Aia Newport writes about reflections on rooting change-making into our daily lives, as a means of living the future now for Chain Reaction - Friends of the Earth's national magazine.
A couple of years ago I got a tattoo of a drawing of roots in the centre of my chest. The practiced hands of a friend stretched my skin and sowed seeds of ink beneath the surface. Roots like veins like a network of rivers, the mark could represent many things. Little did I know it would become a source of grounding and guidance.
Go to the roots
I say and tap my chest, an embodied reminder. For me, going to the roots means setting up foundations in my life that feed the roots of things I wish to grow. It means listening to my body and what it needs. It means asking what is at the root of a problem and how it can be addressed.
For a while now I’ve been interested in projects that provide nourishing and empowering foundations (or roots) for people's lives. In particular I’ve been looking at worker’s co-operatives and their potential to create meaningful employment where workers have control over the work they do. Workers’ co-ops are owned and run by the members of a business, rather than a boss, which gives workers more autonomy than typical businesses. Workers have more control over things such as the direction of the business, the type of clients they work with, their hours, the culture of the workplace and how the profits are spent.
Many modern jobs are spaces of exploitation where business owners make profits off worker’s labour and constantly push the limits of workers to get them to do more work in less healthy environments for less pay and in less time so the bosses can make more money. Finding work structures that empower workers could therefore make a huge difference on the individual and societal levels and change the foundations of our lives.
Listening to my body/values and hearing the excitement to work in a different way, I was ready to give working co-operatively a go. Some friends and I got together and over the last year and a half we founded a Narrm (melbourne) based gardening worker's co-op called Taking Root that offers garden design, consultation, implementation, maintenance and arbory. As a co-op we’re interested in native and indigenous plants, food forests, waste systems, edible gardens, medicinal plants and creating gardens that work with their specific climates and surrounding ecosystems.
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Writing this column in Mparntwe (alice springs) I think of the fossil fuels required to truck in all the food that keeps this settlement afloat. I’ve even heard that the mangoes sold here are picked near Garamilla (darwin), trucked down to the Woolworths headquarters in Tarntanya (adelaide) and transported back up again to Mparntwe and Garamilla to be sold. It's strangely impressive how a capitalist perspective and a hyperfocus on profit can make such absurdity appear efficient. This broken food system is one of the many things I hope we will address through the work of Taking Root.
As well as localising food, water and waste systems I also want Taking Root to be a means of encouraging and supporting people to connect to the natural world. Last year I was lucky enough to spend some time in the Bellingen area working in gardens as a woofer in exchange for accomodation and food. I loved waking with the sun, saying hello to the chickens as I let them out of their python-proof home, having a quick brekkie and getting into the garden to work until the sun was too bitey and all I could do was swim in the dam at the bottom of the hill. Noticing the changes in the weather, gardening alongside bees, snakes and birds and finding whatever needed picking in the garden to base my meals off felt nourishing on so many levels, though it was also hard work.
I'm under no illusion that this permacultural dream is the solution to all our problems as a society. Permaculture, horticulture, living/growing/working on stolen land as a middle-class white person - I am constantly questioning and exploring how to do it all in ways that work against the pressure of capitalist, neo-colonialism rather than with it. For now I know that being connected to food growing processes grounds me. Involving myself daily in these systems I found myself asking how we could do things better - more efficiently, in collaboration with First Nations peoples, in ways that build community, etc.
This curiosity around how things are done is the kind of engaging energy that allows me to imagine ways to bring about the more enjoyable and just world I know is possible. Through my involvement in nature and food processes I am made into a dreamer and a doer. I am soothed, my mental processes slow and I can better observe what occurs both within my body and without, leading me to make decisions that are in tune with the needs of human communities, non-human communities, and ecosystems.
That was the long way of saying I hope that connecting people with food and ecosystems through Taking Root can have many physical, social, political and environmental benefits. I also just love the idea of walking along suburban roads filled with lush, colourful, healthy gardens with fruit ready to pick and birds flying around, who doesn't?
There are many other things I'd love to write about in this column: Taking Root's goal of implementing a sliding scale; the queer and genderqueer membership of the co-op and how rad it is to be facilitating people of many gender expressions to engage in physical, outdoor jobs; the intricacies of living and working on stolen land, the meetings and bureaucracy required to start and run your own co-operative...
For now though, let me try and bring this back to roots. I take a breath and think of what it is I'm trying to convey. I suppose I'm saying that Taking Root, workers' co-operatives and connecting with nature and food systems all have potential to shift the way we exist with ourselves, each other and the surrounding ecosystems.
For me, changing the way we do basic yet complex things, like work or sourcing food, from the often depletive and extractive systems to more nourishing ones that root us where we want to be and tangle us up together in healthy networks, is powerful. I want to see workplaces, food systems and all kinds of other systems and structures done in ways that allow us to live within our values and empower ourselves and our communities. I think listening to our bodies and what makes them sing can help us get there.
Close your eyes, settle and breathe. Go to the roots.
Aia (they/them) was born on Wurundjeri country and is of Scottish, Welsh and English descent.
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