Friday, December 17, 2010

Writing Stories

The Garden has been growing slower during the winter months, and I am glad for an opportunity to slow down myself. One of the projects that's been fun recently has been learning the history of Community Roots Garden through asking people involved. I'm starting to craft an ongoing story. Check it out:

I love how learning and telling the stories of our places can inspire us and remind us why we're there.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Grants, and good words from Greg Boyle

Last night at our board meeting, the chair of the Garden board looked directly at me and said, "You're on the road to burn-out, and I'm concerned." He's right, but slightly off - I think I already am burned out. The last two weeks have been really exhausting, and really stressful. Really, really. Good news is, it's over - I just submitted the federal grant application that I've been staying up late and skipping days off work to finish. Was it worth the cost to my body and spirit, though? Was it worth the headaches from staring at a computer screen and re-reading the 136+ page instruction manuals to find the one paragraph that talks about what size margins the budget justification page is supposed to have? (They are seriously that picky). Or skipping house dinner and distancing myself from friends to fill out the reams of online forms? Or feeling too tired to even pray?

The grant we applied for was a Community Food Projects grant to do participatory research on food security in 3 low-income farm worker communities in Oxnard. I'm excited about the project, especially since it brings together 6 different partner organizations we've been working with in the area, including a major farm worker employer and agribusiness, Reiter Bros. The kicker though, is that this research will be led and designed by Community-based Researchers (read: people actually from the community, and even farm workers themselves, rather than outside academics). The local university is also partnering with us to pair student researchers with these community researchers. It's a great opportunity that I think will strengthen community ties so that hunger issues will be addressed from within and through relationship with the poor rather than just pouring in aid from outside. But the process of applying for the money to fund this made me apprehensive, because of how grants are designed.

Grants are predicated on the whole idea of measurable, "evidence-based outcomes." I.e., Success. Basically, the Big Money wants to fund projects that address a problem (some call it a crisis), and whose problems they can fix. And you have to have certain objectives along the way that can be met. For example, "we will address (name %) rates of food insecurity in (name area populated by poor people) by starting 2 farmers' markets in (name time frame)." Which I think promotes the mindset that we can change the world, one dollar at a time, checking off our check-list of solve-able problems. Or, if I'm cynical, this promotes a crisis-seeking mindset within non-profits to fund/promote their existence.

This morning, I was commiserating with Alice, a friend who runs another non-profit, about grants' emphasis on success through "measurable outcomes," and she said, "You have to read a chapter from this book by Greg Boyle!" and off she went to get it. Greg Boyle is a Catholic priest, and the founder of "HomeBoy Industries," an organization in inner-city L.A. to provide jobs, training, and encouragement to young people who are in the gang culture.

So, here I am, sitting in her office and nearly in tears because of Boyle's words. He brings it back to Jesus, just who I've been needing to come back to in this tension. Listen to this:

"Success and failure, ultimately, have little to do with living the gospel. Jesus just stood with the outcasts until they were welcomed or until he was crucified - whichever came first...

"The Left screamed: 'Don't just stand there, do something.' And the Right maintained: 'Don't stand with those folks at all.'

... "How do we get the world to change anyway? Dorothy Day asked critically: 'Where were the saints to try and change the social order? Not just minister to the slaves, but to do away with slavery.' Dorothy Day is a hero of mine, but I disagree with her here. You actually abolish slavery by accompanying the slave. We don't strategize our way out of slavery, we solidarize, if you will, our way toward its demise. We stand in solidarity with the slave, and by so doing, we diminish slavery's ability to stand. By casting our lot with the gang member, we hasten the demise of demonizing. All Jesus asks is, 'Where are you standing?' And after chilling defeat and soul-numbing failure, He asks again, 'Are you still standing there?'

"Can we stay faithful and persistent in our fidelity even when things seem not to succeed?
I suppose Jesus could have chosen a strategy that worked better (evidence-based outcomes) - that didn't end in the Cross - but he couldn't find a strategy more soaked with fidelity than the one he embraced." (Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion 172-173)

Oh thank you, de-centering and re-centering Jesus.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween and Dia de los Muertos

Sunday was Community Roots Garden's Halloween/ Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) party. We hosted the celebration along with MICOP, Mixteco Indigenous Community Organizing Project. Here are a few pictures of the fun:

We went trick-or-treating in the surrounding neighborhood with all the kids that came. There must have been at least 30 kids there. Our line was half a block long, and we pretty much depleted the neighborhood's candy supply!

Earlier in the afternoon, while the Mixteco men were building the Dia de los Muertos altar (in background), some of the families pulled out some shovels and picks and started working in the Garden. The atmosphere was so joyful, transcending that distinction between work and play. Here, a ninja and samurai help Lupe pull out the old zucchini plants.

The finished altar honoring the dead, with food laid out for loved ones passed. One of the most beautiful altares I've seen - the yellow flowers are marigolds that we planted in the garden for this purpose. Hanging from the arches (symbolizing the gateway between death and life) are fruit and pan de muerto bread in the shapes of animals.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Autumn, two poems.

I had the pleasure of a holiday spent visiting good friends out East this month in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. It was such a good, needed time of renewing and strengthening old friendships, reflecting on new relationships in my life, and pure recreation. One of my favorite afternoons was spent apple picking with two old roommates, Carolyn and Ashley. Here's a poem from that experience.

Notes on an Apple Harvest
I taste fall in the Berkshires,
in a crimson-tipped valley
where an orchard drops its fruit.

Braeburns, like dusky plums,
burden thick old limbs,
and fallen Winesaps
press the ground, they
bruise it soft and red.

I favor the Macoun,
its sheath of skin
snaps and juice puddles
cold like spring rains.
Autumn lets loose
the quick, sweet
flavor of season's change.

And here's a poem by May Sarton that I dedicate to dear Sarah in New York. The "you," as I interpret, is open-ended and can be an ideology, a person, an experience... Thank you, Sarah, for being with me as I "lose what I lose to keep what I can keep."

Autumn Sonnet
If I can let you go as trees let go
Their leaves, so casually, one by one;
If I can come to know what they do know,
That fall is the release, the consummation,
Then fear of time and the uncertain fruit
Would not distemper the great lucid skies
This strangest autumn, mellow and acute.
If I can take the dark with open eyes
And call it seasonal, not harsh or strange
(for love itself may need a time of sleep)
And, treelike, stand unmoved before the change,
Lose what I lose to keep what I can keep,
The strong root still alive under the snow,
Love will endure – if I can let you go.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cardboard Wafers or Real Food?

A short piece for the Broadcast, a newsletter publication for Episcopal young adult ministers...

As a teenager, I was part of a church that celebrated the Lord's Supper by passing around a plate of translucent communion wafers. These flimsy wafers bore a strange resemblance in size and shape to Pogs, small cardboard discs that young adults who were kids during the 90's might remember collecting. I doubt they taste much differently. The 0-calorie discs of “bread” dissolved as soon as they touched my tongue, and with a swish of grape juice, I sensed no trace of Christ's body left in my mouth or in my body. What a contrast to the Feast that I participate in every week at the Abundant Table.

The Abundant Table, a small house church and campus ministry that started up an organic farm last year, breaks bread using a fresh roll made by our priest or a church member. I savor the bread and can feel its substance as it passes down my throat. After the Eucharist and a blessing, we continue the Feast together with a potluck dinner. About three-quarters of the worshipers at the Abundant Table are either members of the farm's Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)* program or are farmers/ farm interns who work to supply about 60 CSA members with vegetables and fruits from the 5-acre organic Farm near our house. As one can imagine, our potluck dinners feature the farm's bounty in a mouth-watering array of dishes. We feast on Julie's spinach and zucchini lasagna, Erynn's kale salad, Josephine's roasted beets, and then top it off with Seth and Ana's Indian-spiced almond and carrot pudding.

I believe that our celebration of Eucharist can lend itself to an awareness of how we eat during the meals following, whether they be potlucks inspired by a farm's harvest, lunch from a drive-through, or a youth group's snack time. Are we eating “cardboard wafers,” or are we feasting on food directly connected to real hands and to creation? I think of the Abundant Table (yes, we're an aptly named bunch) as practitioners of a hearty Eucharist feast. The bread that we distribute once shared strands of gluten with the rest of the loaf; through sharing it, we remember our inter-connectedness with one another and with Earth.

Author and farmer Wendell Berry calls the very act of eating a sacrament, “by which we enact and understand our oneness with the Creation, the conviviality of one body with all bodies.”** This begs some questions about how we eat the sacrament of Christ's body and the extension of that sacrament into daily life. Do we eat mostly alone? How do we share the food and resources given to us? Are we consuming what Michael Pollan calls a “food-like substance,” or are we eating food that comes from healthy plants and animals, that finds its source in the Earth that sustains us? Ultimately, if we believe that the sacrament of Eucharist draws us together into new life as the body of Christ, let us not separate that life from the health of our physical body.

* Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a relationship between a farmer and community members in which members commit to financially supporting the farm for a season, and in return, receive weekly delivery boxes of the farm's harvest. See our website,, for an example CSA.

** Wendell Berry, “The Body and the Earth,” in Norman Wirzba, ed. The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2002), 93.

A few suggestions for churches/ youth groups/ individuals looking for next steps for connecting with food, one another, and Creation:
-Start a small garden at your church. Connect the Garden to your church's Sunday School curriculum for kids, like St. Paul's Episcopal in Ventura, CA does. Or, grow grapes for communion wine!
-Volunteer at a community garden to learn how to grow your own food and connect with others. To learn more about community gardening, visit
-Plant some vegetables and fruits instead of shrubs and lawn in your yard. Visit for a great example of home gardening with a vision.
-Contact a farm for a service-learning trip. Two youth groups from All Saints, Pasadena, and St. Wilfred's, Huntington Beach, recently spent a rewarding week connecting to the land through helping with work on our farm.
-Subscribe to a CSA, share a box with a friend, or start a CSA drop-off site at your church. It's a great opportunity to connect with farmers and other members of the community. Check out for a directory of CSAs and farms nearest you.
-Take your youth group on a trip to the local farmer's market to learn about where their food comes from and how it's produced.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sea Bass

This is what it looks like! (See Part I for more on Eric's free-diving for White Sea Bass)

Monday, September 6, 2010

This is what Abundance Looks Like (Part II)

(See post below this for Part I)

At times, believing in Abundance seems like a pipe dream. The very word "Abundance" flies in the face of the world's shrinking resources and is a naive denial of human exploitation and greed. Why hold on to a word best left to idealists and the rich? The wealthy can afford to talk about Abundance (like the word "blessing," it can be a great justification for their privilege), but what about those who are directly affected by the realities of "Not Enough?"

There are too many such Realities: soil depletion, oil addiction, global warming, hunger, water scarcity. They all grapple to claim our immediate and necessary response like the recent images of hands fighting over aid after Pakistan's floods. Some respond by producing more. That makes sense on a very basic level; there's not enough to go around, so let's make more of what is lacking. Others respond by trying to correct the inequities and injustices involved in the distribution of resources. This is a necessary step toward addressing the real causes of poverty, but I do not believe it is Abundance. True Abundance is not simply a matter of production or distribution, nor the magnitude of either of these two economic pillars. Abundance is the invisible support in the Great Economy, as Wendell Berry calls it, and though it is hard to define, control, or plug into an equation, I believe it is Creation's cornerstone.

The Abundant Table Farm Project, where I spent the last year as a farm intern harvesting, planting, and distributing the bounty of 5 organic acres, was the growing ground for community conversations around Abundance. From these, I distilled a few starting-points for definition of this foundation to Creation.

1. Abundance includes a transformational perspective and orientation to how the world naturally is. It is not simply ethereal, however, but is an embodied way of living and being in this creation that both witnesses to and creates a greater reality than the realities of over-exhausted and limited resources.

2. Given the above, it is helpful to think of the byproducts of Abundance as material. Like Eric's bio-diesel soap, however, I believe Abundance is often created out of what the dominant system would consider waste.

3. Abundance happens in times and places of seemingly limited resources. Our tomatoes were not setting well, and we worried we would not have enough to give our CSA members as promised. Then, another CSA farmer visited our farm. He had an over-load of tomatoes, but no beans. A quick barter for our plentiful beans, and we soon had enough for all to be satisfied. Rather than competition being the rule for an economy built upon scarcity, Abundance completely reverses the capitalist game. There is more than enough for all - but we must first know our place and its residents well enough to have eyes that see the potential for abundance there.

4. Reciprocity is the name of the game - partakers in Abundance are also givers. Vegetable bearers are sent away full of white sea bass to share. The disciples' baskets of bread and fish in the Mark 6 story are returned not empty, but overflowing with more than enough (thank you to Ched Myers for Bible Studies that illuminated this and other feeding stories).

5. Abundance is closely related to limits. At one point, our little farm doubled from 60 to 120 CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members in one season. We were producing more than ever, but I do not believe we were experiencing abundance. Our community life was stretched thin and our bodies overly exhausted. Limits also apply to the life of the land, not just its occupants.

6. Abundance is the closest word I know to the meaning of the wide word "shalom," which Paul struggled to express in different ways. Abundance extends to right/ just relationships with earth, people, animals, and ultimately, with God. If you had not already guessed, then, it is really difficult to completely define or encompass. But you know it when you see it!

Like Eric and Christine's family, I pray that we too may be people of Abundance, who transform waste into purpose, create relationships of mutuality and provision in community, "free-dive" into the place where we live to know it well, and join together to obey Christ's command to feed and to eat there in the face of scarcity. It is to this urgent and joyful discipleship that we are called in the midst of grim realities, that all may have Abundant Life.

Friday, September 3, 2010

This is what Abundance Looks Like (Part I)

(I separated the following post into 2 blog entries. Mostly because I hate over-long blog posts and I spent too much time on this for readers to skim.)

Friends of mine recently invited me to house and garden-sit for them. They have a lovely little cabin built behind their home, and I was looking forward to using one of my nights there to write and reflect on the meaning of Abundance and what Abundance looks like lived out, since these have been themes of the last year.

Instead of writing, though, at the last minute I decided to visit Eric and Christine, friends of the people for whom I was house-sitting. Eric is a local mechanic and an avid spear-fisherman. If you're like me and don't know much about spear-fishing, he can spend a good hour or two explaining how he free-dives with his own handmade spear, discussing the seasonality of marine life close to the Channel Islands, showing you epic underwater videos of the hundreds of Yellowtail and White Sea Bass he recently swam through off the coast of Anacapa Island where he dives, and demonstrating before your very eyes how to slice up a 30 pound sea bass (picture to come).

Christine and Eric home-school their two little girls in an alternative way, which includes helping with the fish, wild mushroom foraging, and making soap from the waste of bio-diesel. Their car runs on bio-diesel and vegetable oil, and Eric has made a small business out of producing about 55 gallons of bio-diesel a month right in their garage. One of the by-products of bio-diesel production is glycerin. Rather than consider it waste, they have rigged up a system to purify it, melt it together with beeswax ("waste" from an area bee-keeper), and are teaching their children how to make soap! The bars are a beautiful, dark brown color and feel soft and smooth. Eric estimates that each bar of soap costs him about a penny, since it's made from materials that would otherwise be thrown out in the process of fuel production.

My visit to Christine and Eric's home was not just a neighborly call, but economically motivated as well. These creative folks are savvy traders. They are thinking outside of the money system and are re-defining economic relationships in their community by exchanging car repair for fresh eggs, baby-sitting for boat rides, labor on a local organic farm for a fancy meal at that farm's restaurant, and spear-caught fish for everything from a weekly CSA box to educational conferences. I came prepared for a good swap with a bag loaded full of squash, eggplant, tomatoes, and carrots from our farm. I left with two big bags of frozen sea bass and roe, a stack of homemade soap to re-gift to friends and family, and with a spirit swelling with gratitude at their lifestyle of generosity and renewal.

Abundance is hard to define, but I know it when I see it. The way that Christine and Eric live is a testimony to God's promise of abundant provision in and for all of creation. It makes me want to stand up and shout with joy, "THIS is what Abundance looks like!"

Variation on Matthew 6:26

Consider the black cat
who, in the crawling
fog of morning,
slips through your garden,
glancing at you once, briefly,
yellow eyes amused
when you say,
Excuse me, cat,
but did you not see the fence,
the gate, the 'No Trespassing' sign?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Healing Herbs and Small Acts of Reconciliation

A piece I just wrote for a submission to Speaking of Faith radio (an awesome show: on "Something that makes you contemplate the deeper meanings of possession of land and its care." ...

I work as a garden coordinator for a 1 acre community garden called "Community Roots Garden/ El Jardin de Raices Comunitarias." This non-profit garden, founded to increase food self-reliance, is a ministry of the North Oxnard United Methodist Church in Oxnard, CA. Oxnard is home to a large population of indigenous people from Oaxaca, Mexico called the Mixtec. Many of the Mixtec work as farm workers in the area, and are often marginalized because, in addition to their immigration status, they speak different indigenous dialects and Spanish is a second language.

Over the last year, our garden has been developing a partnership with a Mixtec organization in the area. Last weekend we invited them to come plant with us and to share their knowledge about medicinal herbs. About 15 people came, bringing different Oaxacan seeds and transplants with which to start a medicinal herb garden.

The location where we chose to plant was, to me, a profound choice. We dug into the rich, soft soil at the foot of the cross, planting indigenous healing herbs under the Christian symbol of reconciliation.

Yet even more meaningful than planting seeds for healing under the cross was the small act of reconciliation that followed - a shared potluck. Our predominately white, upper-middle class regular volunteers exchanged both plates and broken Spanish back and forth over the table with the Mixtec gardeners. I felt a hunger then in all present that went beyond food, a hunger for relationship and connection with those who are different and kept separate by society's borders and walls.

Fred Bahnson, writer, farmer, and previous director of Anathoth Garden in NC, wrote in a recent essay, "Jeremiah made clear that planting gardens and seeking peace were symbiotic practices—like sowing beans with your corn, and marigolds with your tomatoes—and exactly the kind of companion-planting the church should be doing." (

I believe that the Christian church can enter into a place of witness, hospitality, and justice for the "stranger" in the land when it practices this "companion planting," as Bahnson so eloquently describes it. Churches, like the one where I work, can move to dis-posses their land in favor of the dis-possessed.

Many Latino migrants to California came due to our government's economic policies in Mexico, which pushed small farmers off their land and pulled them into the work of feeding the U.S. population through farm work. What better role for the church to fill than to offer an opportunity for re-possession of land and labor through providing a space for dispossessed indigenous farmers to garden? What better way to welcome the hungry of all social classes and races, to share the earth and to become neighbors? And what better place to plant healing herbs together, to break bread and tortillas, and, in the process, the walls that divide.


Tuesday morning is my favorite time to work at Community Roots Garden. I teach garden-based preschool lessons to a class of 18 kiddies between the ages of 3 and 6 who go to preschool at the church were the garden is located.

I'm learning that preschoolers are in a world of their own. They take what adults say quite literally and imagine the possibilities of what they are told to the fullest extent. So, when I told these 18 wiggling youngsters recently that we were going to make a home for worms, you can guess the picture they had in their heads.

I thought that making a worm compost bin would be a great way for kids to see the process of their kitchen scraps being broken down into plant food by some nice Red Wrigglers. Before putting in the worms, I brought wet paper for them to tear up as a layer of carbon-based bedding for the worms.

They sat in a circle listening intently as I made some basic comparisons between our worm home and our own homes. I explained that the worms need windows (air holes), food (compost scraps), and beds to lay on, just like we do (except that the worms eat their beds). They set to work creating the worm bedding by ripping apart the paper.

Soon, hands started popping up. “Teacher! Teacher!”

“Look – I made the worms a sofa!”

One held up a soggy lump of paper, “I'm making blankets for mine in case it gets cold.”

Another kid chimed in, “A pillow, come see my worm pillow!”

I had to chuckle, imagining our worms in their elaborately detailed, wet-paper-furnished new home. Oh, the wonderful imaginations of preschoolers. I love it.

Here is a picture of the kids decorating worm food bags with pictures of things that worms like to eat. They took the bags home last week to collect food scraps.
"Kyle. Worm Food"

And here's a picture of us going on a hunt through the garden, identifying potential worm food. And tasting strawberries along the way...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A hearty "Yes!" to this...

Fred Bahnson's work and writings are amazing. Check out this recent article he wrote about Anathoth Community Garden in an online magazine I like called "Flourish":

From the article:
"Agriculture offers a way for churches to seek the salvation, the shalom, the welfare of the place to which they’ve been sent. Live locally, eat locally, serve God by serving your neighbor. This is no Earth-shattering revelation about how to Achieve World Peace or End Poverty; rather, it’s a small act of witness, a way of living in place that, if practiced, might begin to repair some of the damage we have inflicted upon our neighbors, the fertile soil, and ourselves."

A hearty "yes" to this.

Monday, June 28, 2010

An End of the Intern Year post (copied from the Abundant Table blog)

Simple Gifts

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,
'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

It will be in the valley of love and delight.

Refrain: When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
'Til by turning, turning we come round right.

Last night, we hosted our final Abundant Table Farm Project party for this internship year. The party started with a service, during which we sang one of my favorite songs (lyrics above), a Shaker dance song called, "Simple Gifts."

This song could not be more appropriate as we end our time together. It has been a year of simple gifts: sharing in unexpectedly deep friendships with four other sisterfriends, witnessing the miracle of life happening as seeds germinate and chickens grow, harvesting food for our table and so many other tables as well, welcoming friends and strangers alike into our home, seeing our farm become a hub for community engagement and justice work, forming relationships with CSA members, farmers' marketers, farm workers, nuns, professors, students, the list goes on and on.

This year has not always been the "valley of love and delight" of course. There was a period
when our abundant table looked pretty barren, when we did not know if the farm would survive, and when we did not know if we could push harder than we were pushing physically or emotionally. Gone now are any notions I once had of the idyllic farm life. Instead, I now bear a deeper understanding of why my grandparents left that life and a felt knowledge of the challenges that this economic system holds for small farmers.

Yet this year has also instilled in me the belief that "to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed." My manual labor in the field and my work with the local organization, "House Farm Workers," taught me that though farm work is socially marginalized, often underpaid, and under-acknowledged, this labor forms the core of our society. Our survival rests upon the labor of farmers and farm workers, their daily maintenance of the soil, and the sustenance of food that comes from their hands. For this reason, and for the work itself, I have come to realize the essential dignity of farm work and the respect it deserves. I have stopped wondering if I am too "good" (educated, full of potential, etc.) for this, and have started to ask if I am worthy of this work. I now know it is holy work.

I am forever changed by this work and by this place. In some capacity or other, my hands will remain connected to earth. Already, I have begun to transition away from work at the Farm and have started working as a community garden coordinator at a local 1 acre community garden called Community Roots Garden. The Garden is a shared space where people come to volunteer and learn how to grow their own school/ community/ home gardens. It is also a ministry of the North Oxnard United Methodist Church, and the harvest goes to local food pantries and a women's shelter. I'm excited to continue sharing the gift of growing food and building community with and for all who are hungry (for all are hungry, in some way or other!).

I'll also be working part-time as an assistant for dear friends of the Farm, Ched Meyers and Elaine Enns at Bartimaeus Coorperative Ministries, who inspire me in their work of peace, justice, and radical Christian faith. Their Oak View home has been a place of rest and retreat for us at different points, and I look forward to learning from them there.

As I was deciding where to live this coming season, I couldn't shake the feeling that this feels like home now - as the song says, "tis the gift to come down where you ought to be." So, I've decided to continue to live at the Farmhouse as a part of the Abundant Table community! (Though not as a farm intern.) This means I'll get to welcome in the 2010 interns and journey with them through the ins and outs of farm life.

I hope to update this blog now and again.

Living the Gift,