Recently here at Shambala we had an intern by the name of Colleen O’Connor Toberman. She hails from the Midwestern region of Minnesota. She works at a think tank there writing and creating. We had many discussions about differences in weather, politics and apples. To all who didn’t know the Minnesotan Honeycrisp is the best. She worked in the rain helping a build a garden for a local islander and took care of the farm animals. Upon her return to Minnesota she wrote a bit about her adventure here in the wonderful world of Washington.
Thriving in Community
By Colleen O’Connor Toberman
I must have a weird idea of “vacation,” because I just spent mine slopping through manure and digging garden beds in the cold rain. For eleven days I volunteered at Shambala Farm and Nursery on Camano Island, WA through a Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) work exchange. Each WWOOF host farm provides room, board, and untold learning opportunities and adventures for a city-dweller like me. In exchange, I just have to pitch in on the daily work.
This was my third WWOOF excursion; each farm has offered unique perspectives and experiences. What impressed and moved me most at Shambala was the level to which the owners have cultivated a very intentional community of family, neighbors, volunteers, interns, and fellow farmers.
Their interdependence is expressed in many forms. There are the weekly family dinners, the monthly “barn-raising” work parties with neighbors, the constant stream of visitors. During my short visit we goat-sat, planted a fellow islander’s garden, had long dinner-table conversations, collected free compost, borrowed a neighbor’s greenhouse space, and sought others’ advice… just to name a few ways we connected with those around us.
At first all of this community can seem a distraction from the “real work” of getting plants in the ground. Just when you’re getting into a project a guest arrives or you have to leave your task to go help someone else. The community, however, is precisely what makes it possible for those plants to get in the ground: many people are needed to build the beds, till the soil, lend tools, give advice, and purchase the vegetables that result. Everything we gave to the community came back to make our own work possible.
I’ve long been interested in intentional community in its various forms but until my travels I hadn’t really applied that thinking to my work life. Now that I think about it, my nonprofit peers are a form of community. I call on them for advice, share my excess resources with them, and take part in big projects that I couldn’t complete on my own. A business incubator or chamber of commerce are intentional communities. I’ve always thought of it as “networking” but it turns out it’s more fundamental than that: it’s interdependence.
My daily work life may not involve chickens or compost but I can still apply what I observed on the farm. What would happen if each of us found a few more minutes in our workday for giving or receiving mentorship? Would our organizations thrive if we took the time to truly answer a co-worker’s question or pitch in on their project? Community requires a leap of faith to trust that if we extend ourselves to give, we will be nourished by what we receive in turn. I think it’s a leap worth taking.
I agree! Shall we take the leap togther?