The following is excerpted from a sermon given by Leah on World Communion Sunday – October 6, 2013. For the full text of this lovely sermon go here.
“I had the privilege to intern at The Lord’s Acre in 2011 and to be mentored by garden manager, Susan Sides. Susan has been an organic gardener for more than 40 years and in the 1970’s and 1980’s was a garden writer for Mother Earth News, The flagship organic gardening magazine. She’s an expert, albeit a humble one. But Susan taught me much more than seed selection, crop rotation, compost making and pest management. She modeled, in her interactions with the various garden constituents – interns, volunteers, board members, neighbors, and clients – that the garden was in the business of growing community, as importantly as growing food. “Everyone connected with The Lord’s Acre hungers for something – companionship, beauty, meaningful work, acceptance – something,” Susan says, “and the garden is a place where they can satisfy that hunger.” She also believes that everyone who comes to the garden is “called” in some way.
When asked about the mission of the Lord’s Acre, Susan responds, as Bahnson notes in his book, ‘We grow food for the food pantry, but our work here is really about finding ways to make love visible. We begin each day by asking, What does it take for this plant, this person, this community to flourish? And not just individual plants or people, but what does it take for them to flourish in relationship.'”
As someone who had never lived in a small town before, my time in Fairview was extremely rewarding, enlightening, and happy. Such an incredible community! As soon as I started the internship, I immediately started meeting this close-knit community of integrity, faith, and generosity. All of my memories from my time with you all are fond. I was recently talking with my friend Sophie about the dessert feast and dance at the end of the season that summer. I cannot think of better times.
After finishing my internship with TLA and graduating from Warren Wilson College, I moved back to my hometown of Milwaukee, where I ended up interning with Sweet Water Foundation, a nonprofit that does aquaponics education in schools. It is because of my time with TLA that I was able to work with Sweet Water Foundation to help create an online education platform for aquaponics learners globally (http://aquapons.info/), install aquaponics systems in several middle and high schools throughout Milwaukee and in the south side of Chicago, work with Montessori middle school students during their after-school agriculture club to work toward building a school-based lettuce and fresh fish business, and help build relationships between agriculture and food security organizations in Milwaukee.
Through my work with Sweet Water, I also worked for a very short time in 2013 with Growing Power here in Milwaukee, one of the premiere urban agriculture organizations in the world. My work with Growing Power happened through Americorps and I got to do nutrition and garden education in the classroom with kindergarteners through eighth-graders. I even wrote an article about the experience that got picked up by the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/food-politic/the-problem-with-foodieism_b_3345767.html).
This year, I also did some freelance writing for an engineer in Milwaukee who has a startup company called New Works, which is aimed at creating sustainable and independent water and waste water systems in the Midwest and throughout the world.
I am currently working for an arts nonprofit and writing a lot of poetry, which is where I have found my deepest heart (though I do have basil plants in the kitchen window and am anxiously awaiting warmer days to grow food in our side yard!).
Looking through the last few years, I have had phenomenal opportunities in the realm of urban agriculture and food security work. Incredible! It all started with TLA and my time in Fairview, picking kale and planting beans those misty mornings with Susan, Franklin, Mallika, and Kelley.
My time at TLA was incredibly enriching, in so many ways I didn’t fully understand and realize the immense impact it had on my life and my world perspective until after I had left the garden. As something that has affected me so fully, it has been hard to articulate the impact that TLA had on the experiences to follow. So I had to simplify. Here are the main things I feel have been at the root of my growth during and following my time spent at The Lord’s Acre and in the Fairview community:
I learned how to grow food that nourishes your body, and in doing so, nourish your mind. And I was lucky enough to have learned this from some of the most patient, passionate, and encouraging individuals I possibly could have! Susan and Franklin Sides are such incredibly hard-working individuals, absolutely dedicated to living sustainably, and changing the way we view food in this country. I feel incredibly blessed to have been welcomed into their home and into the community they help to create each and every time they step into the garden. Not only did they teach me how to keep flea beetles off the eggplants, and which organic powders you can use to deter slugs from munching the cabbage, and how to master the rototiller (or at least attempt to, ‘cause no one can make that thing run as smoothly as Franklin!!), but they also taught me how it is possible to live in a way that supports the values you have in life. Even if that means getting your hands dirty, and workin’ up a sweat to do it!
I learned how to channel my passion for engaging our youth in a way that they can gain an appreciation for their food on a deeper and more holistic level. Susan was incredibly encouraging of me and the summer intern, Emily, leading Sprouts, the weekly children’s classes in the garden. I accepted enthusiastically, as I had always found it incredibly meaningful to work with children. I initially thought it would be a great time to be silly, sing a few songs, and a way for the kids to sample some of the garden’s bounty. I didn’t realize how much I would learn about myself in the process. Working with the kids every week, walking through the garden, touching leaves in a “leaf hunt” one week, and becoming a seed that cycles through the entirety of its lifetime the next, I was able to gain a new perspective about the work I was doing. This new perspective was often simpler, and more appreciative about the food we were growing. I was able to look at the plants from a different perspective, sometimes literally, crouched on the ground at 3-year-old eye level. I also was able to remember each week how important children’s’ perspectives and ideas are in the effort to revamp our nation’s food culture. It is so vital that we bring to them an understanding of where their food is coming from, and instill in them the tools to positively impact and shape food culture in this nation.
In its simplest terms, I learned what community is, and what role food security and food production has within community. As an intern with TLA, I could see the direct impact the garden was having on the community’s issue of food security. Far too often, members of the community who are from a lower socio-economic background do not have access to fresh and healthy food options. They are trying to make ends meet, and skip the more expensive, organic produce section to head for the cheapest, fastest version of food they can find. This is understandable for people who only have an hour in between their two or three jobs to get food on the table for their families. But the work done at TLA directly addresses that economic gap. Each time they show up to the local food bank with a bushel of freshly washed carrots, or just-cut watermelons, all the members involved in making The Lord’s Acre a facet of the Fairview community are saying, “You have a right to good health. We see you, and understand that you need some extra support, and we as your fellow community members are here to help you gain access to your basic rights to live a full and nutrient-rich life.” Community is a group of board members that meets every week to discuss each new challenge the garden had to face, and then invited each other over to share their specialty meatloaf. Community is diversity, people with different opinions, respecting others’ opinions and hearing what they have to say. Community is placing trust in one another, understanding what gifts you have to give. Community is learning how to place those gifts into one another and together, place hard work into the earth to supply you with what you need to sustain yourself. Community, including the people, the land, the culture, and the communication, can become the ultimate support, if you have the willingness to invest enough work and enough heart into it.
My life’s adventures have most recently taken me to Boulder, Colorado, where I work as an Americorps Program Coordinator for the “I Have a Dream” Foundation of Boulder. I work with children from low socio-economic backgrounds to empower them through education, and help them be successful community members. I think often back to my time as an intern with TLA when we talk about community with the kids, a group of 50 4th and 5th graders. We talk about building a community with respect, building safe spaces for ideas to be explored, and I always encourage the children to look inside their own communities to see what they would want to address or improve. It is interesting and encouraging to see that although almost all of the children I work with come from households that are food insecure, they still look to serve and help others who they feel are less fortunate. My hope is to channel that desire more specifically into food security, and the goal is that by the spring, the Dreamers (as we call the kids) will be participating in their school’s garden, and will have the opportunity to feel how empowered they can be when they make their own food.
As an intern, this is the ultimate message my time with TLA has given me. To never stop giving of your gifts, to create community wherever you go, in whatever ways you can, and to be constantly growing and evolving as an individual. I couldn’t have learned any of that without the support and the love I got, unconditionally, from the people who helped to build the TLA and Fairview community. I am forever grateful to them for that!
I had an amazing experience as an intern this summer at the Lord’s Acre community garden. First of all, I learned so much about how to plan, cultivate and run a beautiful, healthy garden from the Sides. Susan and Franklin are incredibly dedicated and they have a wealth of knowledge about gardening. They always made sure that the interns and volunteers felt a sense of ownership and pride in the garden we were helping to create. I am grateful for the opportunity this internship provided for me to become more comfortable working with kids in the garden and taking a leadership role to assist volunteers in the garden.
I gained valuable insights into the realities of the nonprofit world as I was able to attend The Lord’s Acre board meetings and other organizational meetings for the garden. I also got an inside look at some of the food banks and other nonprofits in the area. Aside from the actual work at the garden, living in community with the Sides family and Kelley and Freesia, the other interns, was completely lovely and harmonious. The hours at the garden were flexible enough to allow for outside odd-jobs, hobbies and adventures in beautiful North Carolina. I also felt totally inspired by the strong community ethos of Fairview and very lucky that I was so warmly welcomed into it and was able to attend community events like potlucks, dances and other celebrations. Any one with an interest in organic gardening, nonprofits and hunger issues could learn a lot from this internship. It was honestly one of my best summers ever!