Jyoti Fernandes shares reflections on her experiences as part of Be The Earth's Flow Funding programme. She talks about how her own life story has influenced this work and the decisions she made, and the importance of diversity for both humans and plants to building a sustainable future.
Diversity, Resilience and Love
My name is Jyoti Fernandes. I work with The Landworkers Alliance, a union for farmers, foresters and crafters and FLAME, a youth movement for food, farming, and climate justice, as well as the focus of the work I want to house at my agroecological smallholding in Dorset, UK. My work today draws heavily from my roots in promoting Diversity, Resilience and Love as solutions to the converging climate and nature crisis.
My father migrated from a rural fishing village in India to the United States, my mother was a totally blind woman, so as a child I grew up in rural Louisiana raised by a mixed-race couple who never really “fit in” to the mainstream society. My father, was an environmental scientist – everybody called him “Dr. Bananas” yet he was the first person I ever heard speak of Climate Justice, futilely trying to show video tapes of “The Inconvenient Truth” to our church in a political landscape infused with 4x4’s, strip malls and yellow ribbons celebrating the war in Iraq.
My mother, a disability rights campaigner, ran a training Centre where the “Blind taught the Blind” ways to adapt and thrive in a world designed for sighted people by working with a social movement of blind people – all working for liberation. They used a technique called “exposure therapy,” supporting people into activities like rock climbing or the festivities of Mardi Gras to allow them to feel their fears, then conquer them and go for it. What I learned by watching them was that the movement, the family they built together, held them through those failures and celebrated their successes and they grew together towards resilience.
Therefore, I chose to use my flow funding from Be The Earth to support diversity and resilience in land-based work as part of the deep adaptation we need to make in our society towards ways of living within planetary boundaries.
With climate change, we can expect a huge amount of volatility, variability, and vulnerability in our weather patterns, but also in the political landscape and the shape of our economic systems. The key to thriving in the face of this emerging landscape is to build our resilience- emotionally, physically and in the way we relate to the land and sea.
Working with Land In Our Names, we gave out growers grants to people from diverse and marginalised communities to support the costs of training in land-based skills – growing food and Norwegian Wood with training for building structures with wood.
Choosing to nurture and support people from diverse and marginalised communities follows the same approach as breeding resilience seed varieties. For example, in selecting hardy resilient seed you need a huge amount of genetic variability, so peasant (or neo-peasant) breeders start with heritage seed varieties – those varieties which fail the standardised uniformity and conformity tests to be listed on the national registers – so there are more traits to select from to improve adaptability (often using these varieties commercially is illegal, but many breeders use these varieties anyway). Then those seeds are sown, then incubated, then slowly put outside to adapt to being outside on their own.
The important lesson I learned from my roots, is that they will thrive if placed into a movement, a family of mutual support. I supported young people to come together at the Land Skills Fair to meet each other and celebrate the vibrant movement of people deciding that the best way to create the reality we want in this world is to get our hands dancing to relearn the skills our (or somebodies) ancestors knew so we can weave those ancient technologies into creating the new.
Some of the funding was used to support artists such as Ian Solomon-Kawall and Moyah, a hip hop artist who came as a refugee from Mozambique connected to projects like May Project Gardens and Brazilian hip hop artist RAPadura – connecting refugees and migrants to the land to share their music – which told the stories of migration across mountains and sea to the UK where they now run projects connecting people of colour to the land.
It was also used to support a range of talks, including the storytelling from Rich, a sailor and woodworker who seeks to get people out into nature to connect people to ancestral knowledge and skills, and highlights the importance of incorporating of neurodiversity into our movement. They raised a question – "who is normal?" – which is a question we can all ask ourselves. Like with seed breeding, music and celebrations allow us to discover the parts of ourselves we wish to develop and build upon and work together to find collective solutions to what we leave behind… on an individual level, as new families, as community, as society.
The vision that arises again and again is that we have the possibility to create a new structure of society by drawing from the huge diversity of lived experiences, ancestral knowledge systems and ways we move through this world to create a new way of living in harmony with the Earth.
Jyoti Fernandes is the chairperson and Campaigns Coordinator of Via Campesina & Land Worker’s Alliance. She is currently working on a campaign to influence DEFRA to adopt more policies to promote food sovereignty. She works to represent small-scale producers around Europe in the European and Global agricultural institutions. Jyoti is also a Dorset smallholder farmer on a 20 acre low impact holding with Jersey cows, goats, pigs, vegetables and apple juice, cider cheese, and other processed products. The farm is home to collectively owned processing facilities which over 50 local farms can rent to add value to their homegrown produce.