In June, 2000, the city of Windsor, Ontario hosted the Organization of American States General Assembly. I had just started my first full-time public policy job and was excited to attend such a high-profile event. Rallies and protests were already familiar spaces to me and I considered them important opportunities to encourage political change. That afternoon in Windsor, though, was the first time I marched in a tailored suit and heels because immediately afterwards, I would be going “inside” to attend the OAS opening ceremony.
At that time, there was an active debate about “inside” and “outside” engagement strategies among civil society. Was protesting “outside” an effective way to raise issues and influence change? Was meeting with officials “inside” indicative of selling-out? Was it possible to do both with integrity?
In the decades since that march through Windsor, I found myself exploring multiple (false) dichotomies: do we offer charity or work for justice? Does personal action matter—or is collective engagement the only way to go? Can “the system” be effectively reformed or does justice require wholesale transformation?
The essence of each of these debates is this: what is the best way to work for social change?
Advocacy and public policy are part of my being and the pursuit of justice is a responsibility I take very seriously. Over the course of my career, I’ve marched in several countries. I’ve met with Cabinet Ministers and Opposition leaders, backbenchers and Parliamentary Secretaries, high profile academics, religious leaders, and activists. I’ve coordinated advocacy campaigns, led workshops, and delivered sermons. I’ve written hundreds of letters, articles, and discussion guides. And, I’ve made more phone calls than I can count. Political engagement has been my go-to tool in the work of creating positive social change. But it isn’t the only way.
By the time this article is published, I will have left CPJ to farm full-time.
We’ve been on this land for more than two years already: working, learning, building, and growing. Still, the move to full-time farming is a big deal. I’ve been engaged in the work of social, ecological, and climate justice my entire adult life (including the last 14 years at CPJ).
On the surface, going from policy analyst to wool farmer might appear to be a complete 180 degree change. It isn’t. In my climate justice work with CPJ, I’ve often emphasized that “we protect what we love.” And though I didn’t aspire to be a farmer, I have discovered groundedness, connection, and love in this work. Farming has eased my climate anxiety and brought me closer to some of the practical solutions required to address the climate emergency.
Going forward, my day-to-day will look very different. What’s beautiful to me though, is that this career change is really about finding new ways to continue the work that I have always done.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson (marine biologist, policy expert, and writer) developed a strikingly simple and useful resource that resonates deeply for me: the Climate Action Venn Diagram. (Admittedly, I am quite partial to a good Venn diagram!) What I really like about it is that it moves us away from a linear, predictable, checklist to a more nuanced and personalized approach to climate action. Dr. Johnson asks the question, “How can you – specifically you – help address the climate crisis?” She offers three questions (see illustration below) that together lead to your answer.
There is real value in the approach that says:
- Do this to reduce your emissions;
- Write to this politician to press for change;
- Talk to these people to build the movement; and
- Go to this march to amplify these voices.
It’s a path I’ve travelled for decades and I appreciate its clarity and direction. What’s lacking, however, is a focus on the unique gifts, passions, and abilities that each of us bring. Dr. Johnson’s approach emphasizes everyone’s individual agency and signals that both personal and collective action matter—as do both personal and collective well-being. She encourages everyone to “get to the heart of your climate Venn for as many minutes of your life as you can!”
Though my personal journey has centred on research and advocacy for better public policy—and I’ve found tremendous satisfaction in this work—it has also included making, mending, upcycling; sourcing natural and recycled fibres for my knitting; as well as reducing energy consumption and waste. Now, it also includes growing my own food and yarn, practicing integrated crop-livestock management, and creating useful products from waste (ask me about our wool pellets!).
Farming is definitely hard work, and we’ve experienced some heartbreaking losses. Still, there is something about being outside, in nature, connected with the source of my food and my craft, that for me is incredibly moving. The depth of joy I have found in farming is awesome. In other words, practicing regenerative agriculture most definitely sits at the centre of my “Climate Venn.”
Being an agent of change is about taking action that makes a lasting difference. For me, it is also about sharing the lessons we’re learning from the plants, the animals, and the very land that sustains us. It is an ongoing journey of reflection, exploration, and engagement focused on the nurture of self, soul, family, community, and creation.
I know that growing spectacular pumpkins, raising healthy chickens that lay colourful eggs, and converting waste wool into organic fertilizer won’t in-and-of-itself solve the climate crisis. But I also know that modelling a life of relative simplicity and a mindset of abundance will make a difference. I know that practicing small-scale regenerative agriculture and sharing the ways in which our farming decisions can inform climate-friendly agriculture policy also helps.
Truth be told, I’ll always be an advocate, I might just go about it a little differently than I did before.