More notable inspirations:
Quests and Tennessen Treks
Between 2009 and 2014, I led many adventure-learning alternative break trips for college students, first through the Quest program in Wisconsin, and then my own Tennessen Treks in Pennsylvania.
Eight trips were to Finca Pasiflora, a permaculture-based family farm in Costa Rica, and three were to the North Dakota Badlands to hang out with rancher, wilderness guru and park ranger John Heiser.
After my first Costa Rica trip, one of the women in the group said that she'd learned more in the eight days we'd been on the farm than in the two years she'd been in college.
She elaborated that she'd never felt part of such a strong community of other interested and interesting people, who all were invested in their shared experience and in her growth.
This supportive setting allowed her to feel engaged and enlivened and gain a better sense of self and purpose than ever before.
Her comments encouraged me to lead more trips, and to create opportunities for similar learning settings closer to home.
USDA Schools of Philosophy and Group Discussion
During the New Deal, USDA Director of Extension M.L. Wilson championed the ideal of "agricultural democracy," in which the opinions, values, and experiences of farmers became the primary force driving community development, with support from extension agents and other experts.
Wilson led the creation of two innovative programs, Schools of Philosophy and Group Discussion, which embodied these democratic values.
Thousands of farmers enthusiastically participated in the programs during the late 1930s and early 1940s, until they were cut during WWII.
These New Deal programs taught me that you shouldn't try to do community development without putting the community first.
Rural sociology Professor Jess Gilbert taught me about these inspiring programs during my master's research on land management conflict in western North Dakota.
Pictures from my final Costa Rica trip in 2014
New Deal "School of Philosophy" in the 1940s
by Travis Tennessen