New Americorps Profile: Matt Bristol

Dear TGP supporters, volunteers, and lucky people who have found their way to our blog,

Hey y'all! My name is Matt Bristol, I hail all the way from New England, and I'm super excited to join The Garden Project as an Americorps School Garden Educator!

Moi^

I don't know if there was a real "lightbulb" moment when I knew I wanted to dive into the local food movement. When I look back at the trail that led me here, though, I can make out some cairns in the fog.

Studying abroad in the sensitive climate of Switzerland opened my eyes to a more sustainable way of life grounded in its own unique landscape. Classes on environmental politics, political ecology, and sustainable development allowed me to explore the geographies of climate change and globalization. My work in the Skidmore College Sustainability Office co-managing the bikeshare and volunteering with campus composting introduced me to the power of shared transportation and local food production to take ownership of their community, no matter how small. I've been interested in the relationship between people and place for a long time now.

Reading Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, Ed Abbey, Barry Lopez, and Gary Snyder in my free time also pointed me toward a deeper ecological ethic and a more holistic understanding of access to local, healthy food as an environmental justice issue. I think even my Zen practice and study continues to inform and reinforce this understanding.

These people write real good^. (left to right: Lopez, Berry, Snyder, Dillard, Abbey)

A few experiences along the way shook my idealism, though. A short stint at the EPA in Washington, DC turned me off to working in policy. I felt so far removed from the people who would feel the effects of environmental legislation. Naturally, I did a 180 and went to live on a small organic farm in Connecticut the next summer, stumbling into the tomato patches and kale forests, ecstatic, like a parched traveler stumbling into an oasis in the desert.

See? Kale FORESTS! 

Farming was hard work, but incredibly fun! I think I grew more as a person in that one season on the farm than in my whole college career. After coming home, I was restless. It was a classic New England winter, and I had cabin fever. I found the Garden Project to be a perfect next step - combining my love of growing and eating good local food with a desire to share this enthusiasm with others.

Between applying for TGP in March and coming out to Durango in August, I used some of my farm earnings to WWOOF (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in Norway. There, the only good local food was local meat - specifically, local lamb. Local vegetables were almost unheard of. I ended up working on both a lamb farm and one of the only small organic vegetable farms outside Bergen. I got to help sheep give birth in the April lambing season, and helped prepare 1.5 acres of newly plowed land for planting at the veggie farm, effectively doubling their size.

The lambs on the first day of being let out of the barn! And the fields immediately post-beet planting.

I'm constantly getting updates from them about how well they're doing, and seeing the once brown, stony slopes now overflowing with brassicas, beets, carrots, and flowers for the tiny town's restaurants and hotels is so gratifying. Farming in Norway also taught me how radically growers have to alter their practices to accommodate a different climate.

Western Norway was going through an historic drought at the time, and the vegetable farmers didn't know if the snowpack would provide enough water to keep the stream they used for irrigation running. It was an alarming introduction to the very real impacts of a changing climate, wholly indifferent to our human needs. When it finally rained after seven weeks of sun, we ran outside and danced in it.

All of these experiences have prepared and led me to Southwest Colorado, where, alongside Chloe Field, my Americorps parter-in-crime, I'm so excited to share my love of growing and eating good food with the kids of La Plata county!

Outside of my work with TGP, catch me on the trails, skiing, or just sitting on my porch reading a good book. 

Looking forward to diving into the community!!

Peace, Matt B