Sunday, September 29, 2013

Imagining Wholeness

I had hoped to go this weekend to a conference in North Carolina called “Summoned toward Wholeness: A Conference on Food, Farming, and the Life of Faith,” with speakers Ellen F. Davis, Joel Salatin, Scott Cairns, and Norman Wirzba.

But life happens, and that trip didn’t. So I’ve asked a friend who’s attending to post here next week with his own highlights and reflections.

In the meantime, I spend my days trying to imagine wholeness.

Have you ever seen a gardener, standing still at the edge of a garden, eyes slightly closed, head slightly tilted, just looking, listening, not moving at all?

It’s that moment of imaging: seeing what’s there, picturing what’s not. Wondering how to get there.

My back yard is the test plot on this: manageably small (exactly half an acre), wonderfully quiet. At the moment, lush and green. I wander through my stepping stone path, linger on my mossy trail, enjoying what’s there, imaging the next step toward the vision in my mind.

When we moved here 16 years ago, the squirrels ran around the edge of the yard on the old rail fence rather than walk through the toxic grass. The previous owners had been so intent on growing lawn in places it didn’t want to grow, they had doused the ground with chemicals. It took years to get the birds to move back in.

But I’ve imagined a place where birds would want to live, and here they are: house wrens, chipping sparrows, nuthatch, chickadees. This summer a flicker family drilled a hole in a locust. A pair of downies flits back and forth from suet to trees, and back again. An archway path festooned with honeysuckle has brought hummingbirds, regularly, whirring near my head.

Even so the world intrudes. A natural gas pipeline through the center of the yard reminds me: I live in Pennsylvania, tied to a grid that leads in every direction. That line ties to a larger line. In one direction are the fracking wells of shale country, not far away. In the other, refineries, gray fog rising over them most hours of the day. My imagination knows they’re there. But wholeness? I can’t quite see it.

A larger canvas for my imagination: a place called Exton Park. I’ve mentioned it before, 800 acres of degraded suburban land, some still farmed, some damaged by deer browse. Some brimming full of invasive shrubs, trees, vines. And yet, despite the damage, it holds a small pond where egrets and heron take refuge, acres of wetland where just yesterday we heard a sora calling. Open skies where osprey, kestrel and harrier soar. Amazing wildflowers: asters, goldenrod, New York ironweed.

Last Saturday I took part in Make a Difference Day: a morning of work grubbing vines and roots from the side of a berm, then helping organize volunteers to plant native grasses, reeds and forbs. It was my kind of morning: teen boys from nearby Church Farm School, some new acquaintances who bird the pond like I do, a few plant folks eager to see what plants we had in store, some families with young kids happy to scoop water and pour it wherever I pointed.

By the next morning I had poison ivy on both arms, and my face was starting to puff. Apparently, I’m part of the 30 to 35% of the population that’s “highly sensitive” to our industrious native vine. So I spent the morning in a nearby Minute Clinic, and I’ve spent the week itching, fighting the side-effects of prednisone, and reminding myself how much I love envisioning Exton Park as a place made whole, a beautiful, reclaimed landscape. Even when it costs me.

But the call to imagine goes far beyond my yard or local park.

For the last year and a half I’ve been involved in promoting and taking part in a national study on food and farming. I opened my mouth at a League of Women Voter’s planning meeting, and found myself leading a committee, then a caucus at a national convention, now serving on a national committee that sends me reeling down rabbit holes to ferret out information about corn subsidies, neonicotinoids , pesticide overload, industry-driven public policy.

This past week I had two deadlines: a third draft on genetic engineering, a first draft on factory farming. Do you want to know what’s in animal feed? The financial pressures forcing small farms off the planet? The abuse of workers, farmers, animals, water, land that are part of our quest for ever cheaper, more convenient food?

Ah. Maybe not.

I don’t want to know either.

Yet, knowing is the first step toward grieving.

And grieving, according to Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament scholar and student of the prophets, is the first step toward imagining the new.

As my son wrote in a guet post last week, this world around us is a reflection of who we are, the choices we’ve made. The values we’ve held dear.

What I see gives me pause, and leads me toward repentence.

So I dig deeper into the studies, the reports. The testimony of small farmers to the Department of Justice, about coercive contracts, disappearing markets, tightening consolidation. The carefully worded scientific conclusions about what happens to bees, soil, rats, hogs, people, when we play with things we don’t quite understand.

And I grieve.

Yesterday I walked into a local food store – a place I go often – and found myself staring at the shelves and shelves of food. Mostly bad food. Full of corn syrup, carrageenan, other things I no longer want to eat. Over-processed, over-packaged, dusty boxes. To me, they looked like death.

So I grieve. Repent of my own collusion in fast, cheap, easy imitation food.

And imagine wholeness.

Here’s what it looks like, to me, today:

A farm not far from here. SpringWood Farm. In Kinzer, PA. It belongs to Roman Stoltzfoos and his family. I heard him speak at a conference last winter about his cows and the experiment his sons and he are running: trying to find out which grains to sprout in his high hoop tunnels as a source of winter fodder for his organic pastured cows.

SpringWood solar chicken house
He showed some slides of the hoop tunnels, the sprouting grains, the cows.

The beautiful, green, inviting pasture.

He showed slides of his chickens and their chicken tractors: little hoop houses on wheels he moves from field to field.

It wasn’t that long ago – forty years? maybe fify? – that almost all our food came from lovely places like SpringWood Farm.

Real food – brightly colored peppers, iron-rich dark greens, eggs with yolks so yellow they looked like melted gold.

I came home from that conference last winter with my head spinning. I’d heard a discussion about “complex, chronic environmental exposures,” and the invisible nanomaterials already in our food supply.

I’d sat through sessions about new food safety regulations – and how they cater to the industry model, burden the small scale farmer, and leave our food no safer.

And I wondered: how far away is SpringWood Farm?

One of my daughters had been challenging me to join a local CSA – a Community Supported Agriculture program. The one she had in mind: Wimer’s Organics. A Lancaster farm that delivers in our county.

I checked, and found they also deliver eggs: farm fresh eggs. From SpringWood Farm.

So, yes, we joined Wilmer’s Organics CSA.

And ordered a weekly dozen eggs.

Every week I show up to a porch in the next town over, leave last week’s empty box, pick up this week’s box of lovely color. And my carton of beautiful eggs from SpringWood Farm.

Yes. It does.

More than a big Mac. Or a box of mac and cheese.

More than a Coke. Or an order of fries.

But every penny goes to the farmer, supporting his vision of a healthy, wholesome food supply.

Unlike the dollars I spend at the store down the street, where only pennies on the dollar go to a farmer, pennies go to underpaid farm workers, and the larger share goes to advertising, packaging, transportation, and the corporate powers that propel us toward an ever-more abusive global food system.

I’m still learning what I can about how to advocate for wholeness. How to stand up for local farmers, how to speak back to the ideathat industrial farming is inevitable, the only way to feed a hungry world.

In the meantime, I’m pulling weeds, planting reeds, sauteing and grilling vegetables I still can’t name.

And imaging a world where beauty, health, wisdom, wholeness are more than ideas we see with our eyes closed, but part of the daily fabric of our lives.

This post is part of an ongoing series on God's Green Equity.

·                     God's Green Equity: August 4, 2013
·                     Seed Parables: August 11, 2013 
·                     Miracle Seeds of Sorrow's Kingdom: August 25, 2013   
·                     How Much  Does Justice Cost? September 1, 2013
·                     Taxonomy of Ignorance and the Unknown Unknowns: September 8,2013
·                     For God so Loved the Earth, September 15, 2013
·                     Reflections and Refractions on the Anacotia River, Sept. 22, 2013

 Earlier posts on the same topic:

·                     Green Grace: May 15, 2011 
·                     Earth Day Shalom: April 22, 2012
·                     Hungering Far Past Rightness: March 3, 2013

As always, your thoughts, comments, questions are welcome.