Aristotle on the Farm: How the Clemente Course Changed Kafi Dixon

Kafi Dixon, a farmer and student of the Clemente Course

Kafi Dixon, a farmer and student of the Clemente Course

Aristotle described agriculture as “the first and most proper parts of domestic management” in his Poetics. Kafi Dixon, a farmer and student of the Clemente Course, understands the primacy of food, and yet it is her study of the humanities that allowed her to pursue her dream of providing healthy food to her community. She is the founder of Seeds of Change, an organization that has formed a partnership with City Growers and Family Independence Initiative, to address food security in Boston’s Fairmont Corridor. The new “buy-in club” allows individuals to come together to purchase food items collectively from local farms and wholesale distributors, saving them money and providing increased access to healthy foods. The Clemente Course in the Humanities was instrumental in helping Kafi develop her writing skills in order to formulate her business plan. She thanks Mass Humanities and the Clemente program for helping her to develop the courage to advance her goals. We recently heard Kafi’s story and learned from her about the impact the Clemente Course has had on her life.

What brought you to Clemente?

This is amazingly enough my second time at Clemente. I took the program about two years ago and what brought me there was my regular job, which was in transportation. For lack of a better term, I really felt like it was dumbing me down. I felt that so strongly that I left the job. Once I was out of the job, I was like “Kafi, what do you do now? You haven’t been to school in so long.”

I get a little misty about this. I think I’ve only disclosed this to [my Clemente Course professor] Jack Cheng and a couple other people. I never went to high school. I graduated middle school and was in foster care. After the first few weeks of high school, though, I was homeless, it was just too hard, I never made past those first few weeks in school. Because of struggles in life, I never went on to the high schools that could have pushed me into going into the Navy, like I had wanted, or going to college. When I was 16, I got pregnant and had my first daughter, and then when I was 19 I had my second daughter. I moved to Connecticut, to the north end of Hartford, to give them the better life I never had.

I’ve always believed in education, but when the kids got older and I could afford daycare, I still didn’t have my GED. I started taking non-credit courses at like 21 at University of Hartford’s College for Women for small business administration. Any college I could find to take a non-credit course, just to grow and feel like I was participating, I would pay that money and go. I started small businesses along the way. I didn’t have a GED and I always thought it was unfair that I would get in front of an employer and they would ask me for my GED, so as a young woman with literally nothing, I would start these small businesses: a bedding shop, a farm stand, anything to get away without having to be asked about not having a GED. It was like this dirty little secret I was carrying around. I’d be in these situations and it’d be real to me that I don’t have a diploma. Every once in a while, I’d be put in a situation where my level of confidence would just drop, I was afraid people were going to realize at any moment.

Leaving my job was a really great time in my life as well because I left to go farm. I was doing a course at Tufts University for beginner farmers. It just so happed that the end of my beginner farmers’ course segued into Clemente. I felt like I’d lacked confidence in the Tufts program to put forth the idea for this dream I had. I think it was a turning point for me, I really felt like I lacked the education to compete with those women, and it was something that I really, really wanted to do. I was being asked to give them things—if I had to write my business plan it was just for my eyes, but for the first time in my life I was being asked to turn over something for other people to look at. I did my best, but I always wondered: are they judging me, do they know? Here I am with daughters graduating from college and I’m struggling silently with these issues related to my education. After the program, with my anxiety kicking in big time, I found the Clement Course and hustled to get in there.

Why did you decide to leave the course? After you decided to take a break, what brought you back?

I was absorbed in Clemente immediately; I was just taking in everything. The only thing was the funds I had set aside to do these things had started to run out. My carriage was turning into a pumpkin and meanwhile my job was lobbying hard to get me back, so I tried to do both. I did as much Clemente as I could but eventually opted to put that dream on hold, go back to work, get that income.

In what ways has the Clemente Course inspired your work with Seeds of Change? How does it continue to inform that work?

I needed to write a business plan for the farm, which I had written before, but after three years at my job of not reading, not writing, not really even having conversations—just not building a lot of the skills that I think other people take for granted, especially college students—I was paralyzed. How do you begin to write a business plan? How do you begin to talk about farming? How do you begin to go into academia and talk about agriculture? I was lacking the confidence. I felt passionate about something, passionate enough to leave my job, to believe it was a point of self-growth, but when I was in the position to develop and grow, I couldn’t find anything until somebody had mentioned the Clemente Course to me.

I’m more than capable of farming, I’m more than capable of running a business, I’m more than passionate that I want to do this, but I lacked one thing, which was confidence in my writing, in my educational background, the confidence to talk to people who are from a different class. It was real for me. The program matters a lot. When I come home from Clemente, I feel a little more armed to get out what I need to get out.

What has been the most influential aspect of the course—your favorite class or idea that was most directly relevant to your life—and why?

My first time at the Clemente Course my fascination and passion were first with art history. I couldn’t get enough of art history. I was supposed to be in there learning how to write for a business plan, to put this dream to paper, and I fell in love with art. Even after I started back with my job I was going to the Museum of Fine Arts on my own. Jack Cheng told us about the free Friday events and, you know, I hadn’t been to the MFA since I was in like middle school. So I started going, bringing my friends along. It was so emotional, it was amazing to see the art we had talked about and seen in book right there on the walls.

Why are the humanities important to you, especially as a woman of color who farms?

Here in Boston it’s not just my issue of a lack of education, it’s a lot of low-income, working class women of color, who don’t have the ability to go out and get an education. People don’t just judge you on your use of grammar anymore, what they measure now is whether you’re rounded overall. To me, the humanities give you a chance to be rounded overall. I tell my story proudly now to the women I work with to say you can help yourself grow.

I’m always looking for points of growth and development. I haven’t found another course like Clemente. It’s the only place where in each of those classes, I could be sitting next to someone Haitian or Jamaican whose English is their second language, and they’re trying to figure out with me what Socrates meant. It’s the only place where I can ask a question like “What does modernity mean?” and not have people be like “Oh, girl, you don’t know that word?!” It’s a safe space to give yourself the tools to move in circles where you usually don’t get to, or have the confidence to feel comfortable adventuring.

Interview conducted by David Morgan, Communication Officer, Mass Humanities
December 2014