What Could Possibly Go Right?: Episode 98 Kristin Ohlson

April 24, 2023

Show Notes

Kristin Ohlson is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. Her newest book is Sweet in Tooth and Claw: Stories of Generosity and Cooperation in the Natural World. Her last book was The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers and Foodies are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet, which the Los Angeles Times calls “a hopeful book and a necessary one…. a fast-paced and entertaining shot across the bow of mainstream thinking about land use.” She appears in the award-winning documentary film, Kiss the Ground, speaking about the connection between soil and climate health. Shorter pieces have appeared in The New York Times, Smithsonian, Discover, New Scientist, Orion, Aeon, Ms., Oprah, Gourmet, Salon, American Archaeology, and more. Her work has been anthologized in Best American Science Writing and Best American Food Writing.

She answers the question of “What Could Possibly Go Right?” with thoughts including:

– “Cities and human societies are marvels of cooperation”

– “There are a lot of people in journalism… who are looking for the solutions and looking for positive examples to spread around”

– That “every living thing has a mutualism, a mutually beneficial relationship with other living things”

– That “a big part of it is storytelling… when something brilliant has happened in these small incremental steps of healing relationships or the natural world; to tell the story, multiplies it”

Connect with Kristin Ohlson

Website: kristinohlson.com

Twitter: twitter.com/kristinohlson

Music: “Bumbling” by Pictures of the Floating World is licensed under an Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. https://freemusicarchive.org/music/Pictures_of_the_Floating_World/Bumbling


Kristin Ohlson: Despite the clouds on the horizon, really humans are already incredibly cooperative. We are already capable of astounding deeds of, of reciprocity and cooperation and generosity.

Vicki Robin: Hello, Vicki Robin here, host of what Could Possibly Go Right, a project of Post Carbon Institute. We interview cultural scouts, people who see far and serve the common good and social artists, those creative imaginative people who see where change can happen and then act.

My guest today is Kristin Ohlson. She is an author and freelance journalist who lives in Portland, Oregon. Her books and essays range wide, but all seem to explore themes of surprising relationships that knit nature and human lives together in a transactional world of competing interests. She sees how we are here for one another.

In her latest book, Sweet in Tooth and Claw, she tells stories of mutualism, how plants and animals weave together to create life everywhere on the planet. When I was writing my own book, Blessing the Hands That Feed Us, about local food systems, her prior book, Soil Will Save Us, was a big inspiration.

Kristin has published articles in the New York Times, Orion, Discover, Gourmet and Oprah and many other printed online publications. Her magazine work has been anthologized in Best American Science Writing.

Ohlson says she grew up in a small agricultural town in California’s Sacramento Valley, and her parents didn’t worry if she was bored or lonely, so when she wasn’t in school, she would spend hours in a nearby vacant lot riddled with ant hills watching ants hustle back and forth, and occasionally inserting herself in their lives with a spoon full of sugar or sticks to block their paths. This is where her interest in both science and nature began, and now my conversation with Kristin.

Hello Kristin and welcome to What Could Possibly Go Right. Our premise is simple. The dark clouds on the horizon are as menacing as any civilization has faced. The media engenders hysteria, but journalists like you dig for the stories of creativity, adaptation, and the new forms emerging mostly out of sight.

There’s a Chinese proverb that says, a crisis is an opportunity riding a dangerous wind. Guests like you help us squint through the entangled problems to see the opportunities. There is so much in your recent book, Sweet in Tooth and Claw about mutuality and reciprocity in the natural world.

So here’s what I wanna know. I wanna know what lessons we can learn. Years ago, an indigenous educator put up a slide of a meadow at the edge of a forest. She then said, these are our elder brothers. We are the youngest species to walk the earth. At that moment, I could not fathom that the grass was my elder. So would you explore with me the lessons we humans can learn from forests and coral reefs and meadows?

What social and cultural patterns do you see emerging that mimic in some way the wisdom of the meadow? For example you told a story of ranchers, environmentalists, and government, normally enemies, forging an alliance. There are lessons there for all of us in communities trying to reverse the harm, save what we can, and heal our landscapes even with vicious polarization.

Is it that stories will save the world, that we need to hear about where opportunities are growing in the cracks of the sidewalk of civilization? So that’s what’s up for me. In other words, in the midst of all that is going awry, what could possibly go right?

Kristin Ohlson: One of the things that I like to talk about is that, despite the clouds on the horizon, that really, humans are already incredibly cooperative. We are already capable of astounding deeds of reciprocity and cooperation and generosity. I live in a city, I don’t know if you live in a city, but I live in a city and I live in a city with a lot of problems. Portland, Oregon.

I think it’s sort of a habit for all of us to talk about how terrible everything is, how broken down everything is, how broken down human relationships are and associations are. But, I think that we always have to remind ourselves that cities, that human societies are marvels of cooperation.

One of my favorite things to remind people of is when a movie is playing, when you’re in a movie and it’s in a city and you hear the sound of a siren and that is an indication that in movie speak, that’s an indication. Something terrible is happening or something terrible is about to happen, and I always think, no, that means something good is happening.

That means help is on the way. That means people have set up systems to help each other when there’s trouble. So I do think that we have to step off the panic perch about the way we view ourselves and our world to begin with, and, and stop looking at it as everything is broken down, everything is falling apart because there are so many ways in which we are cooperating and helping each other, and trying to cooperate with the rest of nature.

And we’ll miss that. We will miss that if we only take this image of breakdown and despair in our head. So that’s one thing I would always like to push out there into the foreground.

I think so much of what is happening now, so much of what is changing now, and I guess I’m part of that trend, I never thought of it when I was going into it, but our journalism is kind of broken. I shouldn’t say that because I just finished saying that we shouldn’t say everything is broken, but I think our journalism has some problems. our journalism is so animated by, What is the most alarming headline? What is the most alarming news? What is gonna get the most looks that the advertisers will reimburse the media for? And of course we do need to know the terrible things that are going on in the world because if we don’t know the terrible things going on in the world, then we can’t act to fix some of those terrible things.

But on the other hand, I think our journalism for years, as long as I’ve been involved in it, was really skeptical of the idea of reporting on good things. that’s kind of like reporting on paint drying or, that’s sort of the soft headed way of going about looking at the world, I think one of the really positive trends these days is that there are a lot of people in journalism, there are a lot of people writing books who are looking for the solutions and looking for positive examples to spread around.

So I do see my book as being part of that trend. and, and there are others, I mean, David Byrne, the rock and roller David Byrne has an online news vehicle called Reasons to Be Cheerful, where he not only collects stories of solutions that people are implementing around the world and good news that’s happening around the world, but he also even assigns reporters to go out and find stuff out.

So I think there is a trend that is rising, that can give us something to hold onto in terms of solutions. And God, I felt so lucky to write this book. I felt so lucky that somebody like Patagonia was interested in having me write this book.

It was a wonderful thing for me to experience talking to not only the scientists who are kind of reversing years and years, decades of a fascination only with conflict and competition in nature and looking at cooperative relationships among living things. So that was very exciting for me to pursue.

But then also, In the chapter that you talked about, getting to talk to those ranchers and scientists and government agency officials in Eastern Nevada where they’ve done something that is remarkable in so many ways. So just to give the backstory on that: The scientists and the people from some of the government agencies in that part of the state were concerned about the degradation of local streams.

And the reason that they were really worried about it is that there’s a local trout that’s indigenous to those creeks and they were worried that the creeks were getting too warm and too shallow, and the creeks dried up. It’s a very hot, hot part of the country. It’s very hot, stark part of the country. And the creeks would always dry up in the middle of every summer, and they were afraid that it was just going to be impossible for these trout to continue to survive in these streams. So they went and approached the ranchers in that area and it’s a huge ranching area, and we’ve all, probably everybody that listens to your podcast has heard about the conflicts among ranchers and government agency officials in the past. Anyway, these people went out to the ranchers and said, look, we want you to try something to improve the creeks. We want you to try grazing your cattle differently.

And of course, the ranchers, their first reaction to that was, they don’t want people telling them how to do their grazing. They’re the ones who are making a living at that, who are these other people to tell them how to change their grazing. And, also there’s a lot of sensitivity on the part of those ranchers, they’ve been hearing for years how they’re the ones, their livelihood is what is ruining the west, and they’re sensitive to these questions. But anyway, they did, they do wanna get along with those scientists and those government agency officials. So they did start to try to change the way that they graze to see if that made any difference for the creeks and they didn’t think it was going to work.

They didn’t think that that area had ever been any different. They thought that the creeks had always been shallow and that the creeks always dried up in the middle of every summer. And, that that was a constant until they did, they started to do a little research showing that over a century ago there, those creeks had been more vigorous that it had been a wetter landscape. So they did start to change their grazing and they didn’t change it so that the cattle could never go to the creeks, but they, the cattle could only go to the creeks early in the year, and then they had to stay away from the creeks.

And that was a big hassle. It meant that they had to use fencing around the creeks. It meant that they had to keep chasing their cattle out of there and untangling cattle from getting stuck in the fences. but then they were pleased. Everybody was pleased when vegetation started to grow up along these creeks, vegetation that hadn’t had a chance to really prosper before.

But then the ranchers were alarmed when they saw that beaver then moved into the area and started to cut down that vegetation and started to build dams and all that, because beaver and ranchers have a long bad relationship. Beavers are always messing up their irrigation systems and stuff like that, so there’s a long bad relationship there.

But anyway, the scientists and the government agency officials said, well, let’s just watch. Let’s wait, see what happens. And so they all watch and continue to try to improve the landscape with the grazing. And it was just like this miracle on the landscape where over a number of years, not tremendous numbers of years, because the beavers were building these dams and slowing down the creeks, and so instead of the water rushing through the watershed and out to sea, the water started to spread out on the land, and the vegetation started to spread out on the land.

Then the vegetation and the ponds that the beavers were creating and all the kinks in the rivers that started to come about because of it, started to change this area into a wetlands instead of a dry, dusty desert, and the actual water table of the land changed. So that was a miracle, but also because these people, some of the scientists and some of the ranchers really wanted this cooperative effort among these three groups of people to work.

They really put a lot of effort into making sure that they were cooperating with each other, that they were speaking with each other. So they started having meetings, monthly at the beginning, and then several times a year later where they would all sit in this big room together around a big round table or around a bunch of tables that had been turned into a circle so that there was never somebody who was at the head of the table that everybody, everybody had a voice.

Everybody opinion was respected. They even had a social worker there who deals with conflict too, to help if there was a sticky angry moment. And as a result, these people now have new relationships and new respect for each other and, and just a new way of dealing with these questions about how do we work on the land and how do we work with each other that’s being exported to other areas because it, because it worked, not, not only have the creeks been, the landscape been improved for wildlife, which it certainly has, I mean, not, not just the beaver and not just the trout, but all these other birds and amphibians and creatures that are drawn to that area. but the ranchers’ lands don’t burn the way they did, you know? In the heat of the summer. there’s more forage for their cattle. It’s just been this incredible win-win for everybody and sometimes when I think about that chapter, I actually feel sort of teary. It’s just such a great story. Yes.

Vicki Robin: Yeah, it is a great story and I’m gonna pull out some of the little lessons that I hear. There’s also the thing you said in the book that they would start the meeting and everybody would shake everybody else’s hand, right?

Kristin Ohlson: Twice. twice. They would get up from around this round configuration and have what they call a serpentine greeting.

So one person would get up, yes, and then it would be kind of like pulling a pearl necklace around the outside. Everybody would go around the circle and shake hands and greet each other, and then they would stop and do it again the other direction, so that everybody was greeted. Everybody greeted each other twice, before the meeting would all start.

Vicki Robin: I just experienced there was, there’s a, I don’t have to do the long story, but some of the indigenous people here created a ceremony around a totem pole. They carved totem poles. They carve totem poles and bring them to conflicted areas, as an offering and very often the conflict will abate.

So in this particular ceremony, there wasn’t a totem pole, but, but there were about 50 of us there, and they did that. The elders started and they just went around the circle and it was so moving because I went around the circle and I got to somebody with whom I’ve had a lot of conflict and there I was, shaking hands with her.

So these rituals, I mean you can introduce a ritual if, if people trust you, you can introduce something that seems sort of granola. but I. I wanna pull out one thing, one thing you said is that the scientists asked if they would try something, so they didn’t come at them as the bad guys. They came in like, well, we have a thought here.

We have a possibility and would you be willing to cooperate? That’s so rare in this sort of polarization world. And so it’s more like an invitation with humility. Like, okay, maybe you won’t, or maybe there’s a, we have to wait a bit or what else do you need to hear from me? Or blah, blah, blah.

So I think that’s, it’s sort of courtesy. There’s something like manners that we sort of poo poo them like the Victorian era, but there’s something like manners. Even in the most conflictual situation there’s something like manners where the personhood of the people you’re in conflict with is honored. It looks like you might have something to say.

Kristin Ohlson: They weren’t entering into this effort by bringing in the point of view these people are assholes and we need to fix them. It wasn’t that at all.

Vicki Robin: Yeah, we need to create cooperative structures. And the other thing that I loved is that, we don’t know what seeds are buried in the ground that have not had the conditions to sprout.

It’s like, it looks like, dusty, dusty soil. It looks sort of sandy. But in the body of the earth, there are so many seeds and there’s a word called serotinous. which is basically seeds that only open and sprout after fire. Right. And, and so it’s, that’s what I’m hearing that you create, we go at problems like, sort of like frontally, and if you create pay, pay attention, pay attention to creating the right conditions. that can make a difference and that’s sort of behaving like an, a part of an ecosystem. It’s almost like what I’m hearing is that this situation was mimicking the reciprocity and, and mutuality in an ecosystem where at some level, we can’t project how that consciousness is happening at some level, every member of the system understands that it’s the mutuality that creates the prosperity of the system.

So like, do you have other stories? I think those are the main things. And also I just had the picture of what if my county council, instead of sitting on a dais and we sitting in, like with our two minutes to talk to them, what if we all sit in a circle around a table?

I think it would be transformational. but anyway, so just other reflections. I singled out that story, but you in ecosystems that were degraded and now are flourishing, what kind of interventions happened? What was the relationship between people in the land that changed it?

Kristin Ohlson: Well another ecosystem restoration that I wrote about in the book was on the North River in Oregon, when, it sounds like such a simple thing where they, where all these groups finally raised the money, and did the, did the science, did the figuring out of what the problem was to remove a culvert that had been in place for 60 years. And it doesn’t even sound like it could be that big a deal that somebody put in this culvert 60 years ago so that a road could go over the top of a creek.

And it was just wrong. It was up too high. It was up so high that salmon and lamprey could no longer go up river. and, and they tried putting in fish ladders, but it still didn’t work for the salmon. And it was also sort of situated in a way that the wood and pebbles and just junk that lands in a stream that is actually really helpful for making habitat in the water, it wasn’t coming through the culvert and making a refreshing habitat for the salmon on the downside. And it really just seems like such a simple thing. Finally, they got the money and figuring it out what they needed to do, and they replaced this culvert and it was just an incredible change to the ecosystem upstream, the salmon started moving up and reestablishing themselves, not only in the places where they had been before, but even going farther up the creek.

And in that other chapter of the book, but before I get to the culvert part, we learned that one of the main sources of nitrogen, which is an element that forests really need to be healthy, that one of the great sources of nitrogen in forests in this part of the country are salmon carcasses.

When the salmon move upstream bears and other predators get out there and they eat a little bit of them, and then they toss their carcasses into the woods and the fungi that knit all those trees together and move water and nutrients and messages around the forest, they take that nitrogen from the bodies, that nitrogen that the salmon have brought from deep in the ocean.

So it’s like, the salmon coming into a waterway, it’s like a gift to the forest alongside. So then that was able to happen in the forest upstream of that culvert. it’s just this wonderful crescendo of goodness that comes from that. One seems like such a simple act of replacing a culvert that was mucking things up, and it took research to understand what was mucking things up.

And that’s, I really love Robin Wall Kimmerer because of all of her articulations about our relationship with the rest of the natural world, and she says many things, but don’t take too much and sometimes science a good tool for telling us what is taking too much or what’s doing the damage. so yeah, we definitely need science in these situations to figure out what’s going on,

Vicki Robin: Right? Where are the barriers? So taking a systems approach, and I think in our human systems too, I mean, it’s just such mutual battering rams right now and it’s not gonna get any better, I don’t think if it just is media fed. but taking time to see where the stuck place is. and the other thing I noticed in both of these stories was that groups that may not have any onnection with one another on a daily basis, they’re not knitted like a forest is knitted.

Our ecosystem of nonprofits and government agencies are not knitted together. And that, just like a simple knitting of three or four agencies, three or four, and together they can raise the sufficient amount of money to actually solve the problem. And a lot of times activists are sort of on the ground, punching our fists, in the air, just demanding change, but it’s not doing the knitting of agencies or groups where there’s a mutual benefit. One time I was doing a lot of networking and there was one organization that wouldn’t come to the table because they said, we are the table, you know?

Sounds great. So it’s that question of the pre-work. I, I hear the pre-work and then also the facility, what are the facilitating elements, Because you can’t just bring opposing things together and you presume that they’re gonna just turn out if you make a round table. So you know what are, what are the sort of social glue elements of how these things knit?

Cuz I’m sure that, if you went about collecting stories of how communities in relationship with the natural world in landscapes, how communities have mimicked, have become part of the ecosystem, have been, it’s almost like we represent, we’ve become representatives. We could become the voice of the ecosystem rather.

Kristin Ohlson: The last chapter of my book is about cities I got to meet with while my leg was broken, I got to fly to France and go to this conference of these amazing activists and visionaries and thinker-doers from around the world who are trying to make cities greener and more welcoming to the rest of nature.

And of course then that makes cities more welcoming to humans. so I loved watching that process going on. How can we adjust the way we have buildings and walkways and parks, and how can we do all this so that we are making room for the rest of nature. right? And, so the poster child for that effort around the world, I think it’s still Singapore. Singapore they have policies where if there’s a building going in and replacing an ecosystem on the ground, that there’s a lot of pressure, a lot of motivation to replace that, have that ecosystem, have that greenery and those plants and the animals that interact with those plants have them somewhere else, on top of the building going up the sides of the building. So it was. and I still marvel over this, that the city that Singapore has grown, the human population has grown, but at the same time, the green cover has grown.

We think of that as being those as being opposing in directions that those couldn’t possibly happen together. But they are doing that. And there are so many things that are coming out of that too. that there are, that they’re finding more native species in the area, that people who live there are becoming more aware of the native species and can know them. just so many wonderful, wonderful things happening at the same time, this braid of good things happening because they’re trying to make Singapore, something that welcomes all of nature, not just us.

Vicki Robin: It’s interesting how a principle that’s adopted by a government can make a difference. And back, I think in the early 1990s when I was working on Sustainable Seattle, we were just starting to develop indicators of sustainability. And I came across the story of Portland, which is probably not true anymore, but there was a principle that said everybody has the right to see Mount Hood and it governed the building. People could not build something tall in front of somebody else’s view.

And it’s probably obviated now. I live in a neighborhood in which there was a principle when it started, that you can’t grow trees through somebody else’s view. Of course, everybody did, and so people have lost what was most precious about having a house in this neighborhood.

So that’s just another lesson I’m deriving is how a core principle, not imposed, not like my values, like one principle could be God is in the center of everything. Well, there’s gonna be a lot of people who don’t believe that. But if you can still find that, that thing about if you build a building, you have to replace the nature that the building got rid of.

That sort of jumps to the top of the decision tree. It just sits there. And so underneath that, you have to make different decisions. The other thing, and I, and I know we’re sort of, we’re cranking along here and if you have to leave, you can just tell me, In the story that you told, and I may bollocks her name, Suzanne Simard?

Yeah. Simard. Yeah. you told a story of research, a massive research project they were doing about the forest and the results of that project were not gonna be within her life.

Kristin Ohlson: Right.

Vicki Robin: Yeah. And I think there’s something in there also in these stories that, and it doesn’t have to be politicians, it doesn’t have to be corporations. It doesn’t have to be any particular entity. It could be individuals or like the knitting club. But that idea that, the effects of what I’m doing, I know this is the seventh generation principle, but it’s even hard for humans, at least Americans, to think about; they can barely think about the next generation.

They don’t wanna pay their property taxes to support schools. Cuz I don’t have kids, I mean, we are just narrow minded. But, that sense, and that’s the way an ecosystem thinks if it reflects on itself is that this is for the long haul. This is not a short term answer. So, are there stories that you collected?

Around the impact of sort of intergenerational awareness, gratitude for the sidewalks that our ancestors put in, whether or not we like concrete and, you know and, and thoughtfulness about initiating things that you may not see in your lifetime, and you may not have the satisfaction of knowing that, your fingerprint is on it. So any of the stories that you recall.

Kristin Ohlson: Well, I mean, I think that every, every action that any of the people that I wrote about is going to create waves going forward. I mean, I think about the research in the chapter about agriculture. I mean I’m always blown away by how much research it takes, how much work it takes to understand what’s going on in nature. There will be some scientists that are looking at, studying very closely how bees are going into flowers looking, are they going in through the top? Are they chewing a hole in the side of the blossom? I mean, that is just painstaking, painstaking work.

So there’s that, all that science going on out in the heartland by Jonathan Lundgren and his students and colleagues as to, how we, how we raise our crops. What’s the difference between growing corn when it’s corn in a monoculture with rows and a bare area between it, this bare ground between it.

What’s the difference between that and these corn fields where they have corn growing in, in the midst of dozens of other kinds of plants, so that it looks kind of like a jungle, not like what we think of as a cornfield.

I mean that kind of painstaking research is going to make waves around the world in a very slow way, in very slow ways and, and one hopes in faster ways. But I think all that kind of work is really taking the future into its embrace.

Vicki Robin: So you just bring up something for me, is the question of the pace of change, and it feels like we’re right now running to outrun the consequences of the industrial growth society. Whereas the processes that are required for the healing and the preservation are slower because they’re relationships between human and building networks and, science, that accurate science.

But somehow or another, all of this needs to get out ahead of the train that’s barreling forward. Did you see, do you have stories about how communities of some sort, have accelerated the pace of their work while retaining the relational nature of it?

Kristin Ohlson: I’m not sure. I’m not sure I can really address that, but you know what, I honestly have to say that one of the things that struck me was how the pace of change in a natural environment can be pretty rapid. You know,, a lot of times we just need to stop doing the damage that we are inflicting on that landscape. So that was the case. that was the case when the culvert was removed and then the, the salmon and the lamprey could go back upstream, that area upstream returned to, an ecological balance much faster than anybody thought, or that when the ranchers changed their grazing, I mean, there were things that they couldn’t have anticipated, they couldn’t have anticipated what kind of seeds were still in the soil and were going to sprout and, start to grow, create this corridor along the creeks.

And they couldn’t anticipate that the beaver were gonna move in and change the landscape the way that they did. These were just things that the humans, the humans recognize what their damage was, but then it was kind of trusting in the rest of nature to know that the healing was going to start in some fashion.

Vicki Robin: That is so beautiful. We just have to stop. I mean, really, we just have to stop hitting ourselves over the head. Right. And then we’ll feel a great deal of relief. Right.

Kristin Ohlson: So I loved, there were two really great beaver stories in my book, and I loved the one that was at, at the end in the chapter about cities.

And it took, it’s a story from here in Portland where the engineers in the city of Gresham, which is just outside of Portland, they took the really progressive, enlightened step of treating wastewater from this industrial area, not by running it through a building with lots of pipes and chemicals, but by creating an artificial wetlands and having that wastewater go through this ystem that kind of looks like an intestine, but ull of grasses and plants and all that. And, and having nature remove the impurities from the water before it dumped into the slough. And one day the young biologist who was sort of in charge of keeping this system, staying on top of the system and making sure it was working the way it should, he was told, oh no, something’s wrong with the artificial wetlands. It’s not working right. And so she went out there anyway, she discovered that there was a family of beavers that had moved into this artificial wetland and had damned up part of it. because they had created what was just the perfect scenario for beavers.

It’s water and willows and other plants. Anyway, there was this long struggle where, the engineers who created this artificial wetland thought, we gotta get rid of the beavers. And so they would get rid of the beavers, move them out, and then another family of beavers would move in cuz it was a perfect place.

And then this young biologist said, well, let’s just see who does a better job, the beavers or the design that we came up with. And so, they tested the water that was going into the slough after I can’t remember how many different storms. Six, six or seven or eight different storms. One with the beavers’ work intact, and one with the engineer’s work intact. And of course, it turned out that the beavers’ situation was the one that cleaned up the water. It cleaned up because not only not only was the water laden with impurities going past all these plants, but it was going through these dirt dams, and grass dams.

It was just so wonderful. It was just such a wonderful lesson of how my God, there’s all these answers out there that we don’t know are there, and that we’re not necessarily ready for, but we should keep our eyes open for them.

Vicki Robin: Yeah. I just love this and, and as I listen to you, I think, boy, there’s so many young people who are so frustrated with what they’re inheriting. I mean, the weight of it is tremendous. And so what they find to do, there’s a branch that goes into protest, but do you find that there are young people flooding into ecology, biology,

Kristin Ohlson: Yeah, there are young people trying to make a difference. Young people going into science, there are a lot of young people going into agriculture, because they see the opportunity to, they see the opportunity to grow healthier food than what’s available to most people in the stores.

They see the ability to heal landscapes, make landscapes more diverse and more ecologically rich than conventional farming does. And I think that there’s, there’s been such an emphasis for decades that smart people go into working with their head. They should go and be a doctor or a lawyer or a writer or whatever. But there are a lot of people who wanna do both. They wanna work with their hands and they wanna work with their heads, and they wanna work on the landscape. And so, yeah. I just see so many, it’s super exciting to me. I’ll go to conferences, there’s a group and I think they’re headquartered in Washington, although their conferences are back and forth, called the Organic Seed Alliance. I love going to those conferences because, when the media reports about farming, they talk about, the graying of farming, you know that all the farmers are getting old and who’s gonna do it.

There are just so many young people there and they’re dying to, to have their own farms. And a lot of them are renting land to do farming. A lot of them are not only farming to grow food, but they’re farming to grow seeds, you know? They’re developing all these new varieties of plants that are more resilient in the face of heat.

So they’re just doing brilliant work. So I find that super.

Vicki Robin: Exactly, so if you come north, I invite you to come to Whidbey Island where I live because exactly what you’re talking about is happening here. Right. We’re, we’re storing the prairie with camas and we have an organic farm school and we have a growing number, I don’t know how many, but a growing number of farmers and we’ve developed a food hub so that farmers can sell through a system we’re developing. It’s so exciting to be amongst this growing honorable profession of farming.

And half the farmers are musicians. So, then we party on Friday nights. Right. And, and it’s just, it’s the most wholesome thing to live amongst this.

Kristin Ohlson: I remember years ago, my father-in-law who, he hadn’t come from a, a farming background, but he had come from a very, very poor background and, he was talking about some negotiation with a more powerful, wealthier person that he was in, and, and he, didn’t like the terms that this more powerful person was offering him. And he said, well, what does he think I am? A farmer? And I think it reflected the, the view of, of people who were growing up in the early 20th century, that they were getting off the farms and they were really gonna use their brains. And I love it that that is changing so much, and that you, you go to the farmer’s market or you go to these conferences and you see all these really bright, excited younger people and, and also so many people of color reclaiming their heritage in agriculture. Really fabulous.

Vicki Robin: Yeah. So I think we’re getting close to ending here. I could stay with you forever, but maybe not our audience. Is there a wind up, is there something that occurs to you to say at this point, given all of our conversations, something that’s missing that you wanna be sure people know, or just anything that you wanna say?

Kristin Ohlson: I just think it’s so, so you know what I’m looking for, I guess not all over the book, but in part that what drew me into the book was looking at mutualisms, mutually beneficial relationships among living things, kind of like bees and flowers and trees in the forest and fungi underneath the ground.

And it turns out that that used to be the kind of like an oddball crack pop science or subject of science years ago, 40 years ago or whatever. Now the people who started in those careers are sort of at the, at the forefront of all the exciting science going on. But I think that, and scientists won’t say that every living thing has a mutualism, a mutually beneficial relationship with other living things because they haven’t actually studied every single living thing.

But I think that we can assume that that’s the case, that every living thing has these beneficial connections to one, two. 50. I just saw a sign when I was hiking someplace about a certain kind of pine tree. And in this forest they were really on top of the science cuz it said that that plant, that pine tree has a mutual, have, has mutually beneficial relationships with 50 other species in the forest.

Then I think that’s probably just a tiny fraction of what we know. So I think that we have to understand that really the natural world of which we are part is held together by these cooperative relationships. That the natural world is sculpted and, and evolves with these, these cooperative relationships.

And if that is the case for all the rest of nature, surely it is also the case for us. And I think that if we can take that to heart, that, that we can figure out a lot of our difficulties if we can take that to heart, that, that message of cooperation and connection. We need to hold onto that, right?

Vicki Robin: Create the conditions in which we behave like we’re part of an ecosystem and part of that really, Kristin, is storytelling. Right? A big part of it is storytelling. It’s not manipulation to select one story over another. The media is often manipulative.

It’s just when something brilliant has happened in these small incremental steps of healing relationships or the natural world to tell the story multiplies it. So I just, I really thank you for your storytelling in The Soil Will Save Us, which totally influenced my last book Blessing the Hands that Feed Us and then, your storytelling in this and I think we’re all eager to see what stories you’re gonna collect in a while.

Kristin Ohlson: So nice talking to you, Vicki, and I admire all of your work so much.

Vicki Robin

Vicki Robin is a prolific social innovator, writer, speaker, and host of the What Could Possibly Go Right? podcast. She is coauthor with Joe Dominguez of the international best-seller, Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship With Money and Achieving Financial Independence (Viking Penguin, 1992, 1998, 2008, 2018). And author of Blessing the Hands that Feed Us; Lessons from a 10-mile diet (Viking Penguin, 2013), which recounts her adventures in hyper-local eating and what she learned about food, farming, belonging, and hope. Vicki has lectured widely and appeared on hundreds of radio and television shows, including “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Good Morning America,” and National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition” and “Morning Edition.” She has also been featured in hundreds of magazines including People Magazine, AARP, The Wall Street Journal, Woman’s Day, Newsweek, Utne Magazine, and the New York Times. She currently lives on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound and is active in her community on a range of social and environmental issues including affordable housing, local food, and community investing. For fun, she is a comedy improv actress, sings in a choir, gardens, and nurtures a diverse circle of friends.

Tags: building resilient communities, interbeing, media literacy, mutuality