A regenerative food system requires a transformed financial system and plentiful patient capital.
We must nurture a mindset of relationship-building, of collaborativeness over competitiveness ... tapping into a new kind of social capital.
We must give ourselves permission to fail and learn from our mistakes.
TALKING WITH MARTIN PING oF HAWTHorNE VALLEY ASSOCIATION
Contributor: Susan Arterian Chang
Martin Ping believes that our greatest challenge, and opportunity, as we seek to overcome the barriers to the further development of the Hudson Valley Regenerative Food System, will be to recognize the importance of investing in social capital as an agent of change.
We are coming out of an old paradigm of a highly extractive, highly impersonal, and highly violent financial system that has steered everything toward the goal of growing financial capital for financial capital’s sake. We are now trying to find a way forward that is way more relationship-based, way more conscious and aware of each other’s needs. Hopefully we will be able to act out of that awareness in such a way that we can meet our own needs while not harming or detracting from someone else’s ability to meet their needs.
We need to build awareness that we are all participants in an ecosystem that provisions us with food and clothing and shelter and culture, and that that ecosystem is only going to be as healthy as the least healthy part of it.
Martin says once we have learned how to build the right kind of social capital, it will be easier to work on the built capital piece.
If our social capital piece becomes healthy and aware, then we can right away move into the built capital and say, how can we share and put to greatest effect a new kind of coordinated approach to using the built capital to the advantage of all. We will have to balance having built-in smart redundancies against not needing to have over-duplication where it isn’t necessary.
We have all these different infrastructures that are already available in things that are as obvious as cooler space, dry goods storage space, vehicles for transport, purchasing power through cooperatives or our Hawthorne Valley Store that are able to buy at a lower price point than I can as an individual.
Once we have a shared notion of our current built infrastructure assets, Martin maintains, we will need “inspired patient financial capital” to invest in connecting it. But he warns us not to put the cart before the horse.
Once we have the social capital and built capital piece humming along, which I think we are working toward, then inspired patient financial capital has to come in and grease the wheels. But the social and built capital are as important and are in fact of primacy because if financial capital enters into this space the wrong way it can muck up the system we are trying to build as much as it can help it. So what we need is to build our social capital; be aware and catalog and share our built capital; and then get the financial capital piece to work in an inspired, coordinated, collaborate, patient way to fuel the types of projects we know are going to build a regenerative economy.
Martin sees a special challenge in doing the kind place-centered, community building work this will require. That’s because it takes time and attention, which is misaligned with how our high-speed financial capital, technology-driven world works today. That said, he believes the food system is a great place to work if one wants to achieve better alignment between the two. One of the great paradoxes, he says, is that while we are in an age of incredible speed, more and more people are being drawn to “the slow movements” that the food movement is enmeshed in.
I feel there has to be a qualitative element to time and how we spend it. It takes time to work on relationships. It can be time-consuming and you want to throw in the towel sometimes, but it is essential to finding our way forward.
I am seeing more people experiencing their humanity through food, through culture, through being involved in a community and finding that there is more value in that than the numbers on a quarterly balance sheet. I think there is a growing awareness that more financial capital doesn’t bring happiness.
He notes that a related challenge is learning the skills and mindset of collaborativeness.
We are continually hitting the obstacles of splinter groups not being aware of what others are doing, not really being able to collaborate, or giving up because of all the natural barriers to doing so. That includes letting the physical distance between the lower Hudson Valley and the mid and upper Hudson Valley be a barrier to our working together.
Martin says that as collaborators we also need an “undeterred radical courage” to try new things and to avoid thinking that we have to have every detail worked out at the outset. We must trust emergence.
We need to give ourselves permission to fail. As Otto Scharmer says: “fail early and learn often.” You need to look across the table at your partner and say, “it is possible we won’t get this right this time, but if we flub it we won’t walk away mad from each other.” Instead we will say: “what did we learn and what can we try differently next?” We have set ourselves up not to think that everything has to work out perfectly the first time in a realistic time frame. These are just obstacles we put in our path.
I am not so sure we should focus on outcomes. Our focus should be more on input. What are we bringing into relationships? Where are we experiencing quality? How can we grow and expand on that as we are looking for things to move us in a radically different direction? I am willing to participate and put energy into this if it can be a co-creative space where we don’t have an expectation of what the result will be as we are going into it. Instead we are looking for something to emerge that would otherwise not exist.
Martin emphasizes the importance of storytelling and of a new narrative.
The stories and the human side of it have to be out there and amplified because that is what will capture people’s imaginations that things can be different. We need to connect individual stories to other stories in the context of a larger body of work. We need to link up and connect all these dots to a larger narrative that can move hearts and minds in a way that will make a difference.
People are talking more and more about “deep adaptation” to the inevitability of the ravages of climate change to come, the Sixth Great Extinction, etc. How do we hold two opposing ideas in our minds and move forward: that we are pretty certainly heading toward environmental calamities in the next decades but at the same time we cannot give up, we need to get up every morning and continue to do the work that is required of us.
I love paradox. The messy but hopeful thing about all of this is that human beings are involved in it. If we don’t somehow maintain our humanity through all of this then there is no real point in trying. If we oversubscribe to technology to save us we are possibly missing an important part of the equation. Not that technology should not play a role, but I believe the human being is meant to apply a guiding hand and heart in how we apply it.
I am going for what makes us more human not less human. That is what wakes me up in the morning and fuels me to do my work. It is embedded in Hawthorne Valley’s founding mission statement: “This work together will create a place where it is possible to become in the true sense a full human being.”
That is what I want to do and anything less than that is not going to cut it. As we face the challenges coming toward us we have to be guided by our human capacity for empathy and sacrifice for the other and for love. If this is not what we are bringing to this disruptive transition we are going through with a changing planet then the alternative to that is so unappealing to me. Will we be descending into a more animalistic place, where we will forget we have a prefrontal cortex and a heart? Will we instead act out of our amygdala, our reptilian brain of fight and flight?
We have come too far to give up and fall back into that as the default mode for the human species. But I am honest enough to know that the jury is out. It is a totally human choice at this point whether we rise to the occasion or sink into crass materialism, fear, and the assumption that technology will take over and get the job done for us. But I am banking on the capacity of the human being to know, love, and serve.