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            Her name was Ashley Atkinson. She held the experience of compassion, hardship, and hope that communities bared in the worst of economic times as she paced in front of the classroom. She had seen the dogged faces of families who were food insecure. She had shaken the hands of those that worked tirelessly to bring not only produce to their communities, but hope and celebration too. Passing her eyes along the classroom, she explained the severity of agricultural uncertainty. She let loose the burdens of her mind; the scarcity of future water, the uncertainty of climate change and drought. “Only one percent of the United States population farms” she said, “and of that one percent, forty percent is fifty five and older”. She looked to us with a half humorous, half melancholy smile and asked “am I scaring you guys yet?” The head of the horticultural department was sitting in the middle of the room. She raised her hand and it peaked into the air above the crowd. Her face was mild and soft, but weights from worry had pulled down at the crevices of her smile. “Last summer was so severe, we were told to throw out the books on agriculture” she spoke. “We literally had never seen anything like it before”.
            That is when I realized the fragility of knowledge. That knowledge acted as small little tender strings that were suspended through community networks. I realized that this string was so fragile, yet it had the strength to hold societies future together. It was the paradoxical spider’s silk; stronger than the most advanced industrial metals, yet able to be wiped away by the slightest touch of a finger-pad. As these strings are effortlessly and silently swept away, the entire structure becomes more apt to fall under stress.
John McKnight (1995) wrote the story of a bereavement counselor; A story which details the ways in which technological replacements of community silently sweep these strings away. He speaks of the ways in which community used to come together over loss and grief. How the loss of a member damaged the communal web, and through grieving, the community worked to string pieces back together; making it more resilient than before. McKnight explains that once the bereavement counselor came in, the community thought it was the only way to grieve. That the bereavement counselor, despite her or his distance from the community, was the only person qualified to handle the broken web. And while the bereavement counselor could only weave thread, not silk, the people thought it was the best repair that could be made.
            In agriculture, we are replacing our web with thread. We have looked to technological innovations, and books of stagnant words to understand how to repair our webs. While the weather was calm, these solutions worked. Slowly we lost the community that made our web so resilient. It is only now, in the face of the storm of climate change that our web is starting to break and shatter, and we scramble with our books and innovations, trying desperately to find the right thread to fix it. Our fingers fumble as we scramble to grab the red twine of genetically modified crops, and the blue cotton of phosphorus mining. And in our hurried calamity of snatching at threads, the silk structure of our web decays, one string at a time--one farmer at a time. It is in the heads of these aging farmers that the answers to our questions of agricultural uncertainty may lay, if we only took the time to foster a community to ask for it.
            There are people whom have seen the web decay, and have asked why we no longer construct these webs with silk. As food costs and health concerns rise (NY Times 2011), the world’s most vulnerable populations are taking matters into their own hands (Solnit 2007;FAO 2010). Detroit, a city resilient after a storm of economic insecurity, vulnerability, and white flight, has started weaving a silk plan for their future. The false smile of capitalism fluttered over the city of Detroit, and left as its backhand came sweeping across the city it once pronounced its love to. It seemed that hand knocked over Pandora’s Box, dumping her evils across the streets, when that last tender green creature came crawling out of the box. It had a meek little smile, and warm hands and heart. As it crept forward, it looked to this new disjointed world of green and grey; cement and land. It listened to the wind whistle through the grass of an abandoned lot and a smile crept from the sides of its lips. 
            Where white flight ‘refugees’ looked back at their city in fear, the people of Detroit began to grasp at each other’s hands in the darkness. Where onlookers saw abandoned fields, Detroiters saw green inspiration. And while the people surrounding Detroit couldn't see it, everywhere the soil mucked hands of city residents began sowing the seeds of their future.
            It was when capitalisms promised web of threads lay mangled and disjointed on the ground that Detroiters learned how to create silk again. They fostered community where fear once stood. They grew gardens where the hungry bellies of children once grumbled. And while it was hard to see at first, the glimmering threads of silk began to wire around the city; stringing from the farmers, to the retailers, to the community. This web of food and community in Detroit has only strengthened, and with it has come a new knowledge of social order. Unfettered from the fear of capitalistic collapse, Detroiters were able to show the world something they had never seen before, something post-American.
            I hope as we look on at Detroit we adjust our eyes, so that when the sun hits the city just right, the glimmer of a thousand strands of silk catch and twinkle upon our eyes. And perhaps, if we let ourselves see it, the beauty of that light dancing across the city may inspire us. To realize that the most beautiful of things can be found in unexpected places if we let ourselves see it. And to be inspired to start weaving our own silk web; reaching out in the darkness, ready to hold whichever hand reaches back. Perhaps we can weave our own web in the face of uncertainty, so that when the storm of climate change drudges upon us, we can stand tall like Detroiters, hands held together and love in our hearts. So that even if we may be uncertain of what our future holds, we may be absolutely certain what we are holding in that moment. 


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