Nancy Molin (c.) is shown gathering eggs with Asian Rural Institute students. The students at ARI learn how to farm cattle, pigs and poultry and work on development issues, community organizing and agriculture within the confines of a classroom. Field trips take them to observe first-hand organic farming sites and the downside of industrialization in pollution-filled Minimata, Japan. © Michael de Sherbinin
I've been working at The Asian Rural Institute for year, but it feels like two months! An anniversary is always a time to reflect on what has been learned and gained in the past year, so I am wondering what I, myself, have learned about leadership in the past year.
I think the main thing I have learned about leadership so far is the importance of food. Well, I have always liked food. The main thing is the importance for leaders of food production. That's why we focus our training on organic farming techniques, so that the tools and techniques for producing all the food one needs are in each person's hands.
In Proverbs 15:17 it says, "Better a supper of vegetables where love is than a fatted ox where there is hatred." Obviously, this wasn't written by a vegetarian. But they hadn't tried ARI's beautiful fresh-picked organic vegetables! I guess they were thinking of eating just boiled greens and boiled barley day after day! But where love is, the poorest, worst-cooked food is better than tasty, expensive food and people who hate you.
ARI's message is that for community development, you must have an appreciation for the important ways human relationships are woven together in the production, sharing and consumption of food.
How is food production connected with the human relationship? Can you imagine a community where people never eat together? Human beings are interdependent, and dependent on all of God's creations for our life. We imagine independence would make us happy. But when we try to go it alone, we find that it's not so great after all. We need each other. And eating togther affirms our closeness.
So to learn leadership, we produce food. For a leader, production of basic items is of critical importance. Where does the food come from? Who owns the land? How is the food grown? How can we make our community strong enough that it can control its own food supply and not rely on cash earning to be able to eat?
Food self-sufficiency is a political statement, and sharing food with love also is a political statement. ARI's emphasis on self-sufficiency in food production and sharing meals in harmony is a threat to those who preach selfishness as the way to freedom. The leaders we send back after training are people who know how to focus on what's really important. In a community that values love above tasty food, there will never be any poor people or any rich people, only community members.
For more information on the Asian Rural Institute, contact Xiaoling Zhu, East Asia-Pacific Office, UCC Wider Church Ministries, 700 Prospect Ave., Cleveland, OH 44115; 216-736-3226; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org