farming

Poet Wendell Berry Bequeaths Farming Legacy to Small Catholic College

Wendell Berry. Image via RNS

The Berry family has lived in these parts for nine generations. While pursuing a prolific writing career, Berry never stopped caring for the land of his ancestors. Now, the 81-year-old writer wants to pass on his family’s farming legacy to a new generation. He decided against teaming up with a large university agricultural program, and instead selected a small Catholic liberal arts college about an hour’s drive from Louisville, run by the Dominican Sisters of Peace.

The Wisdom of Those Who Plant Seeds

Iced-over buds, bbernard / Shutterstock.com

Iced-over buds, bbernard / Shutterstock.com

The day after Easter, it snowed. I was carrying in my last buckets of sap before leaving for Portland and was not surprised by the flurries, but they still stymied my expectations of warmer weather. The equinox had passed several weeks before, and while the start of spring had been marked on the calendar, it was (is) dragging its feet in coming.

Who has known the mind of God or even a good 7-day weather forecast?

We see and know in part. Certainty has never been the steady state of the human condition. Our lives are stretched with the awareness that clarity, at its best, comes with a smudge.

The experience of knowing we do not know can be felt in different ways. One is confusion, another, mystery. Both are confrontations of the hidden or unknown, but one brings us to awe and the other despair. One can leave us feeling isolated and the other in wonder at our relationship to that which is so much greater than ourselves.

The space between the two is not in the level of knowledge but rather our relationship to the knowing and unknowing itself. In the midst of our unknowing, we are faced with a choice: passive uncertainty or the stumbling action of faith. The beginning of wisdom is not the expectation of certainty with knowledge but the understanding that the kind of life most worth living is always an act of faith.

Kenya’s Catholic Church to Fight Hunger by Farming Its Vast Land Reserves

Photo via REUTERS / Siegfried Modola / RNS

A Kenyan soldier looks at a cow that is dying from hunger. Photo via REUTERS / Siegfried Modola / RNS

Drying livestock carcasses and anguished faces of hungry women and children have become a common feature here as droughts increase due to climate change.

But now, in an effort to fight hunger, the Roman Catholic Church is making 3,000 acres of church-owned land available for commercial farming.

“We want to produce food, create employment, and improve quality of life for the people,” said the Rev. Celestino Bundi, Kenya’s national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

This is the first time the church has entered into large-scale farming, though it owns massive tracts of land across the country, most of which is idle and in the hands of dioceses, parishes, missionaries, and congregations.

“We have the will and the support of the community and government,” said Bundi. 

“I think time has come for Kenya to feed herself.”

PHOTOS: Three Part Harmony Farm

In “A Farm Grows in Brookland” (Sojourners, March 2015), Gail Taylor reflects on being a black urban farmer while recognizing that for her ancestors, agriculture and oppression were interwoven. “Part of being a black farmer is doing things our ancestor did every day, but waking up and fighting for my right to work in dignity.”

Read “A Farm Grows in Brookland” to learn more about Three Part Harmony Farm in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, D.C. And check out the photos below for a closer look at the farm and Taylor’s work.

 

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Ground Operation

IT’S A MAY evening on the farm. My husband’s planting tomatoes and our son needs a bedtime story, but I’m completely occupied with pictures of war. I’ve cleared the piles of laundry from the kitchen table so our friend Adam can spread out his albums. There are photos of Adam in his tidy platform tent, of brown mountains in the distance, and dozens of pictures of children grinning on the other side of razor wire.

“This is an Aardvark,” he says, pointing to a gargantuan armored vehicle as he describes the flails that detonate buried mines. “What does that do to the soil?” I ask, because this is what you wonder when you and your family have been Mennonite farmers since the Reformation. There are a few more photos before I finally get it. Adam is showing me Bagram Air Base, the U.S. military hub in Afghanistan, surrounded by minefields and littered with burned-out tanks and planes, the wreckage of war from the Soviets. No one farms here, or has, or will for a long, long time.

FOR THE PAST three seasons, Adam McDermott has come to our farm in Central Pennsylvania’s Stone Valley every Friday morning to harvest vegetables for the food bank. We always chat while we bunch beets or pick green beans, and now I wonder why we’ve never talked about his years in the Army.

“This farm has definitely been part of my therapy,” he tells me, while offering a brief sketch of his months in Iraq: taking heavy equipment down unfamiliar roads to set off hidden explosives, being promoted to sergeant, and then losing three friends when a bomb shattered their Humvee. Adam came home in 2008 with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and an alcohol addiction. “A lot of guys struggle with alcohol,” Adam says. “In the military you have camaraderie and a sense of purpose. But when you get back, there’s just this big void.”

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From the Dust of the Ground

A butterfly settles on the dust. Image courtesy Romas_Photo/shutterstock.com.

A butterfly settles on the dust. Image courtesy Romas_Photo/shutterstock.com.

The ground on our mountain is rocky ground and the land seems to have more stones on it than soil. I think it is a miracle that things grow here, that things grow so well here. But they do. We are planting, as all farmers do, in the hope that good rains will come and help the seeds grow into whole, full stalks of millet. I am enjoying learning the life of a Malinke farmer. Bala is my teacher. This is his field.

Five Questions for Katerina Friesen

Katerina Friesen

Bio: Katerina Friesen is studying theology and peace studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind.

1.  How would you describe your current vocational role?
I see my role as both revaluing what has been cast down and degraded and building resilient communities. So far this has taken shape through land-based ministries of farming and community gardening, inviting people to work together and celebrate the sacramental in soil, food, and one another.

2. You spent several years with the Abundant Table Farm Project in Santa Paula, Calif. Can you describe the project and your role there?
The Abundant Table Farm Project is a working farm and young adult internship program that has evolved into a Christian community. I joined the project in 2009 and lived in community with four other women. My daily work of farming gave me a bodily understanding of farm workers’ labor and the need for justice and wholeness in our incredibly disconnected food system.

3. What is unique to the theology of farming—particularly for women farmers?
Women are growing in the field of agriculture in the U.S., especially at the margins of the industrial food system, and they’re doing farming in a very different way. Many talk about their labor as a form of love. Their theology of love is not some abstract idea; it’s an embodied force that feeds them in their struggle for justice, since their work brings them into tension with the dominant food system as well as with patriarchy. I think Jesus’ incarnation challenges us to know love as personal action for the restoration of life, as doing and not just being.

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Church Gardening As Peacemaking Ministry

The book cover of “Soil and Sacrament” by Fred Bahnson. Photo via RNS.

The book cover of “Soil and Sacrament” by Fred Bahnson. Photo via RNS.

Fred Bahnson’s first bit of advice when he started planning a church garden eight years ago came from an elderly tobacco farmer who grabbed a handful of soil, rolled it around in his fingers and shook his head:

“You don wohn fahm heah,” he said in his deep North Carolina drawl.

Those were not the only discouraging words he received as he planted and cultivated one of the earliest and most successful church gardens, 20 miles north of Chapel Hill.

But Bahnson, a Duke Divinity School graduate and a pioneer in the church gardening movement, had a different view of farming than the older tobacco farmer. He knew that if he gave back to the soil more than he took out — in the form of compost, manure and other soil food — he could create an abundant garden.

What Good is a Garden?

Home garden harvest. Photo courtesy ariadna de raadt/shutterstock.com

While relaxing on a friend’s back porch over a spicy vegetarian stew and homemade bread, the conversation turned, naturally, to food. Everyone around the table expressed concern over how much junk food kids eat and how little time children spend outdoors. Our host said that she watches every afternoon as a group of elementary schoolchildren head to the corner market to purchase their after-school snack. Each child comes out with a supersized soda and a bag of potato chips. Not a small bag — the family size, for each child, every day.

Immigration Reform: The Only Way to Solve America’s Agricultural Woes

Photo: Migrant farm workers in California, spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Migrant farm workers in California, spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

America is in dire need of comprehensive immigration reform. It is an ethical and moral issue for sure, but it is also an economic one. Our nation’s future economy prosperity depends on migrant labor. Immigration laws that have been passed in states like Arizona, Georgia, and Alabama have severely hurt the state economies, local communities, and small businesses that rely upon migrant workers for farm labor.

The Senior Editor of CNBC.com, John Carney has asserted that there is no crisis related to a shortage of migrant farm workers. Well, to be perfectly blunt, I believe that Mr. Carney is wrong.

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