it is urban, rural, remote, or densely populated. Sustainability is a term that has been adopted into mainstream vocabulary, popular culture, and marketing. Consumers are increasingly aware of and concerned with environmental issues, which is in many ways a huge step forward. Yet we face the ever growing issue of marketable sustainability, which often lacks depth and holistic systems thinking.
As an intern at Lily Springs Farm, I’ve been able to observe agricultural practices that go beyond sustaining a broken system and instead seek to regenerate the land and create long-term ecological resilience. Designing agricultural systems that work with earth’s natural energies creates mutual reciprocity and forges a deeper connection with the land.
This semester I have been studying off-campus, trading the University of Minnesota’s classrooms for a multitude of locations around the Twin Cities through HECUA (the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs). I’ve spent the semester studying ecological and community resilience in the face of climatic disaster and environmental devastation, observing the ways communities around Minneapolis have been impacted by structural and environmental racism. It is impossible to address the issue of food insecurity in our own communities without examining the agricultural systems that are currently feeding us. Issues of environmental justice are intrinsically tied to agricultural processes, processes that disproportionately create pollution in communities of color and only further the chronic lack of access to affordable, healthy food. Monocultures of corn, soy, and wheat are not sustaining us or the land. We can no longer afford to create food systems that destroy biodiverse ecosystems, pollinator habitats, and soil integrity. Designing regenerative agricultural systems can instead restore degraded landscapes, create carbon-rich soil, and feed communities.
Regeneration is a step beyond sustainability, and it cannot be sold or manufactured because it takes patience and effort. Merely sustaining patterns of harm and hoping they won’t continue to grow is not enough, we must break old cycles and make deeply rooted changes. Watching the landscape at Lily Springs shift through small-incremental change offers me hope that we can begin to heal our communities and the degraded lands we occupy.