Hey everybody, welcome to the Author Hour Podcast. As always, I’m your host, Gunnar Rogers. I’m joined today by the incredibly hardworking, Trathen Heckman. His new book, Take Heart, Take Action: The Transformative Power of Small Acts, Groups, and Gardens is out today, and I know that groups, gardens and small acts might not sound like they’re all tied together but trust me, he makes it so clear that they are.
So before you go check out a copy of the book, check out my conversation with Trathen on the Author Hour Podcast.
All right everybody, as mentioned in the intro, I am super lucky to be joined by Trathen Heckman, author of the new book Take Heart, Take Action: The Transformative Power of Small Acts, Groups, and Gardens. Trathen, you’re a busy man, so I really appreciate you taking the time to be on the show today.
Trathen Heckman: Yeah, it’s really great to connect, thanks for having me.
Gunnar Rogers: Of course. It’s been really cool to dive into your book, especially the way you presented as a really unique time in our planet and in our culture with so many crises across the board, so much tension that we seem to experience on a global scale and you talk a lot about the power of small acts and small actions. So for you personally, when did you first realize that small actions are the solution to creating a better world?
Trathen Heckman: Yeah, great question. You know, it kind of built through time, but at first, long before I started Daily Acts, I was just waking up to the state of our social and ecological crisis and even then, you know, 30 years ago or something, it all seemed pretty overwhelming honestly and just bleak. Then I start to come across these people, you know, organic farmers and permacultures and people were generating forest and doing this incredible community work, and they’re doing it from this really purposeful place.
So starting to see that people could be aware of these issues and take action or really powerful purposeful way just kind of infected me with a little bit of a vision of what’s possible, enough to get started, and then through time, just started a center on yeah, there’s a lot of problems but the only power we really have is that of our daily actions. So that was kind of the seed of the idea, and then through time I just started to have more inspiring reference points and take actions in small ways and always from this kind of Gandhi and be the change lens — and really, what Daily Acts was founded on, this core belief that yes, we have big problems and we need collective action.
The only power we have is that of our daily actions, and so we start with transforming ourselves, our homes, our gardens, our neighborhoods, and we could affect amazing change from there, when we start with the power of small.
Waking to the Power of Gardens
Gunnar Rogers: I love that, and this was actually something that stuck out to me because as I mentioned, it’s pretty undeniable that there’s some conflict and messed up stuff going on ecologically and socially in our country and in our planet but — and you just mentioned it, but it’s in the book — you were feeling that 20 years ago. So what was it that made you notice things are pretty bleak even at that point in time?
Trathen Heckman: You know, it’s just the news. Most of the news was bad and then, starting to wake up to living in this culture of kind of focused on consumption and materialism and just all the waste and just kind of this confluence of issues really.
Everywhere I look, it just seems like there’s a lot of problems and even, a lot of the environmental movements back then, rightfully to a degree was focused on stopping the problems, and there was sort of pre-sustainability movements, and there wasn’t a lot of focus on solutions and good, and how much good you could do when you’re inspired and empowered, and highlighting what’s working to grow more of it, essentially.
So it just kind of felt like it was from every angle, honestly, as I started to kind of just wake up and look around and read about things. It’s just like, “Man, there’s a lot of issues everywhere.”
Gunnar Rogers: Totally. So where did gardening and where did, you know, the ecosystem and forestry and regenerative farming and that start to ply into this whole daily acts equation?
Trathen Heckman: Yeah, it was really in the lead up, pre-daily acts of like I said, as I was sort of exposed to all these problems and I started to find and meet these people who again, just seemed more alive. They were aware of the problems with, they’re just alive and connected to some bigger purpose, and they were people focused on solutions, on regenerative solutions, regenerative farming, restoring and regenerating forest, permaculture, all these sort of activities, and I went to a few conferences and gatherings and was just sort of amazed and got interested and kept on taking step after step.
Just sort of following my inspiration, right? And that led me to one day, I walk through this gate into a backyard and it just fully rewired my system, and it was this lush, vegan, vibrant garden full of food, medicine, habitat, beauty, ponds, buildings where they dug a pond and they had a big pile of earth, so they turned it into a cob office with a dragon head oven built out of the wall and sitting on the tail and you’re eating pizza out of the dragon’s mouth. There’s, you know, just dripping with beauty and wonder.
I was like, “Oh my God, we could address a lot of our worldly problems, we could regenerate our core connection to self, to nature and community in a garden in this really practical, accessible place.” And so, it had been years of building towards that, but that moment in the garden at the permaculture in San Ramon in California, was what really kind of gave me that first glimpse of, “Wow” yeah, there’s all these big problems, but you could connect a lot of solutions in a really tangible, accessible, practical way most people could relate with.
Gunnar Rogers: Yeah, heck yeah, and I bet that pizza tasted a bit sweeter because of that connection. I’m just curious, did you have any experience in like, gardening or horticulture or farming before all this or was everything new from day one?
Trathen Heckman: It was a slow, steady build of kind of getting exposed to these inspiring possibilities, and I’m going like, “All right, I need to go to a workshop, I need to spend more time with these people, I need to start learning about this stuff. I need to start learning about this stuff.”
So I didn’t have any experience in any of it. I was just following my inspiration and taking the next small step that mattered, and through time, built skills and built relationships and built community and started taking small actions, and small actions turned into bigger actions and bigger actions and bigger actions and more people and more fun and more transformation.
Gunnar Rogers: Heck yeah, and you mentioned the Gandhi quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” and I read a little bit of that in the book as well. I’m curious, what are a few small changes you’ve had to make in yourself to be the change you want to see in the world?
Trathen Heckman: Yeah. Well, I’m still working on these changes even after like seven years.
Gunnar Rogers: Hey, we all are, you’re not alone.
Trathen Heckman: But, from that overwhelming feeling to just getting my system rewired a little bit with what’s possible. First, getting really infected with an inspiring vision of what’s possible gave me the energy to start taking action. It’s the little stuff in the beginning of reduce, reuse, of turning off the faucet, of trying to use less things that create a lot of waste, of buying more organic, buying local.
All those sort of activities and then from there, beyond like reducing negative consumption and increasing positive consumption that benefits — the coffee you drink for a few extra cents, your cup of coffee could support kids to have drinking water in their house and able to go to school and better their families. It’s fairly traded or not, those small consumption decisions make a big difference, but then, the next step is taking action in your life.
Like growing a garden or doing a rain water system or gray water system or helping a neighbor on a project or riding your bike more, and so it’s been just kind of a long journey, a lot of those small actions, and the ones that really resonate with me the most, is sort of that earth centered action where — and you could be growing a food forest on your balcony in an apartment.
So you don’t have to have a big garden to do this stuff, but any small act you take where you’re starting to grow things and you’re out there breathing fresh air and connecting to nature, it just connects you to something bigger that’s deep in our bones.
The Potential of Small Acts
Gunnar Rogers: I love that, and so along this journey, whether it’s been in the early days just engaging with some new communities or it’s been through Daily Acts or just somewhere along this journey, what is the most significant change you seen a small act make?
Trathen Heckman: I’ve seen and I’ve seen it repeated kind of time after time of, well, this may be, we’ll see if it’s a small act or not but like, as an example of the exposure, what is a small act? Exposure to a garden changed my life and set me on the path to helping starting or grow Daily Acts, and it happened again and again and again.
People walk into our garden and people quit their jobs and they’ve taken permaculture classes and they’ve kind of just totally changed the trajectory of their life. We’ve installed front yard gardens or had daily actors do so as well, and then they’ve come up to me and said, “I met more neighbors since installing our front yard garden than in three decades of living in our house.”
Three months, it’s like, within three months, I’ve heard a similar story like that multiple times and so people do a little front yard garden and suddenly it’s a magnet for community connection, in addition to all the resource savings and food growing and all that.
Gunnar Rogers: Yeah, I love that, and so zooming out a little bit from your story and the community you’re in right now, looking at it culturally, why do you believe we’re obsessed with trying to make big changes instead of striving for small communal changes?
Trathen Heckman: Yeah, it’s a great question. It’s just somehow embedded in our cultural mindset and paradigm, you know, from so much focus is on big businesses when a lot of the businesses in our country are small and they employ a lot of people there’s that’s on that. The majority of them are. So kind of this cultural focus on big, a lot of our government partners even have talked with them at the state level.
Agencies can be really focused on big changes, big wins, big dams, just big, big, big is just such a cultural paradigm for some reason, and we lose sight of the only power we have and that’s our small power. Our small action, our small groups, and when we focus on the power we have, our power and influence and joy grow, and so we could actually affect bigger change by building on the cumulative power of small.
Gunnar Rogers: I love that, and coming back to you personally, if there’s one global issue that you want small acts to have an impact on, what is that issue?
Trathen Heckman: Good question. So small acts, well, I’ll take this slightly different angle, and you can pull me back if you want. I’ve become a community organizer, right? Like our small actions matter, and if we don’t take collective action, we are not going to address the scale in order to see the crisis we face. We have to build on our small actions, and then we have to link up with others, neighbors, local groups, government partners, and we have to really move much larger change.
And so it really be that, people take whatever — you know, finding that spot where your heart’s inspiration meets the hurt in the world that you are called to heal. It’s a part of that it’s taking action there, and it’s linking up in arms with other people and other groups who are working on that change, and when you do that, you could transform neighborhood, cities, communities, you could affect huge change through the power of small groups.
This is really going from small actions to the power of small groups. Like, right? Those Margaret Mead words that we all know about never doubt the ability of a small group of thoughtful committed citizens to change the world because that’s all it’s ever been.
Gunnar Rogers: I love that, and truly, just in our opinion, what kind of world do you believe we would live in when the majority is focused on small communal changes and smaller communal groups?
Trathen Heckman: Just a more healthy and just and resilient and connected world. You walk out the door and there is more food and medicine, habitat and beauty. You see people you know and have a good connection with your neighbors of instead of uttering to each other and all of this just brutal political division, which isn’t helping us. It’s, you know, we’re a little more compassionate, understanding for people who see things differently than us.
It is recognizing where our culture has been structured to create a lot of privilege for a few, and we got to unpack and address that and repair harm done. There is a lot of important work to do ecologically and socially, but it all starts with each one of us of working on ourselves and that kind of, you know, as Fritjof Capra said, “Ecology is the science of relationships. Nature sustains the web of life by creating a nurturing community.”
So getting more aware and present in ourselves and how we’re relating with each other, how we’re relating with the planet, how we’re relating with this big moment we’re in.
A Book for Budding Gardeners
Gunnar Rogers: I love that, and I know it is about small changes and small acts but you’ve got a book coming out. You’ve worked incredibly hard not just to write it but, this book is built on years of learning and trying and doing and sharing on your part and one, congratulations on that but two, what is the big impact that you’re hoping Small Acts has now that it’s out?
Trathen Heckman: Yeah, thank you so much. First off, it’s definitely a lot of love has gone into this, and there has been a lot of support from Daily Acts Organization and partners I’ve worked with for a long time to put the words on the page with all the beautiful images and the quotes and everything else that kind of makes the book come to life.
So really, the book is a vehicle to help people in grassroots organizations and communities who are trying to step up to this moment, gain some tools and some inspiration that could help us collectively up our game, and the book is also really helping launch the next phase of Daily Acts work. We’re going to continue to deepen in Petaluma in Sonoma County where we’re based out of.
But we’re working with regional state and national partners to be able to get this book in the hands of more students and activists and community leaders, and we’re using it as a platform too to taking steps towards expanding our leadership and steward and to be able to provide more resources and training. So the book is a part of a larger effort we’re doing at really just kind of putting these sort of solutions and models and as many hearts, hands, and community as we can.
Gunnar Rogers: I love that, and so I want everyone that is listening to go purchase the book. I want a lot of people to have access to this, and this is going to be a tough question but I am going to make you choose. If there was only one message or story from the book that you could share with somebody, knowing it would make an impact on their life, what would it be?
Trathen Heckman: Yeah, I’m going to have to think about that one for a second.
Gunnar Rogers: Putting you through the gauntlet today, man.
Trathen Heckman: Yeah, seriously. The four sections of the book are daily acts, values, and operating principles of reverence, ripples, relationships, and resilience, and the meta message of that is start with your heart and find that spot where your heart breaks and you are called to take action. Then once you start with your heart, you reclaim the power of your ripples by taking action to find your voice, your vision, your compass.
As you do that, you start to change how you see and relate with the world and recognize how critical it is that we nurture community at all levels.
Gunnar Rogers: Definitely.
Trathen Heckman: Telling people resilience, so that’s start with your heart, reclaim the power of your actions, focus on nurturing community.
Gunnar Rogers: Heck yeah, I love that, and once again everybody, the book is called, Take Heart, Take Action: The Transformative Power of Small Acts, Groups and Gardens. Trathen, once people read the book, because that is definitely step one, read the book, what are the best next steps people can take to start contributing to small acts and contributing to their community and even begin gardening, just what are the next steps people need to take?
Trathen Heckman: Well yeah, the first thing I’d say don’t just read it; underline, highlight, circle stuff. There are exercises and questions at the back of each section, like use this as a tool for yourself and for your group and your community. So that is the first step, and there is a lot of resources we have on Daily Acts website and a ton of programs we’re doing, and we’re going to create new ones in relation to the book.
So if you are inspired, reach out to us and get engaged, and if you are following the actions in the book and the questions of the back of the sections, it provides guidance to help other people kind of find and live their inspiration and strengthen their local groups. So those are the main steps I would take [to] use this as a tool and a vehicle itself.
Gunnar Rogers: I love that, and on the gardening side like I feel like it can be a little intimidating for people who just have no experience. So just in your opinion or even within your knowledge base, what is like the easiest entry point for people to begin contributing to a community garden or even starting one?
Trathen Heckman: The first thing I would say if you can find a garden tour, a sustainability tour. They happen in a lot of communities. You could even Google it or look on YouTube, find what gets you really inspired because if you get super inspired by something, then that gives you a guide as to what steps you should take, and so it really vary for each one of us but like find that thing that lights you up and then, that gives you the power to take action and not be afraid to make mistakes and all that kind of thing.
A tour or exposure to the stuff that lights you up is the best way to kind of create motivation, but again, it could be a front yard, a back yard, it could be as simple as growing some herbs on your balcony or on your counter, and there’s a ton of next level examples of gardens that will kind of just crack open your heart and mind.
Gunnar Rogers: I love that. So, as I said, the book is called, Take Heart, Take Action: The Transformative Power of Small Acts, Groups, and Gardens. The Kindle version is available this week for just 99 cents, so make sure you go take advantage of that discount. Trathen, before I let you go, where can readers follow you? Where can they engage with you and how can they keep benefiting from your wisdom and from your knowledge?
Trathen Heckman: Yeah, go to dailyacts.org, as in daily actions, that’s our website, and there’s a ton of resources and programs on the site, and we’re going to continue to be adding more as the book launches.
Gunnar Rogers: Awesome, awesome. Trathen, you’re doing a lot of good work, a lot of small acts that are making a big impact, and thank you for taking time out of your day to join me on the podcast.
Trathen Heckman: Really great to connect, thank you as well.
Industrial Is What We Do: Jeff Hoffman