The following is an abridged version of the speech Maria Rodale delivered at the United Nations on Monday, December 8, 2014, upon receiving Auburn University’s International Quality of Life Laureate Award. The award recognizes outstanding global citizens who have made a significant contribution to improving the lives of people worldwide. Past laureates have included Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Catherine Bertini, former executive director of the UN World Food Programme and World Food Prize laureate; Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata Group and renowned philanthropist; former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; and most recently, Howard Buffett, chairman and CEO of Howard G. Buffett Foundation, for his work helping poor farmers develop sustainable food security.
Rodale is very much an international company. Our brands reach over 100 million people globally in 70 countries, all with the same mission of creating health, healing, and happiness for people and the planet. And maybe some super-fit bodies, as well.
In fact, the editor-in-chief of our Singapore edition actually has the logo of Men’s Health tattooed on his arm. He’s so passionate about the brand that he wanted to share it with the world. If there is one thing we have learned at Rodale from working with so many different people around the world, it’s that we are really not that different. We all want pretty much the same things.
So it’s truly an honor to accept this award here, at the U.N., where the world comes together to try and find positive solutions to our mutual concerns and to improve the quality of life for everyone.
In these hallowed halls where nations unite, I’d like to ask all of you a question: What unites us as humans?
The world today seems so divided—politically divided, religiously divided, racially divided and philosophically divided.
So I’ve been asking myself…what really unites us? What can we all agree on?
Clearly, the desire for health and happiness unites us. But where do health and happiness come from?
I believe they come from love. I also believe they come from gratitude and appreciation for each other and the earth. We all deeply want and need to feel loved. I also know we are all completely dependent on the earth for our survival.
Let me say that again: We are all completely dependent on the earth for our survival. No matter whether you believe in climate change or not, none of us can live without the earth. Even coal and oil come from the earth!
So without love, and without the earth, there can be no health or happiness.
Which means we have some healing to do.
How do we begin to heal the divides between us so we can create a healthy and happy world? For example, most famines are created by political strife and violence rather than the earth’s ability to feed the world. I believe that everything we do, all our actions, plant the seeds of our future. We are all farmers and gardeners planting crops that have the potential to harvest either love or hate. Faith or Fear. Unity or division. Understanding or conflict. Plenty of food or not enough food. Food that leads to obesity or food that is nourishing.
So what if we took a moment and stopped and thought about it? Education and learning about our history are so very important. But what is just as important right now, if not more so, is teaching ourselves and our students to find positive solutions. What’s most fascinating to me about learning about our history is that so often, the solutions are right in front of us but we are reluctant to see them. We take so long to change because we are fearful of change. And yet, once we do change, we are all better off, aren’t we?
Once again, I believe that the answers are right here in front of us, right now.
In fact, the UN itself has issued a number of reports over the past few years that state (and I quote) “Farming in rich and poor nations alike should shift from monoculture towards greater varieties of crops, reduced use of fertilizers and other inputs, greater support for small-scale farmers, and more locally focused production and consumption of food.”
At the same time, a number of studies—led first by the Farming Systems Trial Study at the Rodale Institute—have proved that regenerative organic agriculture is capable of REVERSING climate change. We could sequester more than 100 percent of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, while significantly mitigating the results of droughts and floods, all while providing equal if not better yields than chemical agriculture.
But here is the most important part: Whether or not you believe in climate change, what regenerative organic agriculture has the power to do is leave the earth BETTER. It improves the soil rather than degrades it. It improves our health. It leaves us all better.
So what is stopping us from creating the change that can feed the world and protect our survival on the earth?
I could blame it on a lot of things, but it’s fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of bugs. Fear of weeds. Fear of economic and financial volatility and risk. Fear of change. Fear of the sheer magnitude of the effort required to create change.
How can we find the courage to create a new story for ourselves? One based on gratitude, unity, and love? We need a new story that puts us in harmony with nature and in harmony with each other. It would be a love story, of course!
Good, true love is about understanding and compassion, the willingness to open our minds and hearts—the willingness to learn, be curious, create intimacy, and trust. Love is about forgiving others, and even more importantly, forgiving ourselves. In order to be successful organic farmers and gardeners, in order to be successful as humans, we have to approach nature with love and openness. When we approach nature with love, we are able to understand what is necessary to create health and happiness, and we are able to provide it. Through organic agriculture and stewardship, we actually have the power to leave the earth better, improve the soil, and help our children be healthier and happier and more loved than we were.
This means we need to stop looking at the earth as a fearful foe that can only be tamed with domination, control, and chemicals. We also need to stop looking at our hunger as something that can be satisfied with anything edible, rather than with real, wholesome organic food.
Real love thrives on freedom, not control. Real love seeks to understand rather than destroy. Real love feeds the body and the soul, where our deepest hungers usually live. These deep hungers can only be satisfied with love and nourishment grown with love. And that means organic food grown from this very Earth we are all dependent on.
So it turns out the very thing that can feed the world can also save the world.
That’s where true health, healing, and happiness come from.
It’s also where true quality of life comes from.
So, thank you again for this great honor. And I ask you to please think of yourselves as farmers or gardeners of our future. You have the potential to heal the earth with the seeds you sow. You also have the power within your hands to create a world of love and unity. Be fearless!
It is possible. And it starts with each one of us.