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Ms. Shi Yan, the Representative of China New Farmers, Awarded 2023 “John Cobb Common Good Award”

On June 9th, 2023, Pacific Time, the 15th “John Cobb Common Good Award” ceremony was successfully held, honoring Dr. Shi Yan, the Representative of China New Farmers, for her work as a leading figure in promoting the CSA movement in China. The “John Cobb Common Good Award” is the highest award in the field of global ecological philosophy and ecological civilization. The award is named after Dr. John B. Cobb Jr., a world-renowned process philosopher, theologian, ecological advocate, and a pioneer in proposing the ‘Green GDP’ in the West. He is the founding co-director of Center for Process Studies, and the president of the Institute for Postmodern Development of China (IPDC), as well as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. This award is to recognize ecological environmentalists who have made outstanding contributions in promoting ecological civilization and the common good of humankind and nature. The award ceremony was co-hosted by Dr. Philip Clayton, president of the IPDC, and Dr. Meijun Fan, who serves as program director for the institute as well as the co-director of China Project, Center for Process Studies. Zhang Yujia, a doctoral student at the School of Philosophy of Nankai University, and Wenwen, an outstanding graduate of the Cobb Eco-Academy, provided interpretation in both Chinese and English for the ceremony.

This year’s winner, Dr. Shi Yan, is the founder of Sharing the Harvest Farm and Co-Chair of the International Community Support Agricultural Alliance. Having earned her Ph.D. from the School of Agriculture and Rural Development at the Chinese People University, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Tsinghua University. Dr. Shi Yan was named “World Youth Leader” in 2016. She is the first Chinese public-funded international student to become a farmer in the U.S., where she founded Sharing Harvest Farm, Little Donkey Citizen Farm, and Beijing Organic Farmer. She promotes sustainable farming practices and Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs), and has authored three books: I am a farmer in the United States, Education and Agriculture Education Handbook as the Son of the Earth, and The Revolution from Land to Table.

Dr. Philip Clayton, along with Mr. Tom Tseng, who is the secretary-general of the IPDC, presented Dr. Shi Yan with her honorary certificate. Dr. Clayton commended that Dr. Shi is a forerunner in the era of ecological civilization, and a model for postmodern youth, pointing out that Dr. Shi has been focusing on CSA for more than ten years, and has demonstrated excellence in ecologically sustainable agriculture, promoting pride among farmers, and respect for the industry, as well as village life. Mr. Tom Tseng also congratulated Dr. Shi Yan, stating that she is truly deserving of the award, and as the leader of these emergent practices among Chinese farmers, her hard work is transforming traditional agriculture in the direction of sustainability.

The keynote speech at the award ceremony was given by Dr. Mary Evelyn Tucker, winner of the second “John Cobb Common Good Award,” and a distinguished scholar of world religions and ecology, process thinker, and Confucian scholar at Yale University. Dr. Tucker firstly expressed her thanks to “Zhihe Wang and Meijun Fan who have worked tirelessly with John Cobb and other process thinkers like Jay McDaniel, Catherine Keller, Phil Clayton, Andrew Schwartz and others to support a new worldview of ecological civilization. My husband, John Grim, and I are grateful to have been part of meetings they have organized in China and in Claremont over many years.” Then, she gave her special thanks to John Cobb for his decades of visionary work to give birth to multiple pathways toward the Common Good. She stressed that “There is no one in the United States who has done as much to highlight this important sense that we are not simply individuals looking for more material gains but rather humans living in nested communities.”

Dr. Tucker praised Dr. Shi’s remarkable work, believing that “Dr. Shi’s achievements in CSA provide the basis for the realization of the common good of humans and nature. That human beings are a part of the vitality of the earth community is evidenced by the experience of Dr. Shi. Human beings need to treat the land kindly. In this process, the lives of ourselves and our descendants are nourished.

Dr. Tucker described Dr. Shi’s experience with the origins of CSA from the perspective of exchange between the East and the West. Confucianism in traditional Chinese culture teaches that people are in an enduring relationship with others, society, the earth, and the vast universe. This Confucian worldview has always affected the development of human society. The early Confucian thinker, Mencius, regarded the moral cultivation of people to be similar to the biological cultivation of plants. He believed that the four virtues of “humaneness”, “righteousness”, “ritual” and “wisdom” were like sprouts that needed to be cultivated, just like caring for plants as they grow. Zhu Xi, the neo-Confucian philosopher of the Song dynasty, believed that all life never stops, but keeps on going organically. According to Daoism, it is important to  maintain a healthy life in harmony with nature. Traditional Chinese medicine employs vital force (Qi)to help personal cultivation via Qigong, Taiji and acupuncture. The Daoist world view also believes that the relationship between the inside and outside of the human body is the same as the micro and macro relationship between the human, the earth, and the universe.

Dr. Tucker introduced the origin of the CSA farm, an interesting story of the interaction between the East and the West. The organic farming movement emerged in Japan in 1965 and developed in the United States 20 years later. In 1975, Masanobu Fukuoka’s natural agriculture book, One Straw Revolution was published, and later he helped to spark an organic farming movement in the United States. This story of influence from the east to the west is matched by influence coming from the west back to the east in the Earthrise Farm where Dr. Shi Yan once worked. This is a family farm run by a pair of sisters who are also Catholic nuns. They are influenced by cultural historian, Thomas Berry, who visited China in 1948 and was deeply influenced by Confucian culture as well. His idea of the need for a new story of evolution of the universe, the earth and human beings has taken root in many CSA farms in the United States that are run by nuns. Berry also called for mutually enhancing human-earth relations. Therefore, it can be said that Dr. Shi’s experience in the Earthrise Farm was influenced by Thomas Berry, who himself was influenced by Confucianism. Dr. Tucker believes “this story of the East and the West joining hands to seek common good shows that ‘cooperation’ is very important in the process of seeking ecological civilization, and this year’s Cobb Common Good Award is an important example. Sustainability and food safety also focus on the mutual trust between farmers and consumers. Dr. Shi has made incredible contributions to the global community, and her experience shows that a healthy farming method can not only nourish the society, but also make people with nature as a community toward common good.

Dr. Shi Yan then delivered her acceptance speech. She first expressed her gratitude to the mentors and friends on the way to growth, especially to Dr. Cobb and his team. Quoting the verse of Qu Yuan, the great poet who wrote 2000 years ago: “I plucked magnolias every morning as the spring and autumn went by in order.” She noted that it has been more than ten years since she listened to Professor Cobb’s lectures, and the ecological economy that Professor Cobb and his team advocated and promoted has become a significant force promoting the turn to ecological agriculture in 21st century China. She feels fortunate to be acknowledged and to share in the honor. She also especially thanked her mentor, Professor Wen Tiejun, a famous expert on agricultural issues, who taught her to go from a desk to the elites, then back to the land, and to truly writing vivid theses in the fields. Dr. Shi also thanked the mentors and friends of the International Community Supporting Agricultural Alliance who met at the American Landrise Farm in 2008, where she learned the CSA model which promotes human and social health, and environmental protection. 

Dr. Shi shared the historical development of her CSA farm in China. She chose not to go to a mainstream modern farm in the United States to learn how to increase the output by fertilizers, insecticides, and other exploitative methods, but instead, she chose to study at a CSA farm, and then combine the ancient wisdom passed down through generations of Chinese farmers. After returning to China, Dr. Shi established Little Donkey Citizen Farm and Sharing Harvest Farm, and introduced the CSA farm mode to other farmers so that they can gain a stronger sense of intrinsic value through mutual support with consumers through CSA. At present, there are more than 20 acres of land and 38 greenhouses in Shunyi Farm. There are more than 30 kinds of vegetables and fruits such as cucumber and chrysanthemum for customers to select. Meanwhile, the farm raises chickens, ducks, cattle, sheep, etc. and is very rich in biodiversity. Dr. Shi and her team have always advocated the four principles of “ecology, health, fairness and careness” in organic agriculture, and are committed to rebuilding the connection between people and land, hoping to improve the health of the soil and human beings.

Dr. Shi Yan put forward the dual challenges that China’s ecological agriculture faces: First, the current output of organic agriculture is determined according to the output of a specific crop, and the demand for the organic produce, in order to calculate the potential output per area of the ecosystem, which also requires analyzing the impact of many environmental factors. Secondly, in the past 30 years, although the output of grain produced by Chinese farmers has been able to support the Chinese people and meet the needs of agricultural products in other countries to a certain extent, Chinese farmers in many areas have come to the city to work as a result of the continuous improvement of China’s industrialization. The situation of resource waste such as planting trees in arable land and abandoning land is worsening. Regarding the question of ecological agriculture becoming a mainstream farming style, Dr. Shi answered on behalf of colleagues in ecological agriculture: “Whether it has become the mainstream or not is not important. Whether it is ecological agriculture or sustainable agriculture, as long as it is beneficial to the health of people, soil, and nature, is all we care about.”

On the basis of 500 CSA ecological farms, Dr. Shi and her colleagues initiated the establishment of ecological agriculture cooperatives in 30 Chinese provinces as well as the National Cooperative Association, and established a unified agricultural product supply chain, capital mutual assistance chain, etc. Dr. Shi stated that “my current mission is not only to be a good farmer, but more importantly, I will share my years of experience with new farmers who have just returned to the countryside from the city to help them find the strength of farmers. This work requires colleagues domestically and abroad to support and help. Food security and ecological sustainability are guaranteed. The ecological environment of hundreds of millions of acres of land has improved the health status of hundreds of millions of people. This is the common good. I believe that Dr. Cobb and all the ecological staff are happy to witness the success!”

Dr. John B.Cobb, Jr., the founding President of the the Institute for Postmodern Development of China and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, expressed his congratulations to Dr. Shi with great pleasure. He said that our era is facing many crises, and the development of ecological agriculture is an urgent task. Conserving the soil is crucial, it is far-reaching in addressing challenges such as global warming. Dr. Shi has richer professional knowledge on this. She has a lot of successful practical experience in ecological agriculture and rural construction in China. I hope that these experiences can be shared with the United States in the future. I hope that more people will make changes like Ms.Shi by listening to their inner voice, and devoting themselves to the great ecological civilization. Only ecological civilization can give the earth and civilization hope.

Scholars, ecological advocates, and guests who attended the ceremony congratulated Dr. Shi, and also expressed their voices and thoughts. Liu Xiaoting, senior Professor of Beijing Normal University, and vice president of China Society of Dialectics of Nature, said that the “common” word for “common good” in the award not only extends to all human life, but also to the natural world, adding that this is probably the most non-discriminatory, most inclusive, most constructive and above-mentioned prize among the various awards that has been awarded.

As the winner of the 11th “John Cobb Common Good Award,” professor Lu Shuyuan of the Institute of Ecological Culture of Henan University shared, “as an ancient Chinese proverb says, the people take food as their heaven. What Dr. Shi starts to solve is a big problem: how to make human beings eat fully and well, eat in line with human nature, in harmony with heaven and earth, and empathize with all things!”

Jay Jones, a professor of biology and biochemistry at the University of Raven, said that the challenges of the anthropocene will keep on increasing; although it is impossible for us to change the process of global politics and practice, we can follow Dr. Shi, change our behavior, and improve the well-being of our community. 

Zhang Lingxiao, a researcher at the Department of Humanities at Kobe University, Japan, believes that we should pursue a social and economic system, which can meet the needs of the current generation without harming the interests of future generations. Academician Cobb’s thinking and practice provides a comprehensive moral framework that helps us think about how to consider the needs and overall interests of the ecosystem in our behavior and decisions. 

Du Chengkun, a student from the Chinese University of Hong Kong said that Dr. Shi’s agricultural practice has brought inspiration to the future transformation of ecological civilization: the land beneath our feet gives the world to human beings, and ecological agriculture is also the feedback of human beings to the earth. 

Tang Liang, who is also engaged in organic farming in Sichuan, China, said that the award to Ms. Shi’s also made him and his colleagues proud as the new generation of farmers returning to their hometown. It is new farmers who are engaged in ecological agriculture and make unique contributions to ecological civilization and the common good of human beings and nature. 

Ms. Huang Yi, an associate professor at the School of Economics of Anhui University, found that all the winners of the “John Cobb Common Good Award ” have commonality, i.e., they live in a “Cobb-style” life in their own nation and community; follow their own life trajectory and bloom themselves in serving the huge network of lives by employing beauty, creativity, courage and adventure to ignite wisdom.

Dr. Zhao Liqiang of the Eternal University of the Philippines congratulated Ms. Shi for winning the award, believing that this reflects the principles of young Chinese scholars to further promote new models of agriculture. It sends a positive signal to the majority of Chinese youth: taking youth as the pen, the earth as the paint to draw an ecologically beautiful picture. 

Dr. Sun Guozhu, an associate professor at the College of Humanities of China University of Political Science and Law, said that there is always a fate that shares life and death, and there is always a kind of interest that is related. It is no longer a false statement in the era of ecological civilization to share the same destiny. 

American artist, environmentalist Blen Koch stressed , it was his privilege to attend the 15th John Cobb Common good award ceremony. “It was wonderful to see young people like Dr. Shi taking up the cause of organic farming, which is desperately needed in our society today if we are to save our world from catastrophes that we all know are coming. The foolishness of the American government in regards to the future of its own people is so corrupt that I have completely given up on the United States . China is now setting the standard, that if we don’t work together as a family towards harmony on this planet, we will have only ourselves to blame. Dr. Shi inspired me to do more to serve my fellow man. I so appreciate her remarkable achievement and Dr. Cobb’s effort to promote ecological civilization worldwide.”

Feeling that the world has been sought after and worshiped by the Nobel Prize for more than 100 years, Pei Yong, executive director of the China Culture Fund, expressed his views, thinking that the Nobel Prize has been instrumental for manipulation on behalf of modern industry and capital forces, and if the power of scientific and technological development is not guided properly, human beings are just accelerating their demise and creating disasters on the earth. The hope of human beings lies in the ecological civilization that changes the way of thinking of Western modernity to the ecological civilization that can bring common good to human beings. Therefore, he believes that the John Cobb Common Good Award is a green and organic conscience award for the future. 

This year’s ceremony marks the 15th year of presenting The John Cobb Common Good Award. Previous winners include: Sheri (Xiaoyi) Liao, Director of Beijing Global Village Environment Culture Center; Mary Evelyn Tucker, a Senior Lecturer and Research Scholar at Yale University; Dean Freudenberger, a prominent ecological agriculturalist and pioneer of postmodern agriculture; Mark Anielski, a Canadian happiness economist; Zongchao Liu, President of Beijing Institute of Ecological Civilization Engineering,also a member of the United Nations International Ecological Safety Academy; Tiejun Wen, Vice President of the China Agricultural Economics Society and a leading figure in the new Rural Reconstruction movement in China; Jay McDaniel, Chairman of the International Ecological Civilization Alliance; Herman Daly, the founder of ecological economics; An Jinlei, known as “China’s No. 1 Organic Farmer” who treats the land like a friend; Professor Sharon Snowiss from Claremont Graduate University and Pitzer College, who dedicated her life to promoting in-depth cultural exchanges between China and the West and pioneered qigong courses at American colleges; Professor Shuyuan Lu, a renowned Chinese ecological literary critic and Vice President of the Chinese Association for Literary Theory; Dr. Joean Oon, a prominent environmental leader from Malaysia who has been devoted to promoting zero-pollution movements globally using environmentally friendly enzymes; Kongjian Yu, Professor at the School of Architecture and Landscape Design at Peking University and the Focus Person of Green China; and Dr. Vandana Shiva, a prestigious environmental leader from India.

Lan Wei, PhD is an assistant professor of School of Marxism at Beijing Forestry University , Beijing, China.

Junfeng Wang, PhD is an assistant professor of Wenhou Academy of Social Sciences, Zhejiang, China.

Jing Lin is Assistant Researcher of College of Foreign Languages at Pu’er University, Yunan, China.