The Garden

My Urban Pilgramage.

The Garden.

Ben at work weeding on the Farm.

Watching the documentary of The Garden, in LA, I felt an anger that most people seem ill equipped to handle.  We are given anger management, and given ways, and reasons to look at the bright side of things.

I see no bright side, nor do I wish to delude my heart from what it felt looking at the sky view scenes of LA.

A city that looks like a concrete prison, with one bright green spot in the middle of it.  (South Central, LA.) Then it was bull dozed and the years were lost just like that.  Now all of it is ugly and dead, and a perfect representation for the profanity that propagated the stupidity, and pointless destruction.

It was nothing but blatant racism, the destruction of the garden, nothing but pure bigotry by the owner of the property.  It was discouraging to see the lack of courage or conviction shown by legal officials, politicians, and others.

Still it was inspiring to see the way that those in the garden were able to come together and fight for each other, knowing that their lives were dependent upon the garden.  There was a real Identity far away, (although not far geographically far) away from the consumerism – shopping mall Identity.  An Identity rooted in the reality of Food, Human Dignity, and the knowledge that we are our environment.

Seeing this documentary made me again wish to be in a system that I could fight for.  It caused me again to have these overwhelming urges to be apart of a group of people that were completely committed to their shared lifestyle, and to living in it with harmony and a shared lifestyle.  I want to be dependent upon earth, and experience that as a powerful submersion into the reverence of consuming and being consumed.  The way that an apple wishes to be devoured when it is the most ripe.  There is a sacred mystery in the blurring of the lines, where Identity loses focus and everything gets really fuzzy.  These lines of Identity blur, and the boundaries cannot be seen, there is no way of telling in this place, where I begin, and where you start.  The end is only in the transformative process of doing it all again, whether in life, or in death, which in this double reflective mirror are somehow one and the same thing.

In the garden there was a comforting environment for the reality of this beauty.  It is the beautiful vulnerability that is smelled, seen, and tasted as the fragility of our mere mortal existence.  Each moment we are breathing (living & dying) with, and within, this organism of life, a life that we are each apart of.

While it is sad, that the Garden of LA was bull – dozed, it is eternally reassuring to know that the Garden will always exist, where ever there are people like these hard working Latino’s, who are eager to co – create with this living organism that is all around us, and inside of us too.

It makes me want more than ever to experience this with others.  This inexplicable experience of being in the midst of a living thing, that I am apart of, and that those around me are apart, connect to each other and the earth, in way’s that only our perhaps only our dreams are properly able to articulate.

It’s Sunday morning in Oxnard, and it’s raining. Fairly heavy, but nothing abnormal for a Georgia boy, what with all the rain we’ve seen there lately. For southern California, however, apparently this is a deluge. The constant drip, drip of water on the patio, and the on-again, off-again rushing of the wind outside seem an appropriate setting for me now as I try to distill all that I have  soaked up over the past 24 hours.

We started the day by watching a couple videos about farm worker housing in Ventura County, followed by a discussion with a wonderful lady named Theodora who is connected to a number of organizations working to advocate for these farm workers, who are so vital to the economic activity of the county, and indeed, the international industry of food-commerce that flows from this region. Briefly, a few things I learned as a result:  total productions values for Ventura County agriculture in 2006 and 2007 were a whopping $1.5 billion and $1.55 billion, respectively, and strawberries were the highest grossing cash crop of the county, accounting for $366 million dollars each year (and likely more in recent years); for these same years, there were between 17,000 and 24,000 farm workers harvesting these crops, which works out to roughly strawberry pickers are the lowest paid farm workers in the county; this means that each of these farm workers, through their labor, was responsible for bringing in AT LEAST $62,500 to Ventura County on average during 2006, and more than that the following year; however, during the same years, 75% of these hard workers made less than $15,000 per year; affordable housing is defined as being no more than 30% of a resident’s annual income; assuming average housing costs in Ventura County, a resident would have to make $61,000 a year in order to have affordable housing.

I know that’s a lot of numbers, but if you look back them, here’s the bottom line: farm workers each bring in huge amounts of money for the county through their sweat, pain, and time, and are not equitably compensated for it. As a result, many of these people (on whose backs rests the agriculture industry as we know it) cannot afford the housing they need to live comfortably. How do they manage? By shacking up, literally, with multiple families living in single-family homes. Some of the footage from we saw of actual homes was disturbingly cramped and unsanitary.

We also visited a community yesterday, Villa Cesar Chaves, in which housing for farm workers has been made affordable–and beautiful, with flowers aplenty and many edible plants lining the sidewalks by these residences–for many families. We visited with a couple families who had moved into this community, and this was truly a joyous experience. To see the tangible impact, both material and psychological, that such a move has had on the folks gives you hope to see that change for the better is possible. This is essential when such dreary facts and statistics as I’ve listed above often paralyze us with a sense of overwhelming before we can even get a grasp on the situation.

We had an amazing, home-grown lunch of veggies (and some leftovers from dinner the night before) which included DELICIOUS kale chips (I’ll be happy to share this simple recipe with anyone who wants it). We then spent a large chunk of the afternoon weeding in the organic carrot and leek rows near the house we are staying in. Conversation flowed around the joy of working with our hands, the connectedness with the land that comes from such experience, and the contrasting complacency of our culture at large to unquestioningly give up the power that comes from being in control of one’s own food sources. A striking example of this powerlessness: in Tokyo, millions of people are left without food as much of the transportation infrastructure has been disrupted due to the recent tsunami. My fellow pilgrim Ben pointed out the absurdity of a system so fragile that one big event like this could leave literally millions stranded in a city with little to no food. For a finale, we went on a lemon-picking adventure through an abandoned orchard on the far side of the farm plot. This was later supplemented with a big bag of grounded (but good!) avocados that two of my fellow pilgrims scavenged from amidst the trees in the front yard.

Later in the afternoon, after some reflection, we hared our food stories with one another. What is your food story? It’s kind of your life story, insofar as your life relates to the experiences you have had with food. We covered our first memorable experiences with food, how our relationships to food have evolved throughout our lifetimes, what we feel our relationship with food is ever-evolving into, even the theological symbolism of sharing a common table.

We had another delicious dinner, catered by a family from a nearby parish. I swear, I am having the best food experience of my life these past couple days, not only because of the prevalence of excellent organic food that has come from so close, but also because of the wonderful community feeling of eating this delicious food with such wonderfully thoughtful people who I have hardly met but who I already feel so close to.

Our evening was capped off with a showing of one of the most powerful documentaries I have ever seen. “The Garden” follows the story of a community of hispanic farmers in South Central L.A. who ran the largest urban community garden in the world on a 14-acre plot of land in the midst of this notoriously poor part of the city. It truly follows, not only the story of this unique urban farming experiment, but the lives and hearts of the people who worked this land. It also follows a series of political decisions that made in the last decade around and about this garden and its people. I don’t want to say much more, lest I ruin it for you, suffice to say that anyone and everyone who cares about urban gardening and food sovereignty would do themselves an immeasurable favor by seeing this movie.

Oh, a couple other things I’ve learned over the past couple days: empirical evidence proves that hugs are good for you. If you hug 5 people a day, each for at least 20 seconds, you will not only boost your immune functions, but you will greatly reduce your stress levels as well :)

The Rabbit and the Avocado Tree

The Rabbit and the Avocado Tree.


The sky, a soft clean gray,

hung close to the ground yesterday.

I stepped into a family of trees

gathered together, blooming, ready.

Balancing on one leg

Trying to be how roots would feel.

So connected to the earth, sun, air

that I too would break out

in little clusters of pale-green stars.

White fluff dashes across the thick orchard floor.

Gently following its wheeling patterns

I face a small wild thing

twitching, silent, fluttering

as I crouch

he bounds so close to me

My heart fluttering in turn.

Frozen, I think

perhaps this is my invitation to dance.

How can such a fearful, confused girl

fall in love

with a rabbit and an avocado tree.

My Food Story

This afternoon’s reflection question was “What’s your food story?” I was asked this question last fall in a nutrition class. That instructor asked “What’s your relationship with food?” The answers in that class were wide and varied. And all but 2 people cried. It struck me how deeply our connection is with food. How powerfully food influences our lives.

My food story seems simple to me. I grew up in a family where my mom cooked dinner each night and we sat as a family to enjoy it. I remember my mom scolding me to sit square in my seat instead of poised to dash off to my room. I was moved to the other side of the table when I was too easily distracted so that I would actually engage in dinner-time conversation. Meals were rarely frozen or fast food– except Mrs. Stoffers’ lasagna in the depths of New England’s winters and Quarter Pounders with Cheese some Saturday afternoons. I was encouraged to try a few bites of everything that was put before me. I developed into an adventurous eater and that has continued into my adult life. I’m still discovering new foods and preparations that I didn’s see in my childhood. I truly believe that my family (mostly my mother) did the best with what was available.

My food story is changing as I become more aware of the choices I have and the importance of those choices. I’m learning about farming practices and deciding not to support bad agriculture. Our dollars spent on food send a message about our values. The only way to help farmers change their ways is if big business see demand for organic. There won’t be more local farmers unless more people choose the farmer’s market over the grocery store. Food sovereignty won’t be realized until everyone claims some ownership over their own food education and acts on this new information.

Maggie’s post is right. How do we shift our culture’s ignorance?

Reflections on pilgrimage in Austin

I am waking up this morning back in my house in Oxford, MS, where I attend The University of Mississippi. My experiences in Austin seem like another world compared to my life here; this only increases my desire to continue to teach others about the complex issues behind immigration and homelessness in our nation.

I can not begin to thank Jessie Smith and everyone at the Seminary of the Southwest who helped coordinate and create the Urban Pilgrimage in Austin. I truly appreciate all of y’all’s work! We visited such a wide array of places; however, my favorite ones had to be the Catholic Worker, El Buen Samaritano, and Casa Marianella. One woman giving up all she has to live off her social security check in a house with homeless hospice patients at the Catholic Worker is so inspiring. I am very impressed with the comprehensive health, educational, and financial services El Buen Samaritano provides to immigrants, primarily through volunteers. I would love to intern or volunteer here when I graduate. Finally, Casa Marianella was so a touching place, especially since we got to spend the night at the homeless shelter for immigrants. I was very impressed with the Americorps volunteers and Elise, an immigration lawyer who works for free for the immigrants there. St. Hildegard’s, a multicultural, progressive church we visited and heard from an immigrant from Guatemala was wonderful, too.  Overall, I could not help but be in awe of the selflessness of every person we met in this pilgrimage. It helped me to refocus my values and aspirations of what I’d like to do in the future.

I was able to see another side of the Episcopal church while I was in Austin, one that is different from the more traditional diocese of Mississippi, and I found I really liked it. I feel one of the most important ways to show one’s faith is through one’s actions; this sentiment was seen in every faith organization we visited. I am encouraged to become more involved with the Episcopal Peace Fellowship to work for social justice in a variety of areas.

And of course, how could I not be in love with the city of Austin? I encourage all who haven’t been to Austin to go IMMEDIATELY! Lots of excellent food, local spots, great weather, music, and people. You never know what you’ll find there! The Seminary of the Southwest was a gorgeous place to stay while I was in Austin as well. I appreciate getting to know everyone in my group and hope we can meet up again soon!

I hope everyone has a successful end of the semester and a great summer, and I hope to see my fellow pilgrims in the near future!

Pray for us

After reading a few of the articles offered to the pilgrims and watching the documentary “The Garden”, I am particularly stuck by the ways in which we all have unconsciously handed over the very substance of our survival.

We cannot live more than a few weeks without food or more than about 3 days without water, and yet most of us in America, myself included, have no idea where these basic necessities come from. We take for granted that when we walk into the kitchen and turn on the faucet, clean water comes out. These simple things that are so vital to our survival are no longer ours. We, as a culture, have completely handed over our power.

I don’t know how to shift this. I am feeling pretty powerless about my lack of power right now. Things are all flipped up and over and insane-like. All I can do right now is pray. I pray power. Power to you. Knowledge that we can make the change that we want to see.


pics of our day!

A message from the Episcopal Urban Interns who spent a quiet day at the Farm on Friday. When we returned from our field trip to see farm worker housing on Saturday morning we discovered this note from the Interns wishing us “happy trails”…It was wonderful for the Interns and Pilgrims to overlap for dinner and breakfast! Lots of meaningful conversation was had!


At the Habitat for Humanity farm worker housing project in Oxnard called Villa Cesar Chavez. Our tour guide was wonderful and showed us around her family’s 4 bedroom home!




Farming and weeding away...




Farming in style!









A beautiful beetle.










Kale chips! "Wet" your kale in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes or so! Delish!




A reflective doodle from a pilgrim.




~ AlexandraRS

It’s early morning on the farm. We spent the night in full Episcopal lock-in style: in sleeping bags on the hardwood living room floor. The space accommodated not only us 6 pilgrims but a larger group from the LA Episcopal Urban Intern Program who had spent Friday in retreat here as well. Some are still sleeping just before 8am. The early risers have quietly dressed and seem to be soaking in the quiet before the house begins to bustle. In this quiet moment, I’m reflecting about last night’s evening prayer. We read Romans 8:19-23 and I can shake the imagery:

…creation subjected to futility

…in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay

…the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now…

Weren’t we called to be faithful stewards of the earth? But this passage talks about the earth in bondage and labor pains. This rang true for me. We saturate our soil with pesticides and chemicals in hopes of producing More and Better. We pave the fields for parking lots and new construction. We litter the roads with garbage. Yes, this is bondage.

These thoughts brought me to a post that my friend shared on Facebook immediately after the earthquake & tsunami in Japan. He had run down a list of current events: Earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Japan, New Zealand. Protests and unrest in Egypt, Libya, and the rest of the Middle East. Tsunami warnings. He mused that maybe the earth was trying to tell us something. And I couldn’t help but think that maybe he’s right. Our creation is groaning in labor pains.


In Preparation…

Our retreat leaders sent out a collection of articles as preparation for some of the topics we are going to encounter this weekend. The one that stuck with me most was the essay “The Pleasures of Eating” from WHAT ARE PEOPLE FOR? by Wendell Berry.  I was particularly drawn to the list of Things To Do so that I could be a more responsible food consumer. Why? Because I’m a list lover. I like the satisfaction of checking off each item as it’s completed—a symbol that I’ve accomplished something; that it is DONE. So I looked eagerly at Berry’s list in hopes that I could check off items right off the bat. And I could, but more importantly, I realized that I shouldn’t just check these items off the list and walk away. I need to go deeper, further with each of these “to-do’s”.

1.    Participate in food production to the extent that you can. If you have a yard or even just a porch box or a pot in a sunny window, grow something to eat in it. Make a little compost of your kitchen scraps and use it for fertilizer. Only by growing some food for yourself can you become acquainted with the beautiful energy cycle that revolves from soil to seed to flower to fruit to food to offal to decay, and around again. You will be fully responsible for any food that you grow for yourself, and you will know all about it. You will appreciate it fully, having known it all its life.

CHECK! My studio apartment has no yard but boasts a nice front porch ripe for container gardening. So I started simply on impulse when I bought a cherry tomato seedling at the farmer’s market last spring. Then I inherited a mint plant from a friend when he moved to Australia. And Berry is right. There is something beautiful about putting a ripe tomato straight into my mouth from the vine and feeling the sun’s warmth in my mouth as the tomato skin bursts open. But I’m called to go deeper here. I am fully responsible for the food I grow. Which means I should probably care to fertilize these two potted plants, to invest more time in the process instead of drowning the mint plant when it’s on its last leaves (so to speak). It’s possible for me to do more. My excuse is my busy schedule. I don’t have time to water, I’m running out the door to work! Oh, I’m so tired, I’ve had such a long day, It’s dark out, I don’t want to go prune/weed/care. If  I feel called to deeper relationship with my food system, I must make time to sustain my participation.

2. Prepare your own food. This means reviving in your own mind and life the arts of kitchen and household. This should enable you to eat more cheaply, and it will give you a measure of “quality control”: you will have some reliable knowledge of what has been added to the food you eat.

CHECK! I am reviving the arts of kitchen in my life. This seems counter-intuitive in light of what misunderstood feminism and society has encouraged. Women are out in the workforce! Fighting through the glass ceiling! Staying at home as a homemaker is not success! But I’m discovering that the arts of kitchen are rewarding and fulfilling. I’ve learned to cook for one (or two) and experimented with recipes. As for “quality control”, I’ve signed up for a CSA in my community to ensure that I’m putting the freshest ingredients in my meals.

3. Learn the origins of the food you buy, and buy the food that is produced closest to your home. The idea that every locality should be, as much as possible, the source of its own food makes several kinds of sense. The locally produced food supply is the most secure, freshest, and the easiest for local consumers to know about and to influence.

CHECK! I signed up about 8 months ago for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. I deliberated through the choices in my community. I considered cost & convenience before settling on Plow to Porch. For $25 a week, I get a box of produce delivered to my front door. Going local couldn’t be easier. Yet, if I am to be more deeply engaged, I should know where these ingredients come from. I’m blindly trusting that Plow to Porch is acting with integrity to provide only local, organic, fresh produce.

4. Whenever possible, deal directly with a local farmer, gardener, or orchardist. All the reasons listed for the previous suggestion apply here. In addition, by such dealing you eliminate the whole pack of merchants, transporters, processors, packagers, and advertisers who thrive at the expense of both producers and consumers.

Suddenly my checklist begins to crumble. I thought I was doing the right thing in engaging with a CSA program. In many ways, I am doing the right thing. But it’s only the first step in the right direction. Plow to Porch networks with many farmers around the region to find the best deals and produce to fill the CSA boxes of their members. By engaging an intermediary like Plow to Porch, I’m still not eliminating the disconnect between the plow and my porch. I still don’t know my farmers. I don’t truly know where the produce in my box comes from or how it was transported from the farm to me. I don’t know whether the farmers are getting a fair deal from Plow to Porch. I don’t know what Plow to Porch’s profit margins are. I can do more. I should seriously consider the sacrifice of convenience for the relationship with a local farmer. If this really matters to me, I should be willing to drive to the farm and pick up my CSA share. I shouldn’t require an intermediary to deliver the produce to my house. At the very least, I should be doing the research to know how best to connect with my local producers.

5. Learn, in self-defense, as much as you can of the economy and technology of industrial food production. What is added to the food that is not food, and what do you pay for those additions?

6. Learn what is involved in the best farming and gardening.

7. Learn as much as you can, by direct observation and experience if possible, of the life histories of the food species.

The last three items on Berry’s checklist remain unfinished in my life. This is where I stand on the threshold of diving deeply into this matter. The first has been baby steps. My suggested improvements would be a good second step. The last 3 items Berry describes are where the rubber meets the road (or maybe the plow meets the weed?) These require you to go further, deeper, more intentionally into the matters of our industrial food system and solutions. To become well versed in our food economy, farming practices and the history of our food species requires a lot of work. This is an investment in time and brain capacity. Not to mention that you must sift through the noise to find truth. Our food system is dominated by big business, lobbies and other powerful interest groups that are working daily to make sure we remain complacent and ignorant. Finding truth is intensive and exhausting. I’m not surprised that so many people avoid the matter all together. It’s here that one crosses the threshold to begin the transformation towards activism. This is a dangerous choice. Once you begin that transformation, you’re already different.


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