Jennifer Shults

Jennifer Shults

Interview by: Danny Rosenburg

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Q: What are some words you would use to describe Oberlin?

A: Small in the good sense, intimate, safe, interesting, liberal, diverse.

Q: Could you tell me more about your commitments and priorities in your work and family?

A: I’ve chosen the life that has a family in it. So in that last 10 years—my son is 10, I have been working, and of course my work is in helping individuals and groups that I’m teaching in learning how to live a more ecological life, which will be healthier for them. I do a lot of practice in my personal life and my family life. I feel very fortunate to have grown up here with my grandparents, my Fairchild grandparents. And to me, our culture desperately needs different generations taking care of each other.  I’m here to be a part of that with my grandparents, and I’m here to be a part of that with my son, who has been homeschooled up until this age. It’s just something that we’ve chosen to do and he’ll be entering the public schools soon. Part of why we’ve done that is to instill some of the values that we’ve been talking about—really wanting to have a lot of skills for example he can take you out into the woods and tell you what all the plants are.  

Q: What is your definition of sustainability? 

A: Well, to me it’s pretty simple. Sustainability just means that you’re able to continue without the system that you’re a part of breaking down and no longer functioning. Whether it’s your economic system or your agricultural system or your own personal health or any kind of system necessary for life, it’s that it can continue within an equilibrium of health--without coming to a crashing halt.

"Our culture desperately needs the generations taking care of each other."

Q: Are there specific sustainable actions that you take in your life?

A: In my family and personal life we eat very well and part of that is supporting sustainable agriculture as much as we possibly can so that that system can remain a sustainable system. And we refuse to participate—as much as we’re able to, but of course no one can perfectly --with the corporate agriculture and the consumer culture with “junk goods” that are depleting the environment.  We have done a lot of energy improvements in our house. Just last year we put in a lot of extra insulation in the attic and we kind of closed down the upstairs and shut off the heat up there for the winter. We have a wood stove, that we do part of our heat with. We have a garden and grow some of our own food. We have a CSA and we’re part of a dairy co-op and we get grass-fed meat from an Amish farmer, so we’re supporting all those folks.  I believe in “small is beautiful.” My office is small and I keep that simple as well so there’s not a lot of overhead there. My whole work is about helping people be sustainable in their health. When I was younger I used to worry about not doing enough a lot, and I would feel bad about it, but I decided that’s not the culture we want to create—we want to create a happy and hopeful culture so I feel good about what I do. I realize no one’s perfect.

"Love and compassion is a much better motivator than fearfulness."

Q: What are the benefits of adding a little each year and staying hopeful?
A: Well, I feel so much better. And holistic health is my field, and to me, love and compassion is a much better motivator than fearfulness. This is an intense world. There’s a lot of beautiful wonderful stuff here, and there’s a lot of scary, out of balance things. Part of me, with regards to sustainability, feels that we’re not as good as we could be at focusing on the beautiful stuff and the good stuff. Because that’s the stuff that’s highly motivating. We need to not have our heads in the sand. If you’re focusing too much on the negative stuff, it doesn’t help. It actually paralyzes you a little bit.

Q: Yes, but it’s hard to find that balance especially when motivating other people—it seems like the go to sentiment is “you should be guilty about this.”

A: Yes, it’s very hard, and that’s actually a major theme in my work. And, it’s one of the major roots of health –the idea of feeling really good about who you are, and then using that to make choices to keep you feeling good. Then there are the things that we can’t change that are troubling and that we have to learn to make peace with.

Q: Is there any message you’d like to share with the community, because this is a chance to broadcast it!

A: I think if I had anything more to say to the community it would be about listening and caring. I think we do pretty good job here in Oberlin, but we’re still a part of a bigger culture, world, and we have so many people here from all walks of life with great things to say and to offer. More listening, and more starting from respect, and more caring about each person’s perspective. I think the students have this idea that the college is all sustainable, if only we could educate the town, and actually in many ways, the town is ahead of the college. The best thing to do is to see who’s coming from a good heart—that they’re doing the best they can, and you want to support everyone who’s doing the best they can. If you come from that point of view, it’s a lot easier to help someone face the mistakes their making.

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