How often do you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, feeling anxious or cranky? For high school students in Montezuma Land Conservancy's summer Agriculture Immersion Program in Colorado, our daily morning "circle up" time provides a chance to voice those feelings in a safe, supportive environment.
The nine young people who participated in the program this June face challenges and stress on many fronts. Many started the days at MLC's farm feeling weighed down by concerns about their health, family or relationship issues, money — even homelessness or child care for their own babies.
This time is important. And we're careful not to let emotions overwhelm. Our check-ins include thought-provoking questions to encourage discussion and sharing. Group norms ensure that everyone is heard and respected. Then we move into our day, striving to make ourselves and our situation better.
I recall one day filled with hard work, lively conversation and interaction with horses, when we did a culminating "circle down," as is our habit. It's another chance for everyone in the group to reflect. For many who started that day feeling out of sorts, the time spent with horses and the boost that came from being around peers and caring adults turned their outlook around. Students that started their day downcast or even depressed found new energy. And for those who started the day feeling good, the support they were able to offer their friends further cemented their positivity. Similar days followed. By the time the month-long program had concluded, I was routinely hearing how proud of themselves the students felt for making the effort to show up for work and for each other.
Working with these amazing young people and seeing what they experienced has changed my view of community conservation. Rather than focus on traditional measures of success such as conserved acres or number of members, it's clear to me now the difference we can make by devoting energy to growing young people.
We do our best work when we create a safe, supportive environment where all people can connect with the land and with one another. By simply providing a shared goal and letting the power of teamwork and nature take hold, land trusts can transform lives. It's not a magic wand that solves everyone's problems, but just maybe experiences like the ones my students enjoyed can bring more joy and hope into the world.