When Dawn Johnson dreams, she dreams impossible dreams.
Instead of home schooling her kids or putting them in Waldorf, she dreams of inspiring the administrators and teachers of School District 48 to think outside the classroom box by sharing statistics at PD Days about the tangible benefits of nature education. She dreams of kids who know what it’s like to turn a handful of seeds into dinner over the course of a wild Pemberton summer, and of Food Banks so full of fresh produce that no one goes hungry. She dreams of interpretive gardens that honour the wisdom of the Lil’wat Nation. She dreams of childcare options that free local women up to work, provide amazing jobs for local teachers, are financially self-sustaining, fund other stewardship projects and turn four year olds into nature-walkers who know the name of every fish and bug inhabiting One Mile Lake.
She’d be the first to say there are lots of people behind the success of these projects, but whenever I see something locally that really makes me want to fist-pump the air, Dawn’s involved. As the executive director of Stewardship Pemberton, she’s knee-deep and sweat-soaked in the work of actually making these dreams happen.
Most recently, she’s invested her energy securing funding and helping prepare an Agricultural Parks plan for Pemberton, picking up a seed of an idea that was originally cast out to the community by former Village of Pemberton manager of development services, Caroline Lamont.
This particular dream is a grand one: imagining the use of four parcels of land that the Village of Pemberton has far-sightedly acquired tenure over as community farms, injecting a dose of food security and affordability into the community. Each lot has its own potential and real challenges. The master plan that was developed by a consulting agrologist outlined those for attendees at an open house last Thursday.
Staff at the Village of Pemberton is compiling the community feedback and it will go to council in the next few weeks. I wrangled Mayor Mike Richman outside, just before he sat down to drink copious amounts of iced coffee with whomever wanted to vent at him at the May 5 Coffee with the Mayor to see if he shared my enthusiasm.
“We know that there are pressures on agricultural land everywhere you go, whether it’s due to changing climate or urban sprawl,” said Richman. “As a small town, this is something we can do about it. We have a connection to food here. As a community, not only is farming super important as an industry here, it’s a big part of our identity and our culture. It’s what’s drawn a lot of us here — the chance to have a connection with the production of our food. Our working partners, Stewardship Pemberton have brought the science to the table; the community has brought a whole bunch of ideas to the table. We have the land. That’s the big piece. And now we’ve got to develop some partnerships and look for some funding and see what we can do.”
Last week, I interviewed Lindsay Hagamen, a 30-year-old woman whose pursuit of connectedness and security led her to an intentional community in Washington State seven years ago. Their goal at Windward is not self-sufficiency, she told me. That’s not realistic. It’s self-reliance and cultivating a deeper sense of connectedness with what makes life fulfilling — nature, food, one another.
Imagine, I was thinking, as we were talking, if the 6,000 of us living here in the Lillooet River watershed could get aligned in a similar direction? We’re already a community by virtue of a shared postal code, dependence on the same social services, a common watershed and airshed. What if we just added a layer of intentionality to that, and said, “it be might random that you ended up my neighbour, but now, because you are, you’re my responsibility, and you’re my opportunity to feel stronger and safer.”
(Don’t worry. I’m not looking to take on any extra life baggage. I’ve got enough of my own.)
But imagine if my abundance meant my neighbour didn’t have to go hungry. Imagine if, because we invested in each other, just a little, the burden of sustaining ourselves got a little lighter, and a lot more celebratory.
“Do you think people will go for it, Mike?” I asked. “Do you worry they’ll say, ‘why don’t you just focus on the urgent issues at hand and forget these airy fairy visions of tomorrow?’”
“I’d like to think we’re doing more than just keeping the lights on,” he replied, as he jogged back into the Village office.
Indeed, Mr. Mayor, and shine on.