Tag Archives: farming

Stewarding the Earth, Caring for Community

By Alex Smith, Production Manager at Living Hope Farm

I came to Living Hope Farm in Harleysville, PA several years ago, excited for the opportunity to help manage a community-oriented organic vegetable farm. What I found when I arrived was a productive farm and a whole lot more. Living Hope is a farm with a mission – to help build a community that is more firmly rooted in the land, and foster stewardship and care for the Earth. We feed local people, offer opportunities for folks to learn and connect with the place where their food is grown, and work to train the next generation of farmers. In times when it seems like people are growing disconnected from the land and from one another, I am thankful to work for an organization that is striving to rebuild those connections.

Living Hope is a working farm, first and foremost, and our social mission hinges on being able to grow ample, high-quality produce. I’m proud to say that in the summer 2017 season we grew and distributed more than 60,000 pounds of fresh vegetables and fruits, along with pasture-raised eggs, chicken and turkeys. We distribute our produce at farmers’ markets and through food pantries, but our main focus is on our community supported agriculture (CSA) program.  CSA members sign up for a season’s worth of produce, and  each week they order six to ten items from the selection of veggies and fruits we have to offer at that time. For our paying members, this is a chance to get local, organically grown vegetables through the season at a good price, and it gives them the confidence that comes from knowing where and how their food is grown. In addition to paying members, we also offer work shares and subsidized shares to folks in the community. Our work shares go to folks who are willing to put in a weekly work shift in exchange for their box of fresh veggies from the farm. Our subsidized shares go to families with children who may not have the funds for a share but could really use some nutritious food.

Good stewardship of the Earth is an essential part of my job as a farmer, and everyone’s work here at Living Hope. In order to hold ourselves to the highest standards, we take part in the Certified Naturally Grown program, which carries all the same requirements as USDA Certified Organic but with an additional emphasis on building a biologically diverse farm ecosystem. Like a natural environment, our farm relies on cycles that sustain one another. For example, after the vegetables are harvested, we bring in our poultry to forage on the plants and insects that remain in the field. The birds get food and exercise and help future crops by eating pests and fertilizing the soil. This kind of farming sometimes takes extra effort and coordination, but for me it brings the special satisfaction that comes with taking proper care of our place.

I also find it satisfying to be able to share our farm with others. We welcome many visitors to Living Hope, including school and church groups, corporate volunteer groups, volunteers with special needs, and individuals who just want to lend a hand! Many of these folks say that they find their time on the farm healing and therapeutic, which helps to assure me that we are maintaining a healthy, positive place. We also share our work on the farm with the interns who commit themselves for a season (or sometimes more) to learn sustainable farming. A number of these folks have gone on to start farms of their own, and we hope all of them will continue our mission of growing healthy relationships with the land in one way or another. In addition, we look forward to connecting with a new community this summer as we begin bringing our produce to the Oxford Circle Farmers’ Market, an inner-city Philadelphia market hosted by the Oxford Circle Mennonite Church.

As we move forward, we continuously re-commit ourselves to our mission and seek to build on our strengths, including one of our most constructive and helpful initiatives to date: our sponsored CSA share program called “Farm to Family”. This program advances our social mission in many ways at once – it provides good food to families in need, but also gives them a chance to build a relationship with a local farm. Some of our sponsored share members have transitioned into being work shares, so that they could spend more time on the farm and give something back, but there are always more families in need. My hope as we grow into the future is that we can provide more families in need with produce and a personal connection to the land.

Living Hope Farm is a Conference Related Ministry of Franconia Conference.

Peace Farm: A new experiment in Christian discipleship takes root

by Janie Beck Kreider

Peace Farm, a new voluntary service program born out of a collaborative effort between Quakers and Mennonites in Bally, Pennsylvania, will begin its inaugural season in May 2015. This six-month apprenticeship brings together the practical work of farming and an exploration of connections between peace, food justice and faith.

Krista Showalter Ehst
Krista Showalter Ehst

Farmers Krista and Tim Showalter Ehst are excited to see their dream for Peace Farm become a reality. Tim and Krista operate Valley Run CSA (community-supported agriculture), a diversified, sustainable farm in the Butter Valley of southeastern Pennsylvania, about an hour outside of Philadelphia. Along with other local farmers, they will host Peace Farm apprentices for the daily work of cultivating organic vegetables, raising pastured animals and helping with various other agricultural tasks. As part of the hands-on apprenticeships, the Showalter Ehsts will also facilitate ongoing reflections with participants about what it means to approach agriculture and land cultivation through the lens of faith. Themes within the Peace Farm curriculum address scarcity and abundance, food deserts, migrant farm labor, sustainable living and rest, and agricultural practices as a form of peacemaking.

The Showalter Ehsts are not your average Mennonite farmers. Their journey toward this vocation and lifestyle began at Goshen College, where they studied theology and began learning about food production and distribution in the United States and abroad. Neither of them grew up farming, although Krista was raised in a 200-year-old farmhouse on 80 acres of Pennsylvania farmland, and Tim grew up in rural Virginia, outside of Harrisonburg. While at Goshen College and reading authors such as Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, Vandana Shiva, and the like, the two decided to pursue a farming apprenticeship in Kentucky upon graduation. They’ve been interested in this type of work ever since.

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Bounty at Valley Run CSA.

“Coming off of studying theology and then moving right into learning about farming made both of us keen to find intersections between our faith commitment to Anabaptist-Mennonite theology and this work of tending to the land,” reflected Krista, who also pastors Alpha Mennonite Church in Alpha, New Jersey, a Franconia Mennonite Conference congregation. “We soon realized that our commitment to a lived discipleship found natural expression in the daily tasks of cultivating food in ways that respected the goodness of God’s creation and the interdependence of healthy human communities with healthy landscapes.”

Krista earned a Master of Divinity at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, while Tim helped start Oakleaf Mennonite Farm, a diverse urban farm on the six-acre property of Berea Mennonite Church, also in Atlanta. After getting the farm off to a good start, Tim took a position as interim director for DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection) Atlanta, which is affiliated with Mennonite Mission Network. It was while Tim was at DOOR, working closely with young adult volunteers, that the dream for a faith- and farm-based voluntary experience began to take root.

“We knew that there were lots of experiences for young adults to spend a year in a faith-based voluntary service program, and we also knew that there were tons of farming internship opportunities,” says Tim. “But there weren’t many opportunities for young people to learn about sustainable agriculture through the lens of faith.”

It wasn’t long before this dream began to germinate. After moving back to Krista’s family pigfarm in Pennsylvania and starting up a successful CSA (a cooperative farm where members help with start-up and operating costs in exchange for food), they began to brainstorm with Christina Repoley, one of Krista’s seminary friends who also directs Quaker Voluntary Service. Then Glenn Balzer, director of DOOR, joined the conversation. Quaker Voluntary Service and the DOOR program have signed on as program partners. The Showalter Ehsts also received a grant from the Fund for Theological Education that helped finance the development of the program.

“We began to imagine what it would look like for these peace churches to develop a program that centered on sustainable agriculture and food justice,” says Krista.

The inaugural season of Peace Farm will begin in May 2015. The experience is based on the rhythms of the farming year, so while most voluntary service programs start in August or September, Peace Farm will begin in late May. By the time they leave at the end of November, apprentices will have experienced not only the ins and outs of a sustainable farm, but will have engaged in essential conversations about how spirituality and faith commitments can inform a healthier relationship with the land.

This piece originally appeared as part of Mennonite Church USA’s #WeAreMenno series. Reprinted with permission.

Blooming Glen holds annual harvest festival

by Lora Steiner, managing editor

Every year, members of Blooming Glen Mennonite Church throw a party. It’s got all the necessary elements of a good celebration: games, food, music, and plenty of neighbors joining in. And then there’s one part you wouldn’t expect: a Massey Ferguson combine harvester rolling through nearby fields, harvesting crops of corn and soybeans.

A combine was used to harvest crops during the festival, and the grain was deposited into a semi truck waiting in the parking lot. Photo by Philip Roth.
A combine was used to harvest crops during the festival, and the grain was deposited into a semi truck waiting in the parking lot. Photo by Philip Roth.

Blooming Glen first began planting its fields in 2002. The church owns 76 acres and about a third of that—25 acres—has been planted annually ever since. The grain is sold on the open market, and proceeds go towards a different project each year. Usually, it’s towards an agricultural project, like those run by Mennonite Central Committee.

Every year, church members harvest the crops around the end of October. And every year—the last Saturday in October—the congregation holds its annual harvest festival, an event open to anyone who wants to come.

One year profits from the harvest went to a non-denominational ministry in Minnesota supporting farmers in that state; another year, they took the grain to farmers in the Belleville, Pennsylvania area who were experiencing heavy drought. Another year, a portion of the proceeds went to Keystone Opportunity Center, a Souderton, Pennsylvania-based organization that aids homeless people. Two years ago when grain prices rose, they sent $20,000 to a Mennonite Disaster Service project in Ohio. This year, the going price has dropped so it won’t be as much, though it’s still nothing to sneeze at—as long as you don’t get too close to the semi in the parking lot where the combine is unloading the grain.

Children paint pumpkins, one of many activities and games kids could participate in. Photo by Philip Roth.
Children paint pumpkins, one of many activities and games at Blooming Glen’s harvest festival. Photo by Philip Roth.

At the festival, there are activities and games—no age limit is posted—that range from painting pumpkins, to throwing corn cobs through the painted mouth of a pig, to hayrides. One game has prizes—small wooden animals made with a jigsaw and painted. Bob Moyer, a member of the congregation, made 75 of them last year; this year, it went up to 100.

Members of the church say the event, like the fields, grows and changes a bit every year. Many people from Blooming Glen donate homemade chili and cookies, cider and apples. The young adult Sunday school class serves as treasurers. John Hockman and Paul Hockman, brothers who own Penn View Farm, take care of the planting, and father-and-son team John Kulp and Ryan Kulp of J & R Farms helped with the harvesting this year. The junior MYF group supervised the popcorn machine, while the senior MYF led games.

Robin Long, a member of Blooming Glen and also the congregation’s business manager, says one of her favorite things about the event is that it’s multi-generational and also “multi-initiative.”

“Not only are there people here from all ages,” she says, “There are people helping from all ages.”

Alexa Kennel, 13, stopped on her way to snag another cookie, says that when she was younger, she liked the games a lot. Now, her favorite part is seeing everyone in the church and catching up with them.

Long says the harvest festival is important for many reasons: Harvesting on the same day as the festival provides a visible reminder of where food comes from and the importance of farmland. It also brings together the local community.

“It’s the simple pleasures of food and play,” says Long. “And the fellowship. You can’t beat the fellowship.”

Connecting our past to our future: Growing faith and community alongside food

Sheldon C. Good, Salford
shelds3@gmail.com

jill-1.jpgIn 1999, Kenny Chesney sang about why “she thinks my tractor’s sexy.” During the past decade, we’ve expanded Chesney’s claim – because now, farming is sexy.

Country music aside, Facebook, the Obama family, and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution all contribute to the recent popularity of farming. For many people, life doesn’t involve dirty fingernails, overalls, and an almanac. But for an increasing number, farming is cool again (though some have always thought so). Whether or not one actually digs in the dirt, something about rediscovering the spiritual value of God’s abundant earth stimulates heart, mind, body, and soul.

Years ago, people worked the fields from dusk till dawn. Now the closest many get to dirt is by playing Farmville on Facebook (long ago, we played SimFarm). But Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign is bringing healthy, local food back, with plans to eradicate childhood obesity. She recently described her “mission as first lady” as creating ways for families to make “manageable changes that fit with their schedules, their budgets, and their needs and tastes.”

Like Obama, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution TV series on ABC documents how a grassroots campaign to curb obesity starts with getting families excited about local farming. Though a classroom of first-graders can’t tell the difference between a tomato and a potato, they can all identify French fries. But days later, after a dose of the food revolution, the six-year olds can all identify an eggplant when they see one.

Part of the reason why our children can’t identify produce is because, over time, farming has become industrialized. As author Bill McKibben says, efficiency and growth have taken over our food system. “Our affluence isolates us ever more,” McKibben says in his book Deep Economy. “What ties are left to cut? We change religions, spouses, towns, professions with ease.” But at Living Hope Farm in Harleysville, Pa., my family is busy putting some of these ties back together.

I was recently led in an exercise to reclaim my personal heritage. I often think about my ancestral lineage in linear terms (birthdates, jobs, etc.) – data I basically memorized as an adolescent for my seemingly irrelevant school projects. However, I don’t usually consider how strands of my ancestral history are woven together, or how they intersect with other people’s strands. So as our country focuses on jobs, jobs, jobs – I too began reflecting on jobs, on the vocational history of my family.

From what I can gather, nearly all of my ancestors were farmers. Up until my grandparents, both sides of my family – whether living in Pennsylvania or Virginia – farmed small plots of land, which supplied them with much of their food and income. But then both of my grandfathers, Emory Good and Marvin Clemmer, traded in their tractors for automobiles and hit the road as businessmen. In 1947, Emory started a plumbing company. And after spending years selling produce and meat in Philadelphia, Marvin switched mid-course to join a direct-selling company. My extended family became successful entrepreneurs at the expense of being grounded in our backyards; we have benefited greatly.
So the generational story goes for many families living among the farmlands of Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Shenandoah Valley. As the “Greatest Generation” (my grandparents) left farming, “Baby Boomers” (my parents) were raised with new vocational possibilities, and Millenials (me) haven’t looked back. Over the years, many of us have enjoyed the benefits of grocery stores, agribusiness, and Sunday afternoon shopping.

Until now.

Farming activists come in all varieties: an ignoramus addict of Facebook’s Farmville game; a twinkle-eyed Obama supporter; a dedicated vegetarian; or something in between. No matter where one lives, this nation is noticeably rediscovering its farming roots. Because after 500 years of rushed technological innovation, people are noticing that we’re standing on what author Bill McKibben calls “the shard ridge between the human past and the posthuman future.” Living Hope Farm is here to help reverse this trend, by growing faith, food, and community.

farm-2.jpgOver the past few months at the farm, a greenhouse and hoop house have both been installed. Jill Landes, the lead farmer, is currently working alongside her full-time interns, planting for an 80-member CSA. In addition, they are also growing for two families in the Bridge of Hope Program and making connections with the Germantown area of Philadelphia. Several regular volunteers have even graciously contributed countless hours to this mission.

Though it certainly exists on Indian Creek Road in Harleysville, Living Hope Farm is more than an earthly phenomenon. The farm is an opportunity for people to put faith into action. Farming can be spiritual. It’s a chance to rediscover values of corporate faith, local food, and loving community. And for many of us, it’s an opportunity to realize what it means to be living testimonies to our ancestral heritage of farming and entrepreneurship.

Ultimately, the best farming (including at Living Hope Farm) shifts our economy – and our relationships – away from hyper-individuality and towards each other. McKibben says this way of living requires us to “reorient your personal compass” and “live with a stronger sense of community in mind.”

There’s interest in growing food, faith, and community, so let’s get involved. May we all consider what it means to reconnect with our food, our families, and our farms.

photos provided by Living Hope Farrn
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