an excerpt from the latest school paper

From my annotations on an amazing book by Frances Moore Lappe, Joseph Collins, & Peter Rosset “World Hunger: 12 Myths“:

The way people think about hunger is the greatest obstacle to ending it

If we view hunger as numbers, they say, then we will look to the answers for numbers too. I think if we were to view hunger as part of a greater story, a theme as part of a greater whole, then we as humans can begin to take ownership of the plot: beginning with pen strokes (growing a crop or preparing soil), leading up to sentences and paragraphs (forming organizations and communities to tackle hunger through food relief and more sustainable agriculture practices), and gradually building up to chapters where political and economic action is taken to remove systems and relieve our fellow people trapped under them.

Sustainable agriculture is a tool – a very important one – but a tool nonetheless, for achieving God’s harmony on earth through uniting all peoples and bringing the growth of the earth back into balance. This is my motivation as a Christian in utilizing more sustainable growing practices in pursuit of social and human justice – and grace.

Grace is not to be forgotten in the midst of the cry for justice, because, as Christians we profess the name of Jesus Christ who took the world’s sin and judgement upon Himself thereby introduced grace from God on our behalf into the world.

May I not become so bent on justice that I miss an opportunity of the Holy Spirit to show grace; may I not become so grace-centric as to become complacent or tolerant in situations that cry for action.

 

Back To School (BTS)

And so the adventure continues: I am officially a student again.

Yes, it’s another undergraduate degree.  But I’m OK with that.  Because it is simply a tool for the credentials necessary to follow God’s call and go to Ethiopia.  They (being SIM, an international Christian missions’ organization – see last year’s post) tell me I need a degree in an agricultural program, I find Goddard College, with their self-oriented and created curriculum and I am able to tailor-make my own plan of study within the Sustainable Agriculture course.  They say jump, and I’m a Tigger.

But truly, it’s the right move, and it’s been a fast move!  As of two months ago I wasn’t even seriously considering going back to school.  I was trying to evade academia, actually, and count on God to change the Ethiopian government’s international worker standards (that’s legit, right?)  Instead, He chose to give me a simple connection with Goddard at an art show fundraiser, stir my heart to start thinking about the possibilities of paying and arranging for school (as an added bonus, He even put the school in my backyard – I’m riding my bike 2 miles north everyday for the residency this week), provide some finances and a stellar internship program to complement the degree requirements…..and I’m off!  Student ID card and everything (it’s even a decent picture.)

So here is where I’ll download on you some of the challenges and struggles of being an “adult learner” (per Goddard-ese) in the BAS program, as part of the UGPT umbrella, starting off at a L2 with 11 “dangling credits,” and having to orient myself to using the SIS, the LITS database and the APL protocol. You got all that right?  Neither did I, and I’m in my third day of residency. (There are enough acronyms here to put the military to shame.)

First of all, something I already have a love/hate relationship with, is the ability to design my own curriculum.  Instead of teachers, we have a faculty advisor each semester, who guides us and prompts us in our areas of passion, helping to streamline our focus and build a 15-credit-hour semester with material that we mostly seek out and prescribe ourselves.  They provide narrative assessments of our work and progress, namely looking for how we are developing as a person and life-long learner.  And though I came into the program with a pretty good selection of broad ideas I’m passionate about, whittling those down into titles and definite subjects is the hard part: sustainability as pertaining to agriculture and community life; indigenous farming methods, specifically in sub-Saharan Africa; faith-based approaches to poverty relief and social justice, and; cultural appropriation and sensitivity.  While I do so appreciate the scope of independence I’ve been granted, it’s also a little unnerving to have so much freedom in designing my topics and study plan.  (As an independent thinker, I still appreciate having a ‘box’ from which to gauge whether I’m inside or outside.)

Just like you after reading these few paragraphs, my brain is fried, my eyes are bloodshot and I’m fighting for windows of time to deflate and process.  And we’ve only just begun.

Here’s to 5 more days of residency as the semester kicks off.  Here’s to books on my night stand with titles like,
Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples,” and
Research is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods,” and
When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself.

Here’s to Ethiopia. Here’s to Goddard. Here’s to God.

 

 

Rooted and Grounded

I remember working in the blueberry field at Spring Rain Farm two years ago, weeding out overgrown thistles and sorrel colonies.  The berry plants themselves were still fairly young and we had to be extra careful as we were working around them so as not to disturb their roots.  If we grabbed the wrong root shoot, a slight tug would unearth the whole plant and we’d have to re-plant it back into the soil immediately – any time spent out of nutritious soil is shocking to the root system and delays the growth of the plant.

For whatever reason, a fair number of blueberry plants in that field were easily uprooted, having a hard time establishing and grounding themselves in the soil amongst all the aggressive weed pressure.

something I’ve learned about transplanting potted plants in the landscaping business, is that however you prepare the home soil for the new plant (be it shrub, tree, bulb or herbacious flowers), once you do any amending and mixing in of minerals or organic matter, you want to water pretty heavily both before and after planting so that there’s a good supply of moisture for the new guy – water is essential for transporting nutrients through the soil to the roots.  And finally, once you’ve planted, you want to stomp the ground around the plant to squeeze out any air pockets remaining in the soil – there are no nutrients in air and though it is critical for life, too much of it keeps the roots from getting fed, which in turn stresses the plant.

In the same way that the soil conditions and quality matter so much to plants, so our own life conditions and quality matter to our spirit.

In Ephesians 3 where Paul write in verse 17, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”  This rooting and grounding is essential for our growth in Christ.  It is through establishing our foundation in Him that we are nourished and capable of expanding, stretching our limbs, and growing.

As most gardeners and farmers know, the size of the plant above ground level is in direct proportion to the size of its below-ground members – with the underground portion growing to many times the size and spread of the parts we can see.  The fraction of a person that lives in the visible, physical body is merely a fraction of the whole being.  If we are firmly rooted and nourished in our invisible parts with the Lord, the rest of our being will prosper and grow.  But if access to nutrients, water or air is hindered in our foundation, our whole being will suffer, being stunted.

The things which nourish our roots are time with God in prayer and thanksgiving (Colossians 2:7), sound teaching and doctrine, and putting our gifts and talents to use (1 Timothy 4:13-15), and being intentional about surrounding ourselves with other Christians and fellowshipping with believers (Hebrews 10:24-25).

All plants want to grow, are yearning to produce fruit and scatter their seeds for the next generation, they will spend their life and full force of energy to do this, reaching out to sometimes impossible depths to get the food and nutrients needed to create and sustain that healthy, vibrant life.

Roots will generally grow in any direction where the correct environment of air, mineral nutrients, and water exists to meet the plant’s needs. Roots will not grow in dry soil. Over time, given the right conditions, roots can crack foundations, snap water lines, and lift sidewalks.

Can we say the same thing about our spiritual growth and life with God?  Are we intentionally seeking the source of our nourishment and being?  Are we breaking through the concrete of hardened hearts, lifting the oppressive systems that trod on the poor and ‘least of these’?  Or are we poorly rooted, allowing the adventitious weeds and empty air to gradually separate us from Life?

Guerilla Gardening is……..Biblical

God is a God of second chances. Of redemption. Of re-formation. Of new life.

That feeling we get in the Spring when all the flowers are blooming and the trees clothe themselves in rich greens.  That reassurance that everything is not dead and the landscape will be filled again with life, lush curves and swaying leaves………God created that.  Birds sing about it all the time. (If they didn’t, the stones would start singing, I’m sure: Luke 19:40)

When people rip out the life of creation and smother it with concrete, erect buildings on it and spray chemical showers on what’s left of it, God is not surprised (we can’t ‘surprise’ God) or incapable of redeeming in the midst of the damage.

When people (and “corporate persons”) slay and beat and force the land into submission, stopping just short of genetically modifying dollar bill genes into heads of grain, using other people to do the dirty work (is soil dirtier than greed?) and slaying and beating and forcing them into poverty and dependence, God is weeping but not surprised.

God weeps and works.

He works on hearts. On minds. On relationships – with Himself, people, moving creatures and the earth.  God works on greed and in the soil.

‘Guerilla Gardening’ can mean, “illicit cultivation,” “war against neglect and scarcity of green and growing public spaces,” and “activism through gardening.”  It’s happening in many large cities (and smaller towns) where abandoned lots and empty, neglected buildings and spaces are just sitting, hurting the eyes, and begging for new life.

When guerilla gardeners take an unused space and fill it with new soil and plants, they are reclaiming what has been lost and giving it new purpose (whether for food or beauty.)  Just after Zacchaeus admitted his wrong in stealing money from others and realized his higher calling, Jesus affirms this message by saying: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10.  Jesus IS God’s proof of His redemptive heart.

In the book of Amos, God practically coins the term Guerilla Gardening:

“In that day, I will restore David’s fallen tent.
I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear My name,” declares the Lord, who will do these things.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,

“when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes.
New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills.
I will bring back my exiled people Israel;
they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them.
They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them.”

Amos 9:11-15

The heart of God towards His created. His image-bearers. His beloved.

No matter how much concrete, how many corporate persons, how much spraying.  There is always a remnant. Rebuilding is always possible. Restoration is the name of the game.

One of the last images in the book of Revelation describes a garden, with a huge river flowing through it (a river coming from the new city of God, by the way):

On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.
And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

Revelation 22:2

City and garden are finally reconciled.

Here’s a taste of what that can look like.  Though it doesn’t end well for Adam Purple, the fulfillment of God’s promise of redemption and restoration is still lingering.  There’s still work to be done; vacant lots to plant, workers to be healed, chemical action to be amended and greed to be addressed.

A Homemade Soil pH Test

The makings of a homemade soil pH test

I’ve never taken soil samples of my garden or on any farm where I’ve worked.  I have read about and taken classes on testing your soil for pH level and certain nutrients.  For anywhere from $10 – $25 you can send in less than a cup of your soil (usually to a state university extension office) and receive results in the next few weeks on present levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (the NPK of virtually all plant fertilizers – good nutrients to have, but far from all your soil needs to optimally produce healthy plants.)

Alternately, you can look for signs in the garden itself for what the nature of your soil is like.  Certain weeds grow prolifically in soils with higher nutrients, while some prefer to move in after the nutrients have been depleted.  Generally healthy, fertile soils will be home to weeds such as foxtail, chicory, dandelion, lamb’s quarters and purslane.  If your soil is not so healthy and has been stripped of many growing nutrients, it may have daisies, Queen Ann’s lace, plantain, ragweed, thistles or crabgrass.

It’s amazing that nature itself can tell us so many things about the very ground we walk on and eat from, if we will

Color before mixing with vinegar

only take a little time and effort to get to know it.  God’s creation is living, breathing and organic in its very nature.

And red cabbage is no exception.

Red cabbage has a component called flavin, which changes colors

And after

depending on the acidity present.  Bright red indicates high acidity (lower than 7, getting closer to 0 on the pH scale); greenish yellow means a high alkaline content (above 7 and nearing 14 on the scale); while a purplish blend of blue or red indicates a fairly neutral soil pH.

To illustrate this, I mixed equal parts cabbage water with white wine vinegar.  You can see the before-and-after difference.

If you can boil water, you can do this experiment.

First you chop up about 2 cups of red cabbage, place it in a pot and cover with water.  Boil.  Remove from heat to cool to room temperature.

Let the chopping begin

A very unprofessional test for a such a professional mix

While your water is cooling, go outside and gather some soil.  About 1 tablespoon of soil from

A garden sampler

however many areas you’d like to test.  I gathered samples from my newly-planted strawberry bed, a bed I made last year and have grown vegetables in, some buckets of soil I brought home from a community garden dirt pile, and from a bag of potting mix.

Mix each of the samples with a splash of water (distilled is best, for its neutral pH – I used some tap water I let sit out over night so the chlorine could evaporate off.)

Only the potting soil showed an immediate color change (and in hindsight, I believe this was because the components of the potting soil were mixed so as to slowly take up and release water, which slowed the absorption of the cabbage water – good for new seedlings so they don’t become water-logged, bad for proper test results.)

Each had taken on a blue hue overnight

The next morning however, each soil sample showed a deep turquoise tint to the brown water they were initially. Meaning I’m fairly confident that my garden soil falls within the very acceptable-to-plants neutral range on the pH scale.

Happy planting and soil testing!