Tom Giessel: My Experience with Ogallala Commons

Guest Post by OC Board Member Tom Giessel

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 10.33.06 PMI became a member of the Board of Directors of the Ogallala Commons over five years ago, in February, 2009. However, I have been associated with the organization for much longer, thanks largely in part to a strong Famers Union connection. From the beginning, I was attracted to the organization like a moth to a flame. Most importantly, I am drawn to the high value that the Ogallala Commons places upon Education, 

especially on a local level, and the work that it does to harvest the wealth of local knowledge that exists within all communities. The different levels and layers of communities, the personal and shared histories, and the natural and human resources that can be found in communities are all recognized and revered by the organization. This was one of the first things that drew me to the Commons and is the reason that I feel so passionate about my involvement within it.

I am a fourth-generation family farmer in southwest Kansas. I also serve as the Honorary Historian for National Farmers Union. I find that as I delve into the history of agriculture and farm organizations, what I am really doing is examining communities from both an anthropological and sociological perspective. I believe that my role on the Board of Directors for the Ogallala Commons has been informed by my work as both a farmer and a historian, and has largely been a reflection of my passion for education and community development. In recent years, I have worked closely with the internship program, establishing and supporting programs as well as nurturing individuals who participate in these programs. For example, a few years back I initiated a local internship program for high school students who collected oral histories. For a second project, I worked with two community college students who researched local food systems. Last year, my wife and I hosted an intern who worked on rural health issues, both physical and mental. The opportunity to be involved in programs such as these was extremely fulfilling, and allowed me to both plant the seeds for future community work.

To me, being associated with the Ogallala Commons is not work; it is a unique opportunity for me to meet my responsibility to the land, my community, and my family. I look forward to meetings and gatherings, as they allow me to make connections with incredibly dedicated individuals. The mission and people in the Ogallala Commons challenge me to immerse myself in my community in new ways, become more connected and grow deeper roots, expand my horizons and the horizons of others, and make unique contributions to my own community’s development. Being associated with the Ogallala Commons has allowed me to put the daily work that I do into perspective; it is not simply my own labor for my own purposes; rather, it is about being part of something larger than myself, or even my community. It allows me to contemplate how my actions may impact and serve the soul of any community – its people.

One of the most inspiring and exciting aspects of the Ogallala Commons is what is happening right now with the education programming. Introducing others to the concept of a commonwealth and creating opportunities for people to share in the wealth of knowledge and community, while examining their lives and roles in their communities, is the greatest gift we can hope to give future generations. My hope is for the continual rebirth and fortification of communities themselves on many different levels. Through this action, we are honoring and preserving the consciousness of Place. In one sense, the focus of the Ogallala Commons is on water, but in reality, it is about much more than water itself. Water serves as a great metaphor for the work that we do and the goals that we hope to achieve; the power, movement, and transformation that water can behold is in the background of everything we do. Serving as a Board member for the past five years has helped me to find a way to both live in a community and give life to a community.

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