Written by Laura Lea Rubino, Team Coordinator, Team Maine
This past week Team Maine took a quick fieldtrip from the Belfast area to the Newforest Institute 15 miles down the road in Brooks. The Newforest Institute is a permaculture learning center and a reminder to us all that there are infinite ways to learn from nature, live off the land, and find satisfaction from knowledge and simple living. Newforest is a unique non-profit, and since its induction in 2007 the organization has used creative educational programs to inspire community cohesion and promote environmentally and socially just food production and consumption.
The Newforest Institute spans across 300 acres of untouched Maine wilderness. Most of the action at Newforest is concentrated in the ten acres surrounding the home where the director Lisa, her sons Ezra and Vernon, and three apprentices work, sleep, and cook sensational food. On these ten central acres our team was shown spiraling gardens, ponds, chickens, a moveable greenhouse, beehives, and fields full of bushes with edible berries. During our two-day stay at Newforest we learned a great deal about permaculture, wood splitting, and a plant called spilanthes that made our tongues go numb and drool spill uncontrollably from our mouths.
I spent much of our second day exploring the Newforest property with Lisa’s oldest son Ezra, who is eleven going on thirty. In preparation for a scavenger hunt that was to happen the next day, Ezra and I walked the land so I could learn the whereabouts of certain items being grown on the land. As we meandered through gardens and fields, Ezra casually gifted me with random facts concerning the plants, trees, and bushes growing around us about which I knew close to nothing. He shared with me many of their unique properties, conditions they must be grown in, and the seasons when they ought to be planted and harvested. Together we walked for half an hour, all the while eating various treats we came across: sugar snap peas in the garden, golden tomatoes newly ripe in the greenhouse, and the last of the wild blueberries from bushes in the meadow behind the house.
It did not take me long to realize that Ezra was rather different from your average American eleven year old boy. Thinking about other children I know who are around his age, I understood that my tour guide was someone very special. Ezra spoke eloquently, intelligently, and it was clear that he had a passion for the Newforest property and a deep relationship with every living thing growing in the ground. To be a witness to the connection that he shared with his home was a beautiful thing. And while I admired and could relate to the way Ezra ran barefoot around the rough ground without a care in the world, I was overwhelmed by sadness upon realizing that this type of childhood is a dying practice. Why traipse around your backyard picking berries and building tree houses when you could just stay in your room all day playing video games and watching you tube videos? Right?
I don’t think so.
Sitting on the front porch and indulging in a delicious lunch of salad, quinoa, and roasted veggies, Ezra and I had a great conversation about life in general. I asked Ezra if he watched much T.V. and his response was right along the lines of what I had expected: “Nope. I really just prefer to read books.” He listed some of his favorite books for me and then went on to describe his fascination with maps (specifically topographical maps of the ocean floor). After this Ezra filled me in on what he wants to do when he grows up. Quite simply he explained that he has always had a fascination with Japan and thinks it might be nice to live there for a while because, “It is just so green!” After living abroad he wants to be an environmental engineer, “Or maybe just a civil engineer that does stuff to help the environment…so I guess that’s an environmental engineer after all? I don’t really know.” Well to be honest I didn’t really know either, but I did know that if our world is to one day be left in the hands of children like Ezra, we just might have a shot at making it through okay.
I felt so fortunate to have met Ezra and to have gotten a small taste for the low-key yet exciting life he is able to lead at Newforest. He was happy, he was smart, and he was aware of his surroundings unlike any other kid (or adult for that matter) I know. To me, raising children like this is the only hope we have for reversing the effects of climate change and shifting society’s values so we all feel more compelled to live simply and sustainably, not to mention happily.