Augustana College: Suburbanites Return to Their Roots

Sep 16, 12:14 PM

“To deracinate” means both literally and figuratively “to pluck or tear up by the roots; to uproot, eradicate, exterminate” (OED). And as Bill Kauffman writes in his excellent essay on Wendell Berry, “Wendell Berry on War and Peace” (in Wendell Berry: Life and Work), the cultural forces of deracination seek to ‘uproot’ people from their places and their homes to artificial communities of their employers.

But at Augustana College, that cultural trend toward deracination is one that some deracinated students are beginning to buck: they’re learning the importance of place and how to find value in local communities—in short, they are being re-racinated.

Wesley Acres Chief among those re-racinators are students enrolled in the college’s Environmental Literature and Landscape “Learning Commuinity,” a two-course program that requires students to read books on sustainability and then introduces them to the methods of sustainable living—though “introduces” is perhaps too soft a word.

Professors Jason Peters (English) and Charley Mahaffey (Geography) require their students to work at a local organic farm, Wesley Acres.

Working at Wesley Acres Farmed by Jim and Linda Johansen, Wesley Acres requires a kind of labor foreign to most of these suburbanites, though not so much because it requires them to get their hands dirty. More likely, it is because the work requires a closeness—a kind of care for their work, for their partners in work, and for the literal fruits of their mutual labor—that many of these students find lacking in the “nature preserves” of suburbia.

During their time at the farm, students have planted cabbage, harvested produce, and helped to set up the support structure for a winter hoop house. A couple of students even drove a tractor for the very first time. Heather Jeffers, a student in the learning community, was so moved by her experience that she and a couple of friends have headed back out to the farm on their own accord on several subsequent weekends.

Wesley Acres Beans For Heather, time on the farm has been invaluable, and she wrote about the appeal of the place in a guest blog entry on the Wesley Acres website:

“Maybe it is the ability to return to the roots of humanity, to working with my hands, to actually doing something worthwile, that makes coming out here so worthwile. Maybe it is being apart of what the Johansen’s are trying to do or simply helping someone out that makes me want to come back. Whatever it is, I know that when I leave, and Jim and Linda shower us with thank yous, I feel they are the ones who deserve the gratitude.”

Wesley Acres And the gratitude runs both directions here—as it seems to with all work done in the spirit of partnership and neighborliness. “[The partnership] is a breath of fresh air at the end of a long summer,” said Jim Johansen. “Imagine two Chicago area students enjoying the farm so much they brings friends out for a visit. That just makes life worthwhile.”


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