California Premiere – An Ecology of One

It’s an El Niño year here in California, which essentially means a wet and warm winter. It’s a bit of luck then, that during the only outdoor screening we held here, at Backwater Arts in San Jose, California, we were smiled upon by El Niño, scoring its warmth (it was 80-degrees the day of the screening) and not its wetness (we had blue skies and a starry night).

This screening, in addition to being a premiere of sorts, was also kind of a concept test for us.

Backwater Arts Gallery is housed in one of the few farmhouses left in the Santa Clara Valley, built in the 1870s.
Backwater Arts Gallery is housed in one of the few farmhouses left in the Santa Clara Valley, built in the 1870s.

If you have attended one of our events in the past, you likely know that the Final Straw film is a foundation for us, a foundation of ideas and mindsets which inform much of our work as artists, and even much of our actions in our daily lives. Final Straw is not “a film about farming” we like to say, but a visually rich study about a way of thinking and acting to sustain and nourish all human relationships, ecological and social.

At the roots, we want our film and arts events to be about building these kinds of relationships, and about giving people an experience that will help connect the concepts in the film to something that is relevant to their own lives.

With food being at the center of the film, it’s one of the elements we use to help make that connection at our screening events.

In this spirit, we had our good friend and celebrated macrobiotic chef, Kaori Tsuji from Japan over for a visit to the Bay Area. Together we sourced some local seasonal ingredients for her to use — including some from one of the natural farms in the film — and she created a local, organic, seasonal, macrobiotic feast like you’ve probably never seen before.

Chef Kaori Tsuji explains the menu for the night to guests of the screening event
Chef Kaori Tsuji explains the menu for the night to guests of the screening event

“This is vegan!? Damn. I want to be vegan.” we heard from one of the audience members.

That was nice to hear, but it wasn’t of course, about being vegan, or macrobiotic, or any other designation. It was more about the experience of eating food prepared with love by a chef we love, brought from local farmer that we trust and love, and sharing it with people we love. It was about seeing all of these relationships in person and allowing visitors to experience what the film was about with their eyes, ears, noses, and tastebuds.

Another audience member told us that she couldn’t have imagined a better way to hold the screening of this particular film, and that everything from the food to the sound of the planes overhead to the factory buildings surrounding the small garden oasis we were in, somehow seemed to speak to the film in a beautiful and relevant way. When Suhee and I heard that observation, we knew that our screening experiment was going in the right direction.

The old cannery and several industrial buildings surround Backwater Arts venue where the film screening took place.
The old cannery and several industrial buildings surround Backwater Arts venue where the film screening took place.

You see, natural farming itself is about seeing the connections between all of these things by cultivating deeper relationships in every corner of your life and in every interaction — from buying food to operating within a business — and allowing these relationships to inform how you go about living your life.

Some academics call this “Systems Thinking”. We call it being present in reality. It’s simple really, and you don’t really need an advanced degree or a gigantic flow chart to understand it.

The farmers in the film cultivate personal relationships with the environment, with the soil from which their crops grow, with the bugs and animals that use their fields, and with their customers, the people who come to their farm to help plant, the people who visit them at the farmer’s market. They understand that they live and farm within a web of relationships, and that for this web to function well for everyone, they must try to bring their compassion and empathy to each these relationships.

In a sense, these farmers are doing what academics and economists and social theorists are incapable of doing. These farmers are building a new vehicle for commerce, a new vehicle for economics, for social actions and interactions, and of course, a new way of working these into a connected ecology of well being. They are re-defining how to live harmoniously without even defining much of anything. The magic in this kind of “ecology” is that it does not simply look at plants and animals as things that need ‘saving’ by humans, but looks at every single thing we engage with — whether it’s economics or politics or plants or social structure — as a part of one ecology, and then it approaches everything in this one ecology with empathy.

This one ecology looks at the reality of where we live and understands that we are inseparable from this nature and universe. This one ecology understands that “nature” and “ecology” are not concepts within disciplines which can be connected and disconnected from each other by formulas and semantics. This one ecology understands that “nature” and “ecology” are quite simply the reality we experience and live in. And here’s the rub: if our economic system is geared towards generating monetary growth while destroying the foundations of life, then this system is experiencing a critical disconnection, a disconnection not just from some compartmentalized concept of “ecology,” but from reality itself.

That’s a big deal, and at the roots, it’s the main reason why such systems have not proven themselves to function all that well in reality.

I guess this means that Suhee and I are in the business of reconnecting people into the one ecology which they were born into, and by way of this, connecting our human-made systems back into a well-functioning ecological system which encompasses and includes all elements of the life we live, of economics, and of all our methods of production, distribution, and consumption.

Guests watch the film outside in the garden at Backwater Arts in San Jose
Guests watch the film outside in the garden at Backwater Arts in San Jose

So this event, the amazing food from farmers we know, the relaxed and informal atmosphere, the historical location outdoors in the remnants of an orchard beside a 150 year old farmhouse now surrounded by industry and city, and the airplanes on their approach to the Mineta Inernational Airport, all of it becomes a part making these connections between ourselves and the place we are in at this moment, the history of our shared human life, and the future of our life as it could be.

We hope this comes across. It is what we’re building on for the future.

A week from now, Suhee and I will be off to tour the film with similar events in Korea for a month, then to Japan for three months, then to Scotland for a month. We’ll be hosting more events, working with more communities in urban areas around the world, hoping to inspire and create more relationships, and honing our sense of what this whole thing could become.

If you were inspired by this event, or this writing, or like what we’re trying to accomplish in general, please reach out to us. We’d love to work with you, we’d love to make this family bigger, stronger, and more well connected as we more forward together.

Thanks are in order for this screening, to Denise Olenak and Alex Alvarado at Backwater Arts for hosting us, to Kristyn Leach at Namu Natural Farm for providing greens, to Kaori Tsuji for her chef skills, and to all the folks who helped and who turned out and shared the evening with us.

Let’s all keep building on this, and bringing this mindset of one ecology, relationships, and contentedness into our lives and our actions.