Social Ecologist Profile: Grace Gershuny of Barnet, VT USA




Please introduce yourself (What kind of work you do, Where you live, etc.)

I live in Barnet, VT – just south of St. Johnsbury, where I’ve lived (with a small lapse) since 1984 in a house that I built with my then husband.  We ran a small market garden for 8 years, and I still grow a lot of my own food.  Just planted my first seeds of the 2011 season – a very satisfying job.  I’ve taught at the ISE and worked with ISE students in one way or other since 1986 – almost always around the subject of alternative/ecological/organic agriculture and food system issues.

Since I left the staff of the National Organic Program in 2000 I have been a self-employed consultant, working on various projects for the organic industry, teaching here and there, and doing some organic inspection work.  I am also working on a book about what organic really means, including my stories about lessons learned and what people who care about the fate of the planet should know.

How did you become introduced to the ideas of social ecology? How do you define social ecology when asked about it?

I lived in an urban commune in Montreal for a couple of years in the early seventies, after graduating from college and before moving to Vermont. It was during this time that I first heard of Murray Bookchin, though I did not read his work.  My friend and housemate /cual was pursuing a self-directed study of philosophy, and spoke glowingly in his Cuban accent of this guy–Mooooree Boookchin–whom he would love to meet.

I didn’t meet Murray till I was organizing the summer NOFA conference in 1983, and one of the committee members suggested that we invite him to deliver the keynote address.  This became the essay “Moral Economy or Market Economy,” and he was in fine form.  I never had the time in the summer (or the money) to think about attending a program, except for occasional workshops at Cate Farm.  When I was invited to co-teach the Bioregional Agriculture course with Joseph Kiefer in 1986 I jumped at the chance, and spent as much time as I could  listening to Murray and the other faculty.  I think I was a social ecologist without knowing the term for a long time, and it truly felt like I had come home.

I am rarely asked how to define it – generally a simple answer about reharmonizing humanity and nature, thinking ecologically, and commitment to egalitarian democratic organizing.

How does social ecology and/or your experience with the Institute for Social Ecology influence your current work?

The insights and values of social ecology permeate everything I do.  My understanding of the importance of food system change as a vehicle for the social and political changes needed are grounded in and continually reaffirmed by my connection to social ecology and my students, friends and colleagues at the ISE.

What do you see as the greatest opportunities and greatest challenges for achieving a sustainable relationship between humanity and the wider world?

This is why I’m writing a book!  Opportunities:  The organic revolution is well underway.  Challenges:  We take every opportunity to undermine our own revolution.  We need to grow up or end up becoming what we oppose.

Any great stories about being around the ISE?

My lips are sealed.