Croft interview – Scott Murray
In this ongoing series of conversations with gifted leaders I am exploring #LeadershipFlow in action. What is it? How does it help leaders navigate change and inspire others to reach for more?
Croft: Today I’m out on a beautiful urban farm to talk with Scott Murray, an organic farmer with 40 years of agricultural production experience in the US and Mexico. A passionate advocate for farming reform, he chairs the board of the Slow Food chapter in San Diego County, is a Resource Conservation District Elected Official in San Diego, and chairs the board of the MESA Program that brings agricultural interns to the United States to train for a year and sends Americans out internationally. Scott designed and built a 15-acre organic farm that now supplies schools, local chefs, and Whole Foods stores of Southern California. I am looking forward to eating a ripe tomato.
Croft: One of the things in leadership I firmly believe is that the most difficult person you will ever lead is yourself. If I show up as the genuine offer, things happen. So share with me how you look at your leadership and how you’ve grown into the leader you are.
Scott: My wife and I were small farmers so our kids grew up on these organic farms, had a beautiful life experience and that was the core of my leadership development – homeschooling and no TV! Good parenting can contain the qualities of good leadership. Our society’s educational system is based on an oppression model – it develops good workers. Not good thinkers, not people who are stepping forward but people who will stand in line and do what they are told. That might be good when you want to get certain jobs done, but it is a real dead end when you want to grow beyond the basics.
Probably the core challenge of being a human is self-doubt. Am I good enough to do this? That’s one of things that we have to manage on a regular basis or it will prevent many people from taking the step forward. What if I misspeak, what if I step up to give a speech and can’t get a word out of my mouth because I am in terror? A guiding idea for me is to literally take a step forward, focus on the power that you were given as a human being and your abilities and visualize that all doubts and fears are left behind – back one step. Two years ago I gave a speech at UC San Diego where the whole room was filled with PhDs. I, and a woman who was a very learned PhD, were to speak about how humans change their thoughts. I remember thinking, well…I am as good as these folks in every way I just don’t have that PhD. So I’ll step up here and give them what I have to say. Public speaking has been one of my huge opportunities to step forward. The core of my contribution to the world is what I call Inspiration to Action. My goal is to inspire a positive thought in each person that I encounter. It might be the checkout woman at the supermarket who is obviously having a hard day. If you truly engage someone, get them to smile, it might change their whole day – and their interactions with everyone after you.
Croft: Self doubt is a story that many of us wrestle with as leaders. A great mentor coach and friend of mine, Carol Courcey, talks about how we are influenced by our “Itty-Bitty Shitty Committee” which keeps us from becoming our powerful self. When I was with Scott, I marveled at his determination to show up and make a difference. He may have had an “Itty-Bitty Shitty Committee,” but it seems to me as if he knew how to silence it.. This is the crux of being a leader in leadershipflow, getting yourself out of the way and opening up powerful futures for those around you. If you can lead yourself, others will follow.
Croft: You’re on a lot of boards – I would imagine a lot of your time is spent getting diverse groups to work together and communicate?
Scott: The common thread through all we do is communication; being able to communicate with people and discover and develop their leadership. We need people to step forward into leadership because they see the bigger picture. Public service has broadened my view; I get the opportunity to work with amazing people from diverse walks of life, and that elevates what I call communications literacy.
Croft: I work a lot with clients in oil and gas, that’s maybe a place we could use better communication – talking about the need for energy and the needs of the environment.
Scott: One of the first things is we can’t demonize any one person. We can’t assume that people doing certain jobs don’t care about clean air or water. It creates a polarization and a divide. It doesn’t create positive progress. Creating a climate – a culture of respect and cooperation at the ground level – that is the only way to address the problem.
Croft: As we were talking it became very evident to me that Scott saw his leadership bridging the gaps in conversations. It was not about politics or right versus wrong, but rather how can we work through this as fellow human beings. This part of our conversation was very inspiring to me.
Croft: I believe that to create powerful things you start with self-mastery. Then the next thing is the power of a vision. So what is your vision as you look down the road; what is it you want to create?
Scott: When we take on the challenge of raising children we really are throwing a grappling hook into the future. We want them to catch hold in the future. They do tie us to the future in a positive way – we hope we have helped create people who will be a positive impact way beyond our lives. Now that my kids are grown, my vision has been do the work I like to do, and be with, communicate with, and inspire people. I have a passion for this world of plants and food. One of the greatest ways to reach people is through their stomach. And it is life itself – it is nutrition and health.
I have also discovered that it is a responsibility of mine to make a difference in the world. And I got that from my mom, probably when I was about seven. I remember walking down the hallway and she was coming in the other direction and I took a shirt off and dropped on the floor. She said “Stop, back up.” I backed up and she said, “Bend over, pick that up! Never step over a problem.” It is your responsibility to do something about it when you see it. Maybe you can’t fix it but you need speak it, tell someone, do something but never step over it and think somebody else will take care of that.
Croft: Where do you think urban farming can go? Where would you like to see it?
Scott: Well, we are in a crisis, an extraordinary crisis. For about 80 years we have visualized our future as one of using poison to raise food. We have had some benefits from it but it is largely both subverted human consciousness and polluted human bodies and caused extraordinary challenges. I work with a doctor on this Slow Food board and he says that 80% of human health challenges that he sees in the hospital comes from what people put in their mouth. 10% accidents and 10% is genetics but the rest is our food and the junk that now comes with it.
So, I believe that we need to support a positive pathway to a future agricultural system that can support the world and make sense. Agroecology is a holistic approach to agriculture and food systems development based on traditional knowledge, alternative agriculture, and local food experiences. By practicing agroecological techniques on the footprint of human farming we can double food production and over time heal the errors of the chemical era. Also, sections of our cities are food deserts. Many people live in lower income neighborhoods where fast food, mini-marts, and liquor stores are the only convenient place to get food. So the cheapest and lowest quality food is what is available. That has to change.
How can we inspire a farming transition? The core of our challenge right now is that I am 60. I am the average age of an American farmer. For every farmer we have that is 25 years old, we have five that are 75 years old and still working on the farm. Time is running out and we need to get a lot more minds engaged, and urban agriculture plays a key part of that. Around the world there are many cities where agriculture has always been filtered right into the city. Paris Market Gardens has been a consciousness. Italy is one of the places where they created a growth boundary back in the 1600’s around their villages and the cities. They wanted the farmer to live in the community and be able to walk to his fields, so they grew up rather than out. Well we have been spreading out and we have tended to spread out over the best farmland. Urban agriculture is an area where we have overlooked tremendous resources and where we have people in need.
Croft: As I listened to Scott, the past, the present, and the future were all in play. Scott was aware of the history of food and humanity and how it shapes where we are today. He sees that the choices we make today will influence the future. Mostly, I sensed that he sees that his actions today can and will shape the future. As Winston Churchill said, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” For Scott, the future is written with each seed he puts in the ground, each person he influences in their exploration of food. Scott is planting food for today and the future.
Croft: How can we create a culture that will expand in the right direction?
Scott: We have a great opportunity to both find and inspire the farmers of the future. We can invest in training programs around the country that gave young people elders, vets, anyone, an opportunity to participate in growing the food that they eat and make sure that they have fresh foods as a principal part of that support. It is unconscionable that the government is so inefficient at doing the things that it has promised for those who went to war.
I teach at San Diego City College, we have a program called Seeds@City. In this state we have closed eighty vocational programs in our community colleges in the last 20 years and opened only one – and that’s my program. I have a Vet in my class who pulled me aside after class and he said, “You know since I have gotten out, your lecture today was the most inspirational thing that I have heard.” And I was like, “Wow!” Basically in my talk I had just laid out that if you find a passion in growing things and you can work your way into making a living at it. You will have a much more peaceful life. And he said, “I so resonate with that, I don’t want to become a police officer.” Which is the path for many veterans.
We need to also pay attention to what the prognosticators are saying that some 80% of the world’s people live in or near cities. We need to utilize techniques I use on my farm, planting on the contour so that when the rainwater falls we catch it so it penetrates into the ground, mulching to encourage biological activity and conserve water. When we bring people in and we show kids food actually growing, it plants this seed of possibility in them that is an extraordinary thing.
Croft: Actions speak louder than words, and to see Scott’s farm in action was energizing for me. To walk on the land brought me back to my agricultural roots growing up in Southern New Mexico. It motivated me to think about the food I eat, and the long term affects of it on myself and my family, and I can say it has caused me to eat better, to become more aware of what goes in my body.
Croft: Much of what you do puts you in a leadership position, what are your thoughts on Leadership?
Scott: One of my professors of education taught me about a learning model called Time Bombs. He said, “You know some days and you’ll have to go in and you’ll have to teach people something they must get before you leave the classroom.” But, he said, “Most of the time we just toss out these kernels of knowledge and let them go in through that person.” They may get two or three other reference points and then “boom” that little kernel of knowledge will go off and it will connect for them. If you just deliver it from your core with clear intention, some are going to get it. And one student might get it in one week and another might get it in six months. But one day they’ll be driving along and it’ll go, “Bing!”
Croft: Now I have a request – I want to go out and see the farm!
Scott: Good. Let’s go. As you will see, urban farming maximizes space, water, and resources. We grow what families like to eat – lots of vegetables, lettuces and greens, and I am particularly excited about my heirloom tomatoes that produce year round. It’s pretty great to be able to grow what people can eat and makes them say, “Wow!” You know, many people have never bit into the joy that is a genuine, ripe tomato.