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.