2007 UC Davis Fall Convocation Speech by Craig McNamara

By Craig McNamara - Published 10/01/07

Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef's introduction

I’ll next introduce Craig McNamara. A graduate of UC Davis, Craig is the president and owner of Sierra Orchards, a diversified Winters farming operation that produces primarily walnuts and grape rootstock. Self-described as “land driven, land motivated and land connected,” Craig practices sustainable farming techniques and teaches the principles of land stewardship. He is also president of the Center for Land-Based Learning, which introduces rural and urban high school students to sustainable farming, science and technology.

Craig McNamara's Speech

Craig McNamara gives Fall 2007 Convocation at UC Davis I am honored to be here at the beginning of this new academic year. Today's theme of "inspiration" is so appropriate in our world, which often seems out of control and broken.

While preparing for today, I reflected on the key people who have helped shape my life. These mentors have brought meaning to my work and everything that I do.

Be the change we wish to see in the world

I met Agnes Miller when I was 18. By that time, she had been teaching 6th grade for more than 20 years in a school in the poorest part of Washington, D.C.

Washington is a city of many contradictions, and there is no greater one than this all-black elementary school just blocks from the nation's capitol, where students lacked textbooks, clothing, lunch money and a sense of hope.

Aggie taught me that "her children" needed love and a strong role model. Her goal was to expose these "precious children" to nature and to the goodness of life. She encouraged me to follow the path of Gandhi and "Be the change we wish to see in the world."

Think about the plants you are helping today

Alumnus and farmer Craig McNamara credits an inner-city 6th-grade teacher, a Mexican sugar cane farmer and a Solano County farmer for helping him set his lifelong dedication.

At 22, I met Manuel Torres in his sugar cane field in Michoacan, Mexico. Throughout that year, I helped Manuel and his family raise and harvest their crops.

I will never forget working on the rocky slope of a cane field, hoeing weeds from what seemed to be a never-ending parcella of sugar cane, looking up from my hoe and confessing that I didn't think that I had it in me to finish the field.

Manuel turned to me and said, "Don't worry about the field; just think about the plants you are helping today."

Get to know all of the jobs on the farm, even the boring ones

When I was 26, having just graduated from UC Davis, I met Ton Lum. He was a local Chinese farmer and Davis graduate who allowed me to work at his side hoeing, mowing, and irrigating field crops.

He knew that, if I was going to succeed as a farmer, I needed to know all the jobs on the farm — even the boring ones.

As inspirational as Ton was out in the field, his greatest gifts to me were his lessons about appreciating life and nurturing friendships.

Occasionally at noon, he would find me in some distant field and take me to his house for a lunch of homemade noodles and some lively conversation about Chinese literature or Cesar Chavez.

Learn to love, to nurture and to connect with the land

Aggie, Manuel and Ton all taught me to love, to nurture and to connect with the land.

I fear that today our children are experiencing what has been termed a "nature deficit disorder."

This occurs because of the disconnect between our food, our land and our people. Today our fellow Americans spend 95 percent of their time in houses, cars, malls and offices.

We are becoming an indoor species. It is predicted that 25 percent of the next generation of children born in the U.S. will begin their lives in slums and never experience or visit the lands upon which their food is grown.**

I think that you will agree with me that this is unacceptable.

My passion as a farmer is to help others reconnect to nature, to give inner-city children a chance to experience the world of farming, and to seek sustainable ways to improve our communities.

The Center for Land-Based Learning

Alumnus Craig McNamara founded the Center for Land-Based Learning and is president/owner of Sierra Orchards in Winters, Calif.

At the Center for Land-Based Learning, we are preparing the next generation of decision makers to be informed stewards of the environment and committed community leaders.

UC Davis has been a valuable partner, emphasizing the rigor of learning and the value of mastering a subject through a combination of experiential learning and scientific research. I invite you to join us. Together "we can be the change we wish to see in the world."

And on that note, as you return to work or class on this beautiful day, stop by the UCD farmer's market on the Quad and, as Michael Pollan would say, "Vote with your fork!"

**The Geography of Childhood by Gary Paul Nabhan and Stephen Trimble

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