Community is Everything

A Reflection on the Value of Community By AERO’s Summer Intern
By Isabelle Sichel

I thought I knew what AERO was about before I began my internship. I assumed AERO focused on soil health, local food systems, and renewable energy. While this is true, there is so much more. AERO lives out the ideal that the future of sustainability is community. A community is defined as a group of people who share something in common. Each  of us are a part of many different and unique communities, but to make headway with the issues around soil health, local food systems, and renewable energy we need strong and resilient communities across the entirety of Montana. This means that AERO initiatives need to serve absolutely everyone, especially underrepresented communities. 

Before my time with AERO, I thought  healthy soil was the solution to the food system. But now, I have realized that not only is the food system wholly intact and functioning exactly how it is designed to, but that these systems need to be entirely unravelled and dismantled to lead to a better way. 

In my studies of the food system, I often find myself compartmentalizing and labeling issues as a social issue or an environmental issue. I do this to help my brain cope with what is a terribly tangled and knotted web of injustices. There are not strictly social issues versus environmental issues in the food system because every issue is a social issue. The issues that we are able to identify in the food system such as drought, pollution, and hunger are actually features of a system built on the backs of the people who have been strategically silenced by the same system that depends on them to function. Maybe a “fix” is not what we need, but a tear down and rebuild of the systems that are in place. I’m still not entirely sure how to “fix” this system that is not broken, but I do know that building resilient communities is a good place to start. 

In the wake of pandemics, climate change, wildfires and droughts, community resiliency is crucially important. The future of our society will depend on how well communities bounce back from disruptions. This requires localized food systems which serve the specific needs of their communities, dismantling the larger system. The power needs to be shifted out of the hands of corporations and into the hands of farmers, ranchers, researchers, educators, and ultimately, the people who inhabit these communities.

My time with AERO has been pivotal for my studies and my career. It is ironic/absurd to think that I learned about the importance of community in a time when virtual work is the norm and the idea of community seems to be in distress. If we are able to build strong and resilient communities over Zoom, we are surely able to build strong and resilient communities on the ground.

Thank you to Lindsay, Robin, Kate, and Lauren for allowing me to spend my summer with you all and welcoming me into your world. Thank you to AERO’s partners for letting me join in on conversations and valuing my opinions and expertise. Thank you to AERO supporters and board of directors for believing in the organization and the talented and hard working folks who commit themselves to AERO. Thank you to this community of thinkers, believers, food growers, and disruptors for doing the work that you do.

Alternative Energy Resources Organization

Mailing address: PO Box 1558, Helena MT 59624-1558

Physical address: 32 S Ewing St #314, Helena MT 59601