Here's an article I wrote awhile back, and submitted for publication, to no avail. So, the joy of self-publishing. It articulates really clearly the process that brought us to this land, and the vision we hold onto as we take our plunge. A lot of what my writing will be about, after this month, is this massive and human undertaking-- seeking community and healing on land the feeds us, holds us, and teaches us.
***Way Opening: Building a Vision for Farm and Community in East Montpelier, Vermont
Another turn of the wheel, in spring 2013, had passed at Westtown School, in West Chester, PA, where I was working and living in community as Earth Literacy Teacher and Farmer. Managing and teaching on a 2 acre educational farm and gardens with children in all the grades, I marveled at their opening to the lessons on the land—peppered with hearty resistance to things like worms and dirt—and watched, wistfully, as they flew off on summer’s wings.
Six years building a farm program and curriculum at a largely traditional academic institution had left me with a sense of fatigue and hope. My work and growth while at Westtown gave me a clear knowledge that way had shut for my growth and vision. This was my last spring at Westtown, as I embraced the larger vision of my work to build farm, community, and justice-love in Montpelier, Vermont—a final yes to the calling that has tugged at me since I was small.
Yes, this vision has been with me, conscious or not, since childhood. Springs and summers growing up on suburban land in Cranston, Rhode Island, were times of late night dancing, solitary weeding projects, and conversations with a Jesus who came to me as I watched the rolling tides of Narragansett Bay. Catholic Mass could not hold a candle to the in-breaking of God(ess) that met me as I stretched my body into the frames of trees on our land, or clanged the bell of the flagpole as the rope flung itself with great clatter in evening ocean winds.
I always knew that God(ess) was with me, when I cared to truly experience the world as it was. When I would sweat and struggle to dance my imaginings in the backyard, while listening to Peter Gabriel’s So album, at 11, I was not simply seeking to be seen. I was seeking communion, at its most sacred and least elevated—the marriage of sacred and profane in the body, with the land, with the weather and water that accompanied me for many years. I came to know this experience, as a feminist theologian, as panentheism. I came to know this experience, as a Friend, as the inward Teacher (or Light, or Friend) speaking out, in words and in-body.
This awareness dipped out of consciousness, and re-surfaced again and again through garden work and justice work. I sought community and justice as my body sought communion. Secular friends became religious friends in seminary, and turned to the Society of Friends as I sought theological ground for my experience for the in-breaking of God(ess) in my life and work. Living, learning, and working in community at Pendle Hill periodically from 1997 to 2003 became, for me, a ground of growth and an experience of yes to faith and Friendship. It stays with me still.
And now, the plunge. Doesn’t every faithful act start with the risk to say yes to it? Leaving the relative safety of Westtown School, with community, labor, ministry, work clearly marked success on its label, we land on land that has been in the family for three—now four generations, with the birth of my son.
We are starting small. We are starting with turning 264 square feet and planting ten pounds of garlic. We are cleaning out old storage and finding artifacts from our ancestors. We are stacking wood and building winter compost. We are excavating generations of memory and life, and making space for this new vision and work to blossom, even as the leaves change.
And from small things, big things build. Homestead and farm stand are our first steps, and from there, we hope to expand to grass-fed meats, value-added products, and interfaith meeting and healing space for all who seek shelter from their world-wearying work. As an activist and educator, I know that world-working work is tiring and sometimes injuring. As a minister and farmer, I know the land can be healing and enlivening. And as a person in the world, I know community must anchor us all.
My faith has found a home on this well loved pasture, mature acreage of woods, and few acres of arable land. A much defunct barn, a decrepit gazebo, and a house from the 1860s welcomed us in late August. The beginnings of our life, the seeds of farm and community, have germinated in this strange season. And as my faith grows, here, in my lived experience on this land and with my family, this seed will grow and change, reaching its true maturity and depth, in time.