June 18, 2023 will mark 40 years since 10 Baha’i women were hanged in Shiraz. Their only ‘crime’ was their refusal to renounce their beliefs in a faith that promotes the principles of gender equality, unity, justice, and truthfulness. This collection highlights Baha’i Blog content relating to the ongoing persecution of Baha’is in Iran.
Winnona Merritt has put together a new compilation called Food, Farmer and Community: Agriculture and the Reconstruction of the World and it was recently released by the US Baha’i Publishing Trust. This comprehensive book gathers quotations from the sacred and authoritative texts of the Baha’i Faith as well as statements and documents from various Baha’i institutions and agencies in order to offer a wide-ranging contribution to the discourse on agriculture.
Agriculture and food production affects us all, every single one of us. I was very curious to hear from Winnona about her background, what inspired her to put together this compilation, and what she has learned along the way. Here’s what she shared with us:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
This is not ”a little” but also answers other questions. Multiple influences shaped my commitments: to raise a spiritually healthy family; to promote racial justice; to advocate for women, children and youth; to promote agriculture and the role of the farmer; to protect the environment and animal life; to investigate climate change; to conserve water; to advocate for pure air; to publish principles of just governance; to engage with neighbourhood community life. Knowledge gained from life experiences informs my conceptual framework, directs my actions, and led to this compilation.
Urgency regarding equity in world food systems is likely grounded in difficult days of the Depression and World War II. With ingenuity and resilience, my impoverished parents struggled to provide for me and my baby sister. During New York State’s winter months, baby pigs were warming in a washtub near the kitchen oven. In my bedroom, newly hatched chicks chirped under a heat lamp. Our axe broke into the ice-covered spring water for use in kitchen, laundry, and bathing. In warmer weather, Dad and Grandpa Leet dug ginseng to sell to Chinese vendors and cut down bee trees for honey. Motherless racoons, found nearby, were fed until able to survive on their own.
One spring, our spaniel gently laid two furless bunnies on the doorstep. Successful round-the-clock feeding from a tiny doll bottle nurtured them. Tears came when we released them onto my “Bunny Pasture.” Meanwhile domestic rabbits and pigs provided income from the sale of meat and Dad prepared my 24 chickens for sale. At age 11, peddling the fryers to Owasco Lake vacationers paid for Girl Scout camp. Raising them had developed responsibility, salesmanship, and financial understanding, but memory of regular slaughtering later led to eliminating meat in my diet. I continued cooking it for my large family.
School books said the framers of our United States constitution borrowed principles from the unique governing system of the Iroquois Confederacy that originated in our state. Searches for arrowheads were unsuccessful, so my pockets filled with glacial pebbles that sparkled in clear streams. They prompted curiosity about geology. In autumns, our family visited the Onondaga Reservation where we stopped first to ask the Chief’s permission to celebrate at the Three Sisters festival of corn, beans and squash.
Dad tutored me in growing healthy vegetables and Mom taught me a love of flowers and the value of persistence. Hard labor was necessary to break up the dense yellow clay. Yellow columbine, purple iris and creeping phlox was our reward. My grandparents’ small dairy farm taught the need for supplemental income. Grandma Jennison sold homemade rolls and elderberry pies at weekly farmer’s markets. Later, when I met my husband Oscar at nearby Cornell University, we did not yet know that we would experience that same reality on our Virginia apple orchard.
In 1973 we joined the Baha’i Faith, continuing our commitment to work for world unity and justice. During 12 years of pioneering in Barbados, our white skin became less and less of an issue. We were able to offer agricultural and artistic skills, plus add to public discourse, and teach the Faith. We observed small chattel house gardens that had prevented starvation when supplies of imported food were interrupted. Necessity of representation in world government became clear as climate change created eroding shorelines. Although colonization and slavery had fragmented society, descendants of both systems now work to govern the newest republic on the planet! Happily, its voting power in the UN General Assembly is identical to much larger nations.
Baha’i Blog: Could you please tell us a little about your book Food, Farmer and Community?
Food, Farmer, and Community: Agriculture and the Reconstruction of the World has four sections: Fundamental Principles of Reconstruction; Knowledge; Developing the Divine Economy; Addendum – Divine Assistance for Trying Times. This is a handbook of references to sacred Writings of the Baha’i Faith and related texts. Paul Hanley’s insightful foreword states, “The Baha’i Revelation aims at nothing less than the transformation of the world’s order, and agriculture is identified as central to the transformative process.” Reading the foreword first, along with table of contents, will create fuller understanding of references illuminating the pivotal role of agriculture in the creation of world peace.
Baha’i Blog: What inspired you to write it?
Original inspiration came from words and lives of Central Figures of the Faith. They honour the role of the farmer, provide guidance for human behaviour, and clearly state requirements for world peace. Extreme crises did not deter Their own establishment of farms and gardens. Other souls who provided inspiration are too many to list.
Engaging with many like-minded friends in agricultural programs, projects, workshops, and travel teaching, we met the lack of a handbook of noteworthy references. We were learning that a holistic approach recognizes the interconnectedness of disciplines. In 1998 my first compilation, A Special Regard for Agriculture, was published by Stonehaven Press. On an Ottawa bus ride, submission of this much expanded version received encouragement in a serendipitous conversation with the manager of the Baha’i Publishing Trust.
Baha’i Blog: Who is its target audience?
Those engaging in discourse regarding agriculture as it relates to disciplines focused on health, education, communication, economics, environmental science, community building, spiritual development, advocacy work, governance and more. Farmers facing multitudinous challenges. Teachers, animators, tutors plus youth searching for their career path. Baha’is and friends engaging in the 9 Year Plan. And anyone else who relies on a farmer for food!
Baha’i Blog: What was something you learned in the process of creating this book?
Preparing a compilation uplifts the spirit while challenging personal bias.
Striving for balance is imperative.
It is long hard work. Lapses happen. Time for more prayer.
People of like mind encourage and assist in a variety of ways.
Editors are helpful. Trust their guidance.
Baha’i Blog: What words of encouragement might you have for other aspiring Baha’i authors?
Focus on how your book will serve humanity.
Continually pray for guidance.
Be bold in searching for answers to prayer.
Parts of life may have to wait as you commit to your vision, but it can be worth it.
Think about writing children’s books, pre-youth material, novels and Baha’i histories highlighting agriculture.
Games, songs and artistic activities enhance your work.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you, Winnona, for taking the time to share this with us.
In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.