We recently connected with Gina Tang and have shared our conversation below.
Alright, Gina thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. We’d love to hear about a project that you’ve worked on that’s meant a lot to you.
My current project is also the most meaningful. I am developing a nature-based education program for kids called Little Shepherds Nature Lab. We emphasize creative literacy, food justice, earth science, social-emotional awareness, and shepherding. Like with actual goats. It’s one of the best things people can do for catastrophic fire prevention and soil health.
We are on track to open our “doors” on September 1, 2022. We are starting with a Kinder Garden for ages 3-6, and an After School Club for grades 1-12. We have an incredible team of parents, educators, ecologists, musicians, artists, and behavior therapists supporting us. The work involved in preparing our four outdoor classrooms has been entirely volunteer-based, utilizing reclaimed and donated materials.
I believe it’s important to create spaces where people of all ages feel safe to express themselves, and to connect with their real habitat, which is Planet Earth. Those are my two essential goals for the Nature Lab: to be a sanctuary for self-discovery, and a demonstration site for a regenerative learning model.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
My journey began 18 years ago, when I got pregnant with my first daughter and stopped doing drugs. As a mother, I felt the responsibility to not self-destruct, but I was also very curious about the layers of function and dysfunction driving that impulse in the first place. I started journaling—a lot. It facilitated a degree of clarity that changed my life, and still does.
Writing also became my primary path through the world. From 2009-2012, I helped launch an award-winning integrative wellness center on the campus of UCSD. In addition to writing the website, blog, and marketing content, I served as Editor-in-Chief for LiveWell Magazine. I then continued as a freelance content creator and organizational development specialist, supporting socially conscious start-ups and non-profits.
After the birth of my third child, I returned to my roots in therapeutic journaling and dedicated any remaining free time to other writing projects. As the first-born and oldest daughter of a Chinese immigrant, I still had a lot of unpacking to do, particularly when it came to feeling my own worth. I self-published “Motherhood Express: 40 Questions for Newborn Moms,” along with “Willing to Work Forward: A Selection of Poetry and Prose.” I also discovered the handpan drum, and the mountain of spoken word lyrics I had amassed over the years sprang into a new rhythmic format with “Ethereal Rising.”
But I wanted more trees, less screens, and total creative freedom. When Covid first knocked San Diego onto its face, I used the inherent opportunity in a shift of momentum to move onto a remote mountain farm in Northern California. I started in a tent, with the kids covered in home-made bug spray. I ended in a 20-foot tiny house trailer I rebuilt from a junkyard, and the ability to pick up a spider with my bare hands. I worked in the garden, cared for goats and chickens, learned about herbalism, and enrolled my then-five-year-old into the local Waldorf-inspired charter school. I never wanted to live in a city again.
Nonetheless, I moved back to San Diego on account of co-parenting matters. Together with some dear friends, I started an outfit called Good Shepherds Regenerative Land Management. It allowed me to keep my feet on the ground, in the most embodied sense. As much as I loved it, the physical work included the constant movement of pop-up pastures for a herd of 120 grazing animals, often on steep terrain, and was difficult to balance with the needs of young children. While the company continued, I rented a room at a friend’s house (air conditioning! hot showers! a jacuzzi!) and contemplated the next move.
My decision to start an alternative education center in the great outdoors sprouted, in part, because of the neurodivergence of my youngest daughter, Rose. I know in my bones that she is not suited to the public-school environment. Homeschooling as a single parent is difficult. So, against all odds, I am doing the thing that has the most odds.
Is there something you think non-creatives will struggle to understand about your journey as a creative?
I believe everyone is creative. However, in a hyper structured, automated, and standardized society, many people lose touch with their innate creativity simply because they aren’t consciously utilizing it.
Friends and family members who have struggled to understand my journey as a creative typically voice concerns about “security.” They worry that I will not make money. They worry that I will not succeed in achieving my dream. They would feel much better if I just settled down, got a regular job, and institutionalized my kids. But here’s the thing: we’re looking at the last 60 years (give or take) of viable topsoil on the planet. This means massive world-wide food shortages, and the tremendous turmoil that goes with it. If we continue to work our regular jobs, shop at regular grocery stores, and ignore the fact that we have normalized destructive practices in almost every sector of industry, there is no way to turn this ship around.
Creative ways of saving water, growing food, repurposing waste, building houses, making money, educating people, using technology, and connecting with kindred communities will become the primary task of the next generation. I am simply modeling this behavior using the gifts I arrived with, and plenty of grit.
The creative journey is not linear. It doesn’t necessarily deliver in terms of deadlines, metrics, and projected milestones. Challenge and success ride side-by-side in a sort of double-helix design. If you keep moving forward, every challenge will eventually find a solution, and every success will build on the last, until you look back and realize you’ve accomplished a great deal. To put it another way: when courage combines with creativity, even the heaviest shit can become rich, fertile compost.
Is there a particular goal or mission driving your creative journey?
I am working to engineer a life for myself in which my personal needs, professional needs, and parenting needs can be met in one synergistic arc. Along the way, as well as upon arrival, the goal is to have as much fun as humanely possible.
- Website: www.littleshepherds.earth
- Instagram: @littleshepherds
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LittleShepherdsNatureLab
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkcMtIKMbQgl8KfYaRWFWIA