By Helene Szabados

I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in. – John Muir,  John of the Mountains (1938)

Do you know the medicine that lies within the compounds of a forest? Have you tasted the wealth in eating food of your own cultivation? Do you remember your relationship with this earth? We, humans, have always been stewards of the planet, tending to her soils and spreading the magic of her waters. It seems, however, that our progressive social enterprises are reshaping our concrete relationships with our planet. As we begin to move deeper into a life of societal expectations and frivolous conveniences, we are also straying away from our role in the cultivation and management of this planet.

Peaceful World Foundation invited a network of organizations that work with the land to gather and discuss the following topic:

The joys of connecting with the earth, from urban gardening to rural farming.

We were fortunate to have Marlen Otten, a representative from Sustainable Solano, join us as a guest host for this conversation. Sustainable Solano is a grassroots, county-wide movement uniting people and their initiatives aiming to serve the future of Solano County as well as one of our 2017 grantees. We also had Maya Harjo, an organic gardener and Food-ways Coordinator from The Cultural Conservancy and representing The California Consortium of Urban Indian Health (both our 2017 grantees).



After an earthy icebreaker we began discussing the main topic by taking a look at a city experience versus a forest one. To be in a city is to have access to many social opportunities and growth with humans and to be in a forest is to physically connect with the planet and wildlife. Being a city slicker, myself, I admitted that because I did not receive a consistent exposure to the serenity of nature, I did not know much about this topic.  A few participants described growing up in a healthy balance of the social qualities that come with city life and the tranquility that accompanies connecting with nature.

One patron brought up the concept of Forest Bathing. Forest Bathing was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. Researchers primarily in Japan and South Korea have established a vast reference of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest.

Another participant expressed his experience fully enjoying the healing and peaceful qualities of nature when he is able to connect with others in groups. He also mentioned, “The combination of connecting with the earth together builds authentic memory skills.” Marlen described how urban gardening along with community gardens are great methods of building community and accommodate the balance of social and earthly connections. Sustainable Solano maintains two community gardens in Benicia – Avant and Swenson, and a Community Orchard.


Earth hits me on a soul level because we all come from the Earth. – Marlen Otten


A member from Peaceful World Foundation’s board of directors spoke of his observations of our food systems over several decades. “Everyone used to know a farmer… but now children don’t even know that carrots grow out of the ground.” Our friend from Cultural Conservancy related to his observations, one of her favorite and most frequently used questions to ask the children she works with is, ‘Where do Hot Cheetos come from?’ The truth is, children in today’s society regard nature as ‘gross and yucky’ but after mere minutes of playing with the earth, their concepts of land and nature change to an appreciation for nature.


The joy of connecting with the earth starts with putting your hands in the dirt and realizing it is soil. – Maya Harjo, Foodways Coordinator from The Cultural Conservancy


After a discussion on how we are becoming disconnected with the earth, Peaceful World Foundation’s Program Director, Heidi, posed a question to the table, “How are some of the ways one can begin connecting with the Earth?” The table discussed several educational opportunities we have when we are beginning our relationship with the earth. The first concept we spoke of was the differentiation between the conservation and the preservation of the planet.

Conservation seeks the proper use of nature, while preservation seeks protection of nature from use. Friends of the Urban Forest, Alex Javier, described how preservation takes the human role out of land management. Humans are a natural part of the earth but we seem to have forgotten our role in the earth’s wellbeing. 


Alex Javier, is the Education Manager at Friends of the Urban Forest.


Maya mentioned the importance of learning that the Earth is our ancestor. When we relate ancestry to working with land it builds a stronger connection. Another question she uses when working with children is, “Who is your plant-cestor” and went on to say some children know and some need to get a bit creative with their responses. A participant who works at a local after-school program described her experience of working with a child who was raised with the knowledge of her land. “It was inspiring to see a little girl revel in her ancestral knowledge. It pushed me to learn new things about the land I live on.”


“Who is your plant-cestor?”


A few participants brought up an idea and goal of creating a Heritage Garden, where you can find traditional plants from a variety of regions and learn about the plants from your ancestry and the traditional ancestral practices used to manage each plant. To reconnect with your culture through nature fertilizes an ancestral memory. Another idea that was brought up was a Food Garden. As opposed to visiting your everyday supermarket filled with overstocked produce and commodities, you can stroll through a garden of freshly cultivated food.



Photos from the Guardians Youth Program in Indian Valley Organic Garden


Our conversation concluded and I learned a vast amount of information about beginning to connect with the Earth. Some ways that we discussed about beginning our relationship with the planet include the following:

  • A walk through the forest can reduce stress levels and other health variables
  • Joining a community garden can build strong relationships with your community
  • Educating the youth of agricultural practices
  • Recognizing our role in the cultivation of the planet is the start to a sustainable future
  • Finding our ancestral connections to the earth

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The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. – John Muir, John of the Mountains (1938)