Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Together again: Food is first

It's been a while since I was in Boston or writing about food things but I was fortunate enough to reconnect with the Food Justice League in our former setting this weekend for a reunion of sorts around Audrey's birthday.  We gathered in Boston for several days to catch up with one another and see the old sights and old but still young friends who we have been away from since the whirlwind of Boston Food Justice YAV '13-14.  We jokingly told everyone our itinerary for the week was centered around food so below you will find a summary of our adventure based on the menu.  Remember Food is essential to ALL our lives. We all need to eat to live.  Food is essential to our Christian Faith, we commune with God as we share the feast of Christ's body and blood around God's table in Holy Communion.  Friendships are built around shared meals. The word "companion" from Latin translates to the ones we share bread with (panis=bread and com=with) And when YAVs come to Boston they eat....

On the shortest of updates most of the work we were doing has continued, lots of it has evolved. Kathleen now works at Virginia Poverty Law Center in Richmond with funding for school breakfast and lunch among other things. Audrey works at Women's Lunch Place where she used to work as a YAV and still lives in the Boston area.  Libby is finishing up an Americorps year with Atlanta Habitat. I'm installing solar panels for a construction company in Virginia.  For the most part we are still keeping up with work in the food justice world (although branching into environmental justice, and the larger umbrella of social justice work).

And a quick shout out to Maggie, our site coordinator who was in Jordan where she is teaching and working in the areas of nutrition and public health.  Following our YAV year she moved there with Catholic Relief Services.  She has been a shining example of a hard worker, and dedicated Christian.

It feels like a gift to have such a strong community founded on a common interest in service, sustainable food, simple living, and Christian community. I hope everyone may find such a community very soon.  Now on to the food.

Water in the park
I arrived in Boston earlier than Libby and Kathleen so I wandered to Park Street and played my guitar with an empty ball cap in front of me long enough to get enough cash to buy an expensive bottle of water in the park, and enough cash to give a little to the other musicians out there.  I even strummed a few songs with a young lady guitarist before we packed up.

Christine's Garden
Audrey was cat-sitting for Christine who allowed us to eat some of her garden produce if we picked what was ready for her.  So in true YAV-fashion we walked to the garden with our re-usable produce bags, picked some produce (I also picked some purslane and sorrel--the weeds) and we brought that back to the kitchen to create something.  A short trip to Whole Foods Market provided a few more fixin's for a salad and some whole chicken for Kathleen to do her magic.  The four of us in the house jumped back into character as Tropical Storm Alex (mistakenly called a Hurricane) made a temporary mess chopping up beet greens, spinach and onion for a salad.  Meanwhile Kathleen did her magic with lemon-basil chicken (basil grown by Audrey in her back yard)  Some goat cheese, home-mixed dressing, roasted beets, day-old strawberries, and that delicious chicken made for a salad like I hadn't eaten in years.  And just like old times the two that didn't cook cleaned up after a wonderful meal together that finished at about bed time. We then traveled our full bellies back to Audrey's apartment with the leftovers.

Libby's Photo
Kathleen's photo
Kathleen's Photo

Breakfast with Kevin
The next morning we met Pastor Kevin, one of Libby's mentors and a board member for some egg sandwiches and coffee at City Feed in JP (Jamaica Plains--the place Charlie was going in the song when he got stuck on the MTA).  It was good to connect with Kevin again.  He updated us on renovations at the Cambridge church, and we told stories.

Snacks with Stacie
After Kevin left I waled over to see Stacie, a former supervisor with BFJN. Stacie helped me learn a whole lot in our short time together so I wanted to say hi. She introduced me to her and Elijah's nine-month old little girl, Eden. (I had no idea she was a mom till I walked in the house)  She fed me some leftovers while she fed the baby. We caught up on our new jobs. She is working with gender justice and things related to the LGBT controversies in the churches. She is helping churches in Boston to think through some of the recent controversies like the bathroom-gender argument and really think about what would Jesus do. knowing the transgender community has some of the highest suicide rates, and God calling us to look out for all our neighbors especially the vulnerable.  Stacie always gets you thinking.  It was good to see her and Eden, and to eat some avocado basil pasta leftovers at her house.

Juice with Jin Min
I then met Jin Min Lee, another mentor from Emanuel Gospel Center who helped me with BFJN work.  Jin Min has a long time evangelical background but was recently hired to work with the Episcopal Diocese.  That combination of two different worlds seems to be going well.  She and I talked about life and bridging the gaps between what we learn as we grow in faith, and how we can bring new knowledge from working with different flavors of faith, into communities of our home and family which tend to be more conservative and haven't seen first hand the new experiences we have.  It's something I think about a lot recently starting to settle in rural-majority conservative Virginia after finding theology around food movements and environmental movements which aren't the forefront of politics in this region.

Mediterranian Dinner with Kris and Tedd
Then I finally got back to meet the lady-YAVs with Kris and Tedd, our adopted Aunt and Uncle from Watertown. Kris is a mentor in economic discipleship and food justice work. Back in the day, she taught us a thing or two about canning and opened up her deep freezer to us to save some of our local veggies.  Kris is the best that is all there is to it.  After we ate some mediteranian food near the ball park, Kris and Tedd took us to a Red Sox game!!!!! I never went during our year of simplicity even though they won the world series that year.

Snacks at the Red Sox Game
We did eat a few peanuts at the game, no cracker jacks.  There was a long rain delay when they played all the songs that mentioned rain.  Overall I'm glad I went. I'm not much of a baseball fan, but I must say the atmosphere of a baseball game is wonderful.  Especially when the Red Sox are winning. I'd imagine it's less appealing when they loose.

Photo courtesy of Kathleen Murphy and Kris Engdahl

The next day we had a quick breakfast at the house. Audrey's roommate shared some cereal. It was like LIFE cereal but made with organic whole grains.  I Love that LIFE flavor. Life is good.

Nabs in Natick with JoAnn and Jim
Kathleen and I ventured way way out to Natick to see the pantry/clothes closet she used to work for. Her main job was to help start a community garden for the Hartford Street Presbyterian Church and A Place to Turn--the food pantry.  She spent all year muddling through the red tape with the city council and politics and didn't see much more than trees getting cut down by the time her year was up.  On Saturday she and I saw a fully planted and growing garden replete with a few folks there tending to their space.  Each of those beds is rented by an individual in town while several are designated to the church and the interfaith community who give the produce to A Place to Turn to give out to clients in need.  Other customers sometimes donate their extra goodies.  There were lots of decorative rocks, flowers and ornamental objects to make the garden look very pretty in addition to the simple beauty of the food growing there.  It was good for Kathleen to see the fruits of the seeds she helped to plant two years ago.  I was impressed seeing the continued enthusiasm for the cause among Jim and JoAnn, Kathleen's mentors who helped continue the work after our parting. They took us out to lunch after seeing the garden.

Second Lunch at Watertown Deluxe Diner
When we finally made it back to the other two girls we ventured out to Watertown where our YAV house was. We got some breakfast food at the Diner and then some of the best yogurt you'll ever find.  Sofia's Greek Pantry is this hole in the wall store on Bellmont Street, I think it's technically in Belmont, but this Greek family sells all kinds of Greek food and things. Any shape-d bottle of olive oil, any color olive, etc. etc. and they have home-made Greek yogurt. One variety they mix with honey tastes like it could be cake icing. It's better than cake icing.  So we got some of that to eat for the week.  Absolutely number one item on the list of food itinerary. Sofia's honey yogurt. Done, journey complete, we can go home now.

Breakfast on the Bus
Sunday I ate breakfast on the bus on my trek up to Burlington where I used to work.  I met several church members I hadn't seen since I left who all were happy to see me.  Ken, Jen, Shirley, Jim, Marty, Mary Jo, Mark, Kathleen, Joseph, and a few others.  It was a very happy morning. Ken spoke up in the time for prayer for joy that I was visiting, and I spoke up for the gratitude I have for this community who got me through a whole lot two years ago.  An air of saddness started to set in as we reflected on the losses of my year (Gus and Sarah) and the loss the church saw after I left.  Duncan, perhaps the person of that church who made sure the YAV was taken care of passed away last year, the interim pastor Mike left early after discovering a brain tumor and died. Joan's husband Steven passed away.  I can't say it's been easy for them or me to go through these losses. We all know these people well, that church stays close.  I hope to make it back to see a few more that weren't around this weekend.  It was very good for my soul to catch up with these folks over cake and crackers after church like old times.

The church lawn

Snappy Sushi Sunday with Rob
Kathleen and Joseph drove me from church to downtown to meet the girls and Pastor Rob at Snappy Sushi for a bite of lunch.  Time with Rob feels like a rare gift. He's super busy all the time, but such a fund guy and great role model to have in my life.

Dinner with Beverly and John and Company
Beverly and John Shank hosted us for our very first meal in Boston way back almost three years ago. She is the chair of the YAV board and very much a dear friend.  She hosted us again during the visit for dinner with her son and adorable grandson Caleb. We had chicken, bread, salad, tabbouleh salad, and strawberry shortcake.  Almost all locally-sourced.

Monday the 4th we all departed after eating cannolis and sandwiches for lunch in the park.  After Libby left Kathleen, Audrey and I got some salad greens to add to our leftovers from Thursday for supper and then went over near MIT in Cambridge to watch the fireworks.

Tuesday's lunch I spent with Uncle Sam and Grandma outside of Baltimore waiting for my train to arrive.  We had Aunt Toni's delicious July 4 leftover chicken cabbage, carrots, corn on the cob, cranberries, stuffing, gravy, and the best banana pudding I've ever had.  They even packed me some to go which made everyone on the train jealous.

So there you have it, the menu of food, fellowship, memory and deep theological conversation.  I invite you to think of who you've spent meals with this week, who you would like to eat with, cook with, talk with.  Among all the work to feed the sheep, we must stop, relax and dine together with our companions.  Let us invite our friends to the table as Jesus invites everyone to his table.

Saturday, November 1, 2014


I wrote this over a year ago but never published it.  Since Cranberries and Thanksgiving are starting to be on people's mind here you go:

Friday my housemates and I visited a cranberry bog in Carver, Mass., south of Boston.  This farm, Fresh Meadows Farm is one of the only certified organic cranberry farms in the commonwealth. 

The farm manager Dom, is a third generation cranberry farmer.  His grandfather immigrated to Massachusetts from the island of Fogo in the Cape Verde Islands off the west coast of Senegal, Africa.

Dom and his grandson. Picture from (last fall)

Dom was extremely accommodating.  Despite a slight mis-communication between the folks who organized our trip and Dom which made him think we weren't coming, he still happily gave us the tour anyway.  He talked extensively about the economics of the cranberry market, his organic cranberries, and his conventionally grown berries.  I found all that information fascinating and wish to enlighten you all on the cranberry market.

Cranberry farmers like Dom either sell their berries on the commodity market where buyers control the price, or on the cooperative market where shareholders, and often farmers themselves have more control over the price.  Dom sells to Ocean Spray and to the commodity market.  He said Ocean Spray pays better.  I've made it a goal to only buy Ocean Spray cranberries rather than the store brand to support Dom with my purchase.

Wet vs Dry Harvesting

As you have probably seen on the Ocean Spray commercials cranberries are typically harvested with water.  The perennial shrubs (flowering each year) are grown from cuttings in a bog or swamp.  During the winter the bogs are flooded to protect the plants from the harsh dry winter winds; even though the water will usually freeze it keeps the plants moist and alive until spring. In the spring the fields are drained for the plants to begin growth.  The bogs will typically be flooded several times during the growning season before they fruit to control pests.  They usually flower in April and the flower buds are long and slender representing a crane --thus its name is from "Crane"-berry. 

After the flowers are pollinated and the fruits are ready by late October through November the berries are harvested.  Originally all cranberries were dry harvested, picked by hand or with a comb-like scoop and then sorted, stored or processed, and then sold.  In the mid 20th century wet harvesting became popular which is flooding the fields, the berries float to the top, are collected, and then sent for processing.  The wet-harvest can bruise or soften the berries compromising their shelf life and they require immediate processing for storage.  Typically wet-harvested cranberries go into juices, sauces, or are dried as crasins, and dry harvested berries are sold as whole cranberries in grocery stores.  In the last decade the wet-dry harvesting method has come into play which is a wet harvest followed by an immediate drying in huge warehouses, these can also be sold as whole cranberries.


In order to have the organic label on one of his bogs, Dom has to dry harvest using the old fashoned machine which is like a giant comb.  

To be certified USDA organic, Dom is not allowed to use any synthetic pesticides or fertilizer on his organic fields.  This requires more care, and often results in more crop lost to pests.  This is one reason organic cranberries cost a little more.  In order to afford to grow organic berries he must also grow conventional in other fields he owns to sustain the income.  The majority of Organic cranberries are grown in newly-developed bogs in Canada where they have no natural pests yet.

I asked Dom what is his spiritual connection to food.  He said it was about his connection to his family.  He does this because he is closer to his parents and grandparents by following in their footsteps.  Dom sort of uses the older equipment and the organic method as a hobby because he loves it so much.

I really enjoyed that visit and listening to Dom.  I will always think of him when I buy Cranberries.  And I will eat more of them raw, after about five of them you get used to the tart flavor.

This Thanksgiving think of farmers like Dom who are honoring their families by connecting with the earth and growing us delicious cranberries.  Maybe go for a visit if you're in New England.  Happy Eating!

Thanks Dom, you've been on my mind for a year.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Food Justice in Virginia

The Sunday after I returned from Boston to my home in Millboro, VA I gave two presentations about my time in Boston.  One at 2:30pm in Goshen with my home parish, and one after a potluck dinner at 5:30pm in Harrisonburg for Trinity Presbyterian where I attended during college.

I talked about YAV in general being like the Church's version of the Peace Corps for one year. life with mostly females, Lazarus at the Gate bible study, Farmer Dave's CSA distribution at my church, teaching people what kholrabi and other weird vegetables are, showing how leftovers go to the food pantry, etc.

I talked a little about Manna Mondays, but then the audience had some excellent discussion about how these themes could apply to my home community in the Shenandoah Valley and Appalachian Mountains where poverty, geography, agriculture, and local food all looks different.  Here are a few pictures I showed.

First of all I asked the refreshments be locally sourced.  In Goshen we got eggs from Chicken Lawhorn's Chickens, lemonade made with water from the mud puddle out back.  There were some delicous cakes and snacks as well.

Justine and Ray Tilghman, the forman couple of the Craigsville Food Pantry were there. The Craigsville pantry serves Bath, Augusta, Rockbridge, and parts of Highland Counties.  Mostly rural mountain communities.  They serve a much larger area than Burlington, but similar numbers.  Justine gets fresh produce from WalMart once a month the week before they open for distribution.  Usually it's close to going bad and needs to be tossed or sent to feed someone's livestock before distribution.  Things have been better since they got a walk-in refrigerator, but Justine is still concerned about the food waste.  She's been considering opening up once a month for a few hours just to give out produce so it wont get thrown away.  (If any of those links ask you to pay to read the full article send me an E-mail and I'll get it to you for free

Refrigeration and opening just a day for produce were two things Jane has been exploring in Burlington to manage the abundance of fresh produce from Farmer Dave's and the area grocery stores.  It was a good conversation of the two of us sharing ideas while other church members learned of ways they can help her.  Those interested near Craigsville should contact Justine at the pantry (540-997-5827) about volunteering for the vegetable only distribution, or helping deliver produce to those in need.

In Harrisonburg a few college buddies came which was awesome!  Mary, Rebekah, Tim, Mike, and Hannah you should all really think about YAV!  The discussion in Harrisonburg involved a lot about school lunches, hunger in schools, the new regulations, and the weekend backpack program.  It got a lot of church members talking about that with some of the college students who are still packing backpacks a few times a month.  We heard from some teachers the real problems hungry kids have in schools and how they hate to see them going for chips to curb hunger pangs.

Both discussions felt a lot like my time in Boston.  There was a lot of raising awareness of the issues, a lot of defining the problems and blaming others.  I walked away thinking that we all knew the problems better but lacked solutions.  But at the core of the discussion we shared ideas and options for real solutions in the respective communities.  That was my truest job as a YAV- stirring up conversation and empowering folks to make changes in their communities.  When it's all said and done, that's quite an impact for a year's time.

I was in Boston for a year, Virginia for a week, and Goshen/Harrisonburg for just a day.  My hope is that the pictures, the silly jokes, and the discussions can all stir up some spirit within folks to take an action, large or small to make something better.  Heck, if we all do something together, we all do something toward the same goal we are working as one body in Christ and what can stop us then?

What did I Learn as a Food Justice YAV Living with 3 Girls?

I wrapped up my term in Boston faster than I wanted to.  I felt like I had just figured out what I was doing, and then it all went away.  When I drove back on the 15th with Kathleen I was missing a lot of people, thinking about how much I've grown this year.  I want to share a few last reflections before I close out this blog.

People have asked me many questions about the year, so here are my top three answers to each of my top three questions:

What did you learn in Boston?  

1.  As a YAV in Boston I was in the top 5% of the world in terms of income.  Yes. On my approx $20,000 annual income ($470 per month plus $120 in food stamps plus everything YAV paid in car insurance, rent, utilities, and my dad's health insurance)  I had more money than 95% of the world.  That is right at poverty line in Massachusetts and I was in the top 5% of wealth in the world.  Every little bit we can give can make a big difference to so many people in the world.  Boston Faith & Justice Network's Lazarus at the Gate class helps us each individually become more generous with this abundant wealth we have.  I promoted that message all year.  It gave me a faith context and real life ways I could do something about the large gap between wealth and poverty in our world.

2. God cares about food and the church should be leading the food movement.  I came into the year thinking the Boston churches were bringing organic, local, fresh produce into their meals programs to be hip and trendy.  I felt like my scientific interest in saving the planet had no place in the church.  But around December I got smacked in the face with biblical definitions of Justice from the old testament prophets, the Manna stories, and the gospels, and then it was clear.  God wants us to take care of the widow, orphan, traveler, hungry, naked, sick, and those in need. We've all heard love your neighbor, and share your toys since childhood. The problems in our food system and environment are leaving people hungry, orphaned, traveling, and in need.  The church should be actively working for alternatives, and better systems so that we can effectively do these things the God asks (and sometimes pretty sternly commands) us to do.

What good does it do to feed the hungry with vegetables picked by migrant labor if the laborers cannot afford to buy the food they pick?  These are issues of justice that God has been concerned about before "Organic" and "Local" became trendy so God's people absolutely should be part of this conversation and deeply involved.  So let's get to it, we've work to do!

3.  Transition happens.  People die, people retire, people move away.  This year, I've lost people close to me to taking new jobs, new property, retirement, suicide, sudden heart attacks, and even my own moving back home.  So many I know have lost family members, classmates, friends, and family this year.  It happens, you can't avoid it, and it sucks.  When working with such big problems it's key to consider ways to sustain the solutions throughout the transitions.  Keep in mind how to invite others in to take your place, or to make tasks accessible for others to fill in as needed so that it doesn't depend on any one or two individuals.

What kitchen skills/ lessons will you bring with you?

1.  Save every last bone that comes through my kitchen, and every stem, peel and veggie scrap for soup stock.  I will never buy soup stock again.  (Also sorry to new Boston YAVs for all the duck fat I forgot to get out of the freezer)
2.  Buy root veggies with the greens on them, and eat the greens and the roots.  It's a two-for-one deal
3.  Gus was right when he told me making acorn flour was too much trouble and I shouldn't fool with it.

What is it like living with 3 girls?

1.  Not going to lie it was fun.  I got to share a tent, bathroom, and several nights out with just me and three ladies.
2.  The girls individually paid way more than I did on shower supplies and haircuts.  But really-a lot more, and they had to take trips to CVS without me to buy those bathroom things I don't have to buy.  So tell me why do men get paid more?
3.  Women (some more than others) like to talk about what's going on at certian times of the month and they speak every chance they can about men making political decisions about their reproductive organs.  This doesn't have to do with my fellow Boston YAV's specifically but birth control treats important things down there and some women take it because they need it, not because they are having sex.   Why does the supreme court allow companies to opt out of having insurance cover birth control, but still cover viagra?  How does this relate to my religion?

I will be posting a few more thoughts in the next few days.

What other questions do you have?  What are some things you learned about God, life, the universe and everything this year?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Busted Watermelon

Tonight I said goodbye to Jane McIninch.  She has been an exceptional mentor, one of the coolest and amazing people I've been blessed to work with.  I didn't realize until about a week ago how much I'm going to miss her.  If you come to Boston, look her up first, ok.

Food Pantry Co-coordinators Jane (left) and Cristina (right)
with the Farmer Dave's produce donations last fall.

 She doesn't know I've called her Wonder Woman to my housemates. She has her hands involved in Farmer Dave's CSA, the food pantry, the community garden, the chamber of commerce, the church, the YAV program, the schools, the soccer teams, the Walk for Hunger....  Just to follow her around is an insight into food justice work.  Jane is from Denmark.  She used to work in a corporate Biotech company. She used to own her own chocolate-making business!   Her husband James is a wizard, fixes anything, knows everything, and gives the children sermons at church.  Thomas their son loves to read, he's tall, quiet, pretty funny when he speaks and great at basketball. Their younger son Kasper plays the recorder, plays soccer, and mindcraft and is pretty good at frisbe.  Both kids always wear their red soccer uniforms (the Danish color) and they are all soooo intelligent.  We "youth's" hadn't been the closest of friends but I've felt like one of the family when I'd ask Jane for help on my projects at her kitchen table in between Thomas and Kasper asking for help on their homework.  They were the first family from my church I ever met, and the last one I saw.  They've given me lots of support this year, I'll never forget them.

Jane (right) helping Barbara, Seabrite
and Skyra roll out pasta dough at the
first Manna Monday.
Boy did they get some long noodles!!

I started really thinking about them hard on Tuesday morning and here is a pretty crazy story about Jane's family.

I said Jane does so much for the town of Burlington.   Monday she put an end to a high speed police chase.  For real! You may have seen it in the news.  It's crazy she and her kids are who they're talking about in this news report.  This guy was being chased from the Burlington Mall when he fled after being approached about idling in a handicap space.  Police chased him northward on Cambridge Street as Jane and I were driving south in separate cars. It was minutes after we closed the church from the Farmer Dave's distribution. Two police cruisers flew past me.  Reports said an officer (probably the one that flew past me) fired two shots at the driver. He tried to hit the policeman, rear-ended a car in his lane, then swerved over and hit Jane head on. Totaling both cars.  The dummy then got out of the car and tried to run away when they got him.  A local news article about it is found here.

Jane's kids were in the backseat. They are fine, a few seatbelt bruises and a little shaken up.  Both back at camp the next day and playing frisbe with me today.  One of the officers on the scene was their neighbor whose kid played sports with her kids.  Jane is ok, "just beat  up and without a car" she told me Tuesday.  They all are fine. Don't panic.  Her four watermelons and two cantelopes didn't have such a fortunate outcome.

I was literally 2 stoplights behind her, I left the church about two minutes later because I went back in the kitchen to grab two watermelons we dropped and busted during Farmer Dave's distribution.  I heard the shots and didn't think twice about it.  I saw police swarming in from everywhere and decided to take a detour home.  The thought crossed my mind, "sometimes Jane comes this way to the grocery store, but she's probably going home the other way because the kids are with her." I almost went all the way around the block to snoop and see what was up but I was running late so I went home.

I had no idea she was in that crazy mess, or exactly what all the crazy mess was until they texted me after midnight that she wouldn't be meeting me at the pantry in the morning.

Then I heard the NPR report on the way to work and put all the pieces together.  I wanted to kill the guy.  He's an idiot and he could have killed Jane--my only work supervisor who hasn't left me yet.  I felt a crazy anger overtake me and had to pull over and calm myself down. (maybe I got my own mental problems I need to work on.)

If I hadn't gone back in the church for that busted watermelon I'd probably have been right in the middle of all that. Probably texting the roommates I was running late.  I had some angels watching me.  And lots of angels were watching her and the kids. Whew.

That particular spot on Cambridge Street where she was hit is where I picked up the older lady on the walker a few weeks ago from a previous post.  It's a particular spot that I often get flashbacks to either my first day of work, or the day Gus died when I drive through. It always has been and continues to be slightly spooky.

It just takes an instant to take it all away. I am so thankful everyone can walk away from that accident and thankful for the police and medics.  I pray for Jane and the kids. I pray for the idiot who I wanted to beat up Tuesday morning.  He has no easy path before him. I pray for the annoying reporters bothering Jane.  I pray for those I know, and those I don't know who didn't walk away from their accident.  I pray that God can show us some signs of hope.

God of grace, thank you for today and that I am still here.  Reveal yourself to us.  Thank you for putting Jane in my life and for protecting her this week.  Thank you for letting me drop and bust that watermelon--it was delicous when I ate it, but quickly forgotten when I realized what craziness was going on outside of my table. May our eyes be opened beyond the delicious watermelon in front of us. May we see your wonderful works and see how to support those in pain.  Protect your children and help us show compassion to those who hurt us and make us angry.  Amen

image from

Monday, July 28, 2014

Cape Cod: vegetables, beaches, and immigrants. What a camping trip!

I’ve always heard about Cape Cod as an expensive tourist destination or place to retire. Last week I got to see a different part of the cape.  We visited and volunteered with CapeAbilities farm.  This rather well-known farm employs and trains people with all levels of mental and/or physical disabilities growing food and flowers or making sea salt.  They have locations all over the cape with a farm in Dennis, a Farm to Table Market in Chatham, and a thrift shop in Barnstable.

Ian the greenhouse manager at the central office in Hyannis showed us around and had us seeding some micro greens, and pruning the tomatoes.  Ian broke his neck about five years ago in a terrible accident out west, but you’d never know it since surgery allowed him to walk again. He said it was a miracle he didn’t die, and another miracle that they fixed his vertebra in his neck.  For a short while he was stuck in a wheelchair and realized just how little he could do.  He was drawn to work at CapeAbilities because it allows him to give opportunity for other people who are limited in the work or service they can give.  He can find work for any skill level in the greenhouse.

I was deeply moved by this experience working with Ian, and a girl named Liz who didn’t speak to me and just filled pots with soil the whole time.  I encourage anyone who visits Cape Cod to stop by one of their operations to see how growing food can change people.  They'll even give you a navy blue volunteer shirt!

All the food we eat has fingerprints on it because someone picked it at some point (something I heard from our supervisor Maggie).  It is amazing to think someone’s life was made a little better by having the chance to pick the tomatoes, peppers, and herbs we saw in the greenhouse.  Learn more at


From left to right Alex, Audrey, Libby, Ian, Kathleen 

We also got to see my new-former pastor Rod and his wife Cathy who have retired on the cape.  He's the one who told me about CapeAbilities and gave us some lunch and dinner one night.  It was a great camping trip, and a wonderful side of food justice to experience.  

After the volunteering we visited some of the beaches and toured around a wind mill and grist mill where they used to grind grains (primarily corn) into flour with renewable energy.  Although the operation to dam up the water behind the grist mill is slightly invasive to natural plant and animal habitat, this was a virtually free, earth-friendly way to harness the energy of nature.  I was grateful to step back into the frame of mind of a slower time when folks knew how close the natural world is to our lives. A time when people knew where most of their food came from. A time when there wasn't internet to set up a last minute camping trip on the cape....

The Cape experiences seasonal poverty when agriculture and tourism die down in the winter. Many people are left without work, and wind up homeless for several of the coldest months.  Until work resumes in the summer they often can't afford rent.  There is a large amount of public assistance on the cape despite it's reputation as somewhere only the wealthiest go to their ornate beautiful beachfront property, or where they retire in a condo.  

In current events, a military base on the cape has been considered to host some of the millions of immigrant children coming across our boarders until they can be reunited with family here or sent home.  It's raised quite the controversy on the cape with much opposition.  Seemingly the ever famous pain in the butt, NIMBY (not in my back yard) mentality has folks trying to chase away people that want to do a lot of good and drop a lot of federal money in the region.  This article explains some of the opposition.  It reminds me of tense moments in local politics at home.

I was deeply  moved hearing Massachusetts Governor Patrick trying to be of help to these many children without a home.  He has quite the moving speech on this video.  It gets pretty good at 6 minutes.  Since he's not up for re-election he said a lot about his faith and God calling us to care for the traveler, orphan, and sojourner in our midst, and reminds us that we will have to answer for our "actions and inaction" one day.  It will be interesting to see how it plays out.  It's pretty evenly split in state government.   

So here I stand in the food justice league bringing you the latest from the cape in my cape.  Even the vacation spots have room for justice, and the cape's off to a great start with CapeAbilities!  

Sunday, July 20, 2014


This is a revised version of a post I submitted to the Presbyterian Hunger Program's blog a few weeks ago about one of my projects starting compost at the church in Burlington.  Read the full thing and the latest in food justice work all over the world here.  It's also a story I shared in my church's newsletter.  Please enjoy some interesting theology and liturgy of compost:

June 9 was a special day for me and compost.  T’was the day I installed a compost bin at my church in Burlington, MA and it happened to be the day I learned what other churches are doing with compost.  I saw an exciting webinar with the Presbyterian Hunger Program (the keepers of this blog) that went rapid fire through 8 awesome food and sustainability projects going on at Presbyterian camps, church basements, roofs, and yards. One of those church yards, "Sacred Greens" at Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, DC provided some liturgy and faith background on compost for me to incorporate into my church’s journey with our new compost bin.  I'd like to share some of my thoughts on compost as well as some from Ashley Goff at Church of the Pilgrims featured in the webinar.  (watch the entire webinar here, Sacred Greens begins around 48min.) 

Our church in Burlington hosts a weekly distribution of Farmer Dave's Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).  Customers pay the farm directly at the beginning of the season and get a weekly "share" of whatever's ready to harvest.  The farm drops it off at the church, and we set it up in the playground.  The parent's let their kids play while we help them identify the veggies and give cooking ideas.  A fun time for all!  
We got the compost bin so brown leaves, carrot tops, thick stems, or other scraps that get left behind from the farm customers don't end up in the landfill.  And we are working to direct more waste from the church kitchen and from members’ homes into the bin. 

Food scraps such as greens and coffee contain high levels of organic matter that generate high levels of methane gas when decomposing in landfills.  Landfills are the third largest source of atmospheric methane—a greenhouse gas over 10 times worse than carbon dioxide 1.  And food waste is the largest category of waste in our nation’s landfills2.  In a small way, throwing the vegetable scraps from the farm share and church events in the trash can, we are contributing to a larger environmental problem. 

Composting can significantly reduce the amount of waste we put in the landfills, reduce the stench of trash cans, and it provides a natural nutritious soil amendment for a vegetable garden, or the church flowers if nothing else.  Consider composting in your own yard, contributing to your neighborhood's compost, or start one at your own church!   It’s a very simple process.  
But why should a church compost? Is there any theological reason for it?  Other than doing justice to our planet, I answer these questions with some help from Ashley Goff of Washington, DC featured in that webinar.  

Sacred Greens’ compost began with a verma-compost bin (worm bin) where church members could bring vegetable scraps that earthworms could transform into vibrant, life-giving soil for the church garden—which supplies some food to their weekly meals program.  Their trash could feed worms that feed some plants that feed hungry people in their community. The trash deemed for disposal and death was rescued, saved and made into new life.  Kind of like how God rescues and saves us from the death of sin, and through Jesus Christ makes for us a new life. 

This church dove more into the theology and liturgy.  They came up with what they called a “God story for the garden” with three parts: 1. Compost is an act of resurrection.  2. Growing is an act of resistance.  3. Eating is an act of remembrance. 

Compost is an act of resurrection?  Hmm?  “Dying with the old to create the new,” Ashley Goff said.  That’s what compost does to plants.  Living things we put in the bin die, rot, and decay to welcome the way for new life.  Ashley likened this to Christ dying on the cross, and being resurrected to new life so our lives become new.  We must die completely from sin, so that God can fill us with new life, His life and his spirit.  I see it as a clever Sunday school lesson or even a sermon illustration, but this church did something I never would have thought with the theology of compost and new life.  They used the compost pile as a communion table.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  Here is the story: 

During a special fall sermon series on food and faith, they had a wheelbarrow of veggie scraps at door, midway decomposed compost in the Baptismal font, and in the front of the sanctuary, the bread and cup sitting on top of a pile of fully composted compost. 

Symbolically this represented the journey of transformation we go through as Christians.  In Christ we are transformed from one thing, perhaps a bunch of scraps, into something better.  At Baptism we know this and we have started to be transformed, but we are only midway there.  Like the partially rotted compost you can still see there is work to be done before our minds and hearts are entirely God’s.  And at communion we are completely transformed, like the compost ready to feed someone else.

Photos used with permission from Ashley Goff, taken by Andrew Satter
These images and others are shown on the PHP Webinar mentioned above.

The church sat on the floor around the compost pile and shared communion recognizing the mortality of our bodies we usually only recall on Ash Wednesday; remembering the adamah, the soil that God made into Adam.  The soil and dust we will all return to and shouldn’t distance ourselves from.  The soil that feeds the food we eat, that was once alive and is now dead but full of life.  They also shared the eternity we have through Christ that we will be transformed through him.  God’s love and spirit will become new after death.  Likewise this compost is dead, new, and ready to feed next year’s garden. 

This story of compost at Sacred Greens is featured in the Washington Post and soon to be in the Union Theological Seminary Quarterly Review. 

It’s a little weird, new and different, but it makes sense if you think about it.  Compost can be part of your life, your church’s life, or even your church’s communion.  So let it rot!!! That’s what’s been on my mind since June 9 as I encourage composting at church. Thanks for reading!

Thanks to Ashley Goff for her resources, and Andrew Satter for the images. More of his photos at   

  1. EPA (2014). “Overview of Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Methane Emissions.” EPA official website. Retrieved from
  2. EPA (2012). Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2012. Retrieved from