MADELINE ISLAND, Wis. – Foreclosures, natural disasters, policies that destroy markets and businesses. In recent years many families have needed to leave farms and farming – not by choice but by necessity. It’s not a new trend. It’s something that has gone on worldwide for centuries. The loss of connection to the land and the natural world is felt in families for generations. It’s a hurt felt to the quick of one’s soul. Many need a way to heal.

Diaspora on Madeline Island, a multifaceted project led by Regina Laroche, helps people cope with separation from the land – by reconnection.

Laroche and her husband, Jeff Theune, a recently retired public-school teacher, moved 20 years ago to Madeline Island with their children. They have an organic market garden that supplies food directly to islanders.

“Growing home (is) for everyone,” she said. “The word ‘diaspora’ implies a spreading of seeds for us to eat, but also people who have been torn from their homeland and spread around. I have that in my family. My father had to be smuggled out of Haiti, a political exile. I spent my whole life watching him look for home. My mother grew up sharecropping and her family migrated north, even though they loved the land. There’s a lot of loss down South over Jim Crow, post-slavery.

“I watched parents who raised me farm, though they had city jobs. My father grew food and flowers to calm himself. This planted something in me, not just to grow food, but to grow food and connections.

“As a society many of us have lost that sense of home and connection to land, and what it has to do with our food and our health – and even our spirit. In particular when I work with people of color who were disrupted from their land, maybe 400 or 200 or 100 years ago or even very recently. … There’s an even bigger divide between our lives, heritage and traditions, our birthright growing food. That (divide) is also seen in health problems in people on the margins (as well as) people of African heritage, Native Americans and Latinx heritage. Diabetes, heart disease and respiratory issues occur at many times the rate in the mainstream population.

“Just like many are responding to COVID-19 by returning to the earth and planting seeds, my response is the planting of seeds and the sharing of the bounty that comes forth. Whether it’s the bounty of the food or the bounty of the spiritual healing and physical healing, it’s the way I can respond to the horrendous homelessness in our society now.

“Food and land are so universal and unifying in connecting people and communities no matter what color we are. ... One of the beautiful things about living on Madeline Island is you get this sense of community. Because we have water all the way around us we end up having to live in and think about being a community more.”

Diaspora offers residencies, workshops, retreats and classes. It builds connections with the land while offering healthy foods, cultural identity and diversity to inspire others to make positive changes in the world – starting in their own backyards.

The loss of connection to the land can be healed by learning how to reconnect. Diaspora on Madeline Island is a place where the healing can begin.

Visit www.diasporaonmadeline.com for more information.

Jason Maloney is an “elderly” farm boy from Marinette County, Wisconsin. He’s a retired educator, a retired soldier and a lifelong Wisconsin resident. He lives on the shore of Lake Superior with his wife, Cindy Dillenschneider, and Red, a sturdy loyal Australian Shepherd.