Application Story — Thea Maria Carlson

I met Thea two months ago at a BALLE Art of Hosting that I was co-leading. Below is what she sent in an email as followup. Inspiring.

We just finished the Biodynamic Conference in Madison and I’m happy to report it was an enormous success. We had over 600 participants and the energy was just buzzing the whole time. After our retreat in September I brought many of the ideas we discussed to the conference planning team, and we were able to incorporate a number of them. I am so grateful to have had those 3 days with all of you and to be able to bring some of the tools and insights we experienced together to the community I work with.

We started on Wednesday with a pre-conference gathering of mentor farmers in our farmer training program — about 30 came from across the US and Canada. I incorporated collective story harvest in the morning, with 5 mentors telling a story of a challenge they encountered working with an apprentice, and how they overcame it. The roles I chose for the listeners were witness, narrative arc, pivotal moments and questions. We had a great harvest after the groups with the same role got to share with each other, and several people came up to me afterwards to say how much they enjoyed it.

We also had small group conversations in the afternoon, focused on the question, “How can we support each other as mentor farmers?” — we had only one round and no tables so it wasn’t really a full world cafe, but still generated some great conversations and a good harvest of possibilities I can help support as we develop the program.

On Thursday I hosted a half-day gathering with about 30 apprentices in our farmer training program. We began with them introducing themselves to each other in pairs, and then introducing the other to the full group. It started the day with a good deal of laughter and a spirit of fun. We then did a world cafe, with two rounds on the question “What is the future asking from us?” and a third round on “What support do we need to do the work we are called to do?” This, too, went over quite well. People enjoyed themselves and seemed to make good connections.

The main conference was Friday-Sunday. I moderated the opening keynote panel on Friday morning, and after four farmers shared about their farms and connection to the sacred element of agriculture, I asked everyone in the audience to turn to someone they didn’t know and ask them “What inspired you from this morning?” as we moved into our 30 minute break. Before the other two keynote addresses on Friday evening and Saturday morning, I offered another conversation topic for a 3 minute conversation with a new person, developed in collaboration with the keynote speaker to help bring people into the mood of what the speaker would be talking about. It was great to have the role of conversation starter throughout the conference, although of course I also had to be the one to cut people off after 3 minutes when they clearly would have loved to talk for much longer.

Before I participated in the Art of Hosting retreat we had already planned to include Open Space on Friday and Saturday afternoons, but after experiencing it with all of you, I was better able to collaborate with the person we brought in to organize it. He made space for about 40 conversations among the 600 people, but I think we had more like 10-15 going on at once — we had a film screening going on concurrently and I think a lot of people were ready to just stare at the lake by 4pm. But those who found their way to conversations seemed to find them very meaningful.

As part of our closing on Sunday, my role was to invite people to form groups of 3 and talk about insights, reflections and burning questions from the conference, this time with 20 minutes to have more of a full conversation. Then I invited people to share with the whole group. There was such a richness in the comments that came forward and I am sure having the opportunity to talk in the small group beforehand contributed to that.

We concluded the conference with a closing ceremony on the conference center’s indoor terrace overlooking Lake Monona. There were several powerful moments but what brought so many of us to tears was everyone singing “Halleluiah” in 4 part harmony together. It is just incredible to be in the midst of 300 ordinary people singing together, the deep bass of so many men’s voices we rarely hear in that way, to be adding a small voice to that immense collective of beautiful sound.

Open-heartedness seemed to be a theme of the conference, and so often throughout the 5 days I felt my heart. People were just so happy to be there, to connect. I know some of that would have happened without all the hosting we incorporated, but I also feel that they were an important contribution toward facilitating those connections and bringing the spirit of the event to the incredible place it reached.

I deeply appreciate the contribution each of you made toward this coming into being, and hope to continue the dialogue.


Thea Maria Carlson
Education Program Coordinator
Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association

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