Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Val's Family and Friends in Pittsburgh

We had a wonderful visit with Maryann & John, Tommy & Sandy, Gina & Earl, Uncle Pipe & Aunt Rosemarie, and Uncle Pete... in Pittsburgh and Van Voorhis. We also visited Val's friends Rachel & Ayman & Haytham. More narrative later, for now enjoy these pictures:

Uncle Pipe (George), Val and Aunt Rosemarie

Uncle Pete and Val

Gina and her son Earl

Baba and Gedo's Old Home in Van Voorhis

Walnut Trees in Front of Uncle Pipe & Aunt Rosemarie's home in Van Voorhis. A neighbor bet Uncle Pipe he couldn't grow walnut trees from a walnut seed. We ate some of the fruits of the bet.

Rachel, Val and Haytham


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Wild Animals Choose Organic over Poison, Shouldn't Humans?

(Joyfield Farm's amazing compost piles, and the amazing Val)

Oooh-weee, today was a scorcher. Bent-over, my skin covered in an unheavenly mix of deet and sunscreen, I spent 2 ½ hours picking weeds though careful to avoid the many tall thistles which will need to be shoveled out for certainty. Because of the destruction of the prairie, thistles, via Canada, are bedlam across the Midwest. Easily marching through mono-row crops of feed corn and soybeans, the thistle attempt to feast on the organic 7 acres here at Joyfield Farm. That reminds me, deer and raccoons love to eat the edible organic soybeans in Cliff and Arlene’s garden. What’s a bit odd about this is that for miles and miles there are endless Franken food-soybean fields. They’re not touched by our wild friends. We should take note of our wild friends.

So there I was, alone, picking weeds, feeling I needed a windshield wiper on my forehead, the salt of my sweat cascading down into my tender eyes. I could feel my body and spirit outstripping my comfort zone, my insides rationing water, muscles warm and intense, like fast running water down a stream. I wondered if this is the life for me and my community. Arlene and Cliff, along with six other adults and two kids, share 7 acres, of which about 3 acres is gardened. For half the year, the garden is the prime money-making operation for Arlene and Cliff. Interspersed during the garden months are stints helping with disaster relief, Christian Peacemaker Team projects and Brethren service projects. The winter is the same, minus the garden work. It appears to be a full and meaningful life. Even balanced.

Yanking up over-sized grasses, soft ground cherries and lambs quarters, I wonder if there is a sustainable way to have a large garden to provide for a community’s needs, without having the need to sell any of it for market, and not even need a cash income. All the community’s we’ve visited have bills, some more than others; Joyfield is on the low end for sure. Joyfield has various utilities: phone, electric, water. They have an old truck to maintain and insure. They buy local fresh food to supplement their garden. The garden has expenses, though they have no machines, except wheelbarrows, shovels, forks and muscles. They plant each spring from plants they let go to seed each year. Arlene and Cliff live simply, plain. It seems rather easy, sweat and all.

Ever heard of an organic farm where you show up to buy some produce and while you wait the farmers go out and pick your order? Or, how about phoning in an order and show up a half hour later and pick up freshly picked produce? That’s how Joyfield Farm operates. Except for their regular size refrigerator, there are no large coolers to store produce, so the earth is their best form of storage. While Arlene and Cliff were at the local farmer’s market in North Manchester, a couple showed up and asked if they could buy some squash. The previous afternoon, all the squash and zucchini were picked for market. Nonetheless, the couple, along with me and Val, traipsed through the 3 acres of gardens, exploring various plantings of squash and zucchini. We found a half-dozen worthy of harvesting, tossed in a garlic and a Vidalia sweet onion and called it a buck fifty.

Two of the communities we’ve visited (Agape and Guests and Strangers) were made up of just two people. A third (Earthknack) was a single family of five. We liked all three, though one factor that caused us concern, as well as the first two communities, was the need and desire for more community. Joyfield has a decent mix of two elders, four adults in their fifties, and a younger couple and their two children. This is a nice scale, both in terms of number and ages. Folks here home-schooled and shared responsibilities, while retaining a fair amount of autonomy. Everyone has their own vehicles and bicycles, as well as their own dwelling. While the elders help out in the garden and with other chores with Cliff and Arlene, I wish the rest of their community shared work and had more mutuality in their lives. Still, it’s impressive for it shows the way people’s lives change, intersecting sometimes and then at times orbiting a bit farther apart.

Apropos of nothing in particular, this farm has amazing compost! Actually, the way they make compost is amazing for its simplicity and grace. They take farm clippings and weeds and build an enclosed wall, maybe 10 feet long by 8 feet wide. As the wall goes up they add clippings into the middle. Repeat this until the whole edifice is 6 feet high. Wait a week, let the worms and bugs do their thing, and the whole contraption is back down to 3 feet high. Keep adding, etc.. After a season, you can take fresh rich compost starting from the bottom of the pile and mix it into your spring tilling. Cliff and Arlene have about a dozen compost piles as described. No mixing, no adding special stuff -- no way to screw it up! I love that!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Farm Work Can Be Fun -- at Joyfield!

It’s 9:30 am. I’ve been up for about 4 hours. Today is market day, so Cliff, Arlene, Mark and I got up early, had a quick but hearty breakfast of oatmeal and fresh fruit, and got out into the fields to finish the harvest so C&A could leave for market by 7:30. Mark and I wanted to go to market, but I wanted to write more. Arlene and Cliff have been very kind about affording us as much time as we need to rest, walk to town to do internet work (10-12 miles roundtrip, so not a journey we’ll make often), or just hang out. But they work so hard, and so constantly, it’s hard to just chill and not join in the fun.

(Orange sunflowers dot the gardens at Joyfield)

And mostly it is fun. The work assigned to us here is nowhere near as difficult or daunting as the work at Guidestone Farm, where we interned last year. The workdays, at least for us, are far more forgiving. The gardens are lush and gorgeous, full of diverse plants and flowers, and lovingly cared for. The farm is surrounded by trees, some of them very old and large, and birds, deer, more groundhogs than the Kindys would prefer, and raccoons all live in the area and visit frequently. So far here we have weeded flower beds and veggie beds, picked peas, cleaned onions and garlic, prepped food for market, harvested some flowers and transplanted some broccoli. The weather has, mostly, been kind. It has been rather hot and humid the last few days, but yesterday there was a good breeze much of the day, and Cliff and Arlene encouraged Mark and me to nap during the hottest part of the day (they kept working).

This morning was astoundingly beautiful. The sun rises late here (6:30-ish) because in the summer Indiana is in the Eastern time zone. We woke to the farm layered in a misty gauze of fog, slowly diffused with light as the sun rose. Then the suns rays started breaking through trees like the traditional vision of God blessing a piece of land. The gardens are all lush from the rain (we’ve had 2 ½ inches in the past week), and the flowers are multi-hued and dazzling. Spider webs straight out of Charlotte’s Web decorate the rusting slide in the garden, and the shrubs beneath a giant cottonwood. For the first time since reading E.B. White’s classic as a child I could picture exactly what Lurvy saw when he came to Wilbur’s pen that first morning. “What if you walked up to one of these and it said, `Some Pig’?” I teased Mark. I guess `Some Slide’ or ‘Some Tree’ would be more likely.

(Baby Swallows nesting in the barn)

Last night as we bunched scallions a double rainbow formed in the East, over Rachel and Bob’s house. The Kindys share the seven acres of Joyfield Farm with Bob and Rachel Gross, longtime anti-death penalty activists and advocates, Cliff’s parents, and another family currently traveling who live in a yurt near the garden. Once a week someone hosts a farm supper and everyone eats together, such as last night when we went together to a going-away party for a couple leaving the area for seminary. But there are other times of togetherness, as well as plenty of privacy for the various couples/families. It feels a bit like a small village, and I imagine it felt like more of one when the Kindys’ and Gross’s children were growing up here.

The Gross’s and the younger Kindys’ homes are heated with wood. The Kindys are very attentive to water conservation, and actually haul their water from the Gross’s kitchen because a water filter is required and shared. Although electricity is used, it is used with an eye for conservation. The corn crib is extremely well-insulated; Cliff is much-experienced in construction, and built a passive-solar home with Bob for Bob’s folks a while back. He did much of the work on the house, so little by little we’ve been picking his and Arlene’s brains for wisdom and ideas. We’ll try to make notes of this and share as we’re able.

The Kindys live on between $6,000 and $10,000 a year, earned from selling their produce. They could earn more, but their time is important to them--time to do other of God’s work, to be with their family and friends, and to rest when needed. They intentionally stay below the taxable income level, but this requires they live very, very simply. They purchase only what they need, and mend, fix, and reuse as much as possible to avoid having to make purchases. There is no TV in their home. The radio is turned on occasionally so we can update ourselves on the horrors in Lebanon, get really depressed (at least I do) and then turn it off again. In the evenings we read, or visit. There are games available too should we wish to play. They own a battered farm-truck-of-a-pick-up, but are still trying to figure out how they could get their ton of weekly produce to market using bicycles and trailers (did I mention they are in their late 50s, look like they’re in their 40s, and seem to be far healthier, stronger, and more energetic than I am?).

When it’s soup supper night, Cliff (and we) go into town and have supper with the other folks for whom Arlene and the other women cook. Sunday is church and rest; this Sunday there is a special get-together at a lake nearby so we’ll probably get to meet lots of other cool people. I have told Cliff and Arlene that I have the impression everyone in Indiana is Brethren. They assure me this is not the case, and that I have in fact now met all the Brethren in Indiana. I’m unconvinced.

I’m going to end this now so I can go hang out my laundry and make some lunch for Arlene and Cliff before they get home. Love, Val

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Joyfield Farm, Indiana

I write from the kitchen table of Cliff and Arlene Kindy. Mark is reading ancient copies of Plain magazine, and Cliff is sat against the refrigerator, in front of the window to catch the breeze, reading the latest disturbing tome by Helen Caldicott. For a while, every so often, Cliff would share with us some random horror, like the fact that the U.S. can use a series of lasers to recreate the pressure and heat conditions at the center of the sun, thus creating nuclear fusion. Or the fact that, in contravention of numerous treaties, the U.S. has found a way to use a computer to simulate a plutonium trigger, thus facilitating ongoing testing and development of more and more deadly nuclear warheads. He tells me that, according to Dr. Helen, Plutonium is not the most deadly element. Something called Americium 241 is. “Americium, spelled like America?” I ask, writing it down, thinking that this horrific piece of trivia is something a peace activist should know.


But Cliff has stopped sharing stories with me now. Perhaps because I’m not giving him much response. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the stories, and it’s certainly not that I don’t care. I’m just not sure what an appropriate response is. There are words and phrase like “more deadly nuclear warheads” which just don’t make a great deal of sense to me. I was a child when I learned that the US and USSR already possessed sufficient nuclear capacity to destroy the world seven times over. I thought then and I think now that having developed the capacity to destroy the world once is insane, inexplicably hideous, beyond criminal, and shouldn‘t grown-ups of all people know better? “Why don’t we just take all the missiles and bury them on the moon?” twelve-year-old me asked.

“We could bury the technology,” my sage, leftist, ex-Marine 7th grade social studies teacher, Todd Behrens, taught me. “But we can’t bury the knowledge.”

“But just because you know how to build something doesn’t mean you have to, doesn’t mean you should. That’s just stupid.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more.”

The tree frogs are chorusing aplenty. They’ve had a banner day; we all have. Mark’s and my knack for bringing rain with us hasn’t failed us in Indiana. Joyfield Farm received more than an inch today. Everyone is happy--they have needed the rain. No complaints of being “assaulted by another storm!” here. Cliff and Arlene make their living selling organic vegetables from their front porch and at farmer’s markets. We helped pick peas today, and do a few broccoli transplants; we spent most of the day trimming and cleaning garlic, putting it up in the barn to cure. We got wet and muddy and wet and muddy and it was all glorious and delicious and fine. It wasn’t unbearably hot and humid, and that is a blessing in July.

As we sat working together, with Cliff, Arlene, and Cliff’s father, Cliff told us stories from his work with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), www.cpt.org. By the time we’d heard two of his stories, I was convinced that Cliff is a non-violent, Arab-philic Indiana Jones, and that Harrison Ford should redeem himself for all those ghastly Tom Clancy-ish roles by playing him in the movie. Indiana Kindy. He told us stories of adventurous walking for days through the conflict zone to mountain villages in Colombia, to visit a community facing impending massacre, so that he might take their story to the world, or at least the UN; a forced expulsion from Iraq in the days of Shock and Awe when he nearly lost his life in a car accident; another expulsion, this time from Palestine, by the Israeli immigration authorities, for his nonviolent activism. And we spoke of Tom Fox, softly, but with respect not remorse, who gave Quakers our first 21st century martyr when he was killed in March of this year by unknown persons, and his CPT colleagues, Harmeet, Jim and Norman. Cliff shared stories with us, gleaned from their debrief, of their days as hostages in Iraq.

Arlene, in between raising two healthy, happy daughters and keeping the farm going while Cliff is traipsing all over the world, has co-directed hurricane relief efforts for the Church of the Brethren, worked in Columbia with CPT, and co-runs a soup supper sponsored by a local food bank. Arlene’s most magnificent accomplishment in my opinion, though, is her faith: she has watched her husband walk into war zones over and over again, and rather than panic or get eaten alive with worry, she supports his leadings and work completely and keeps their family going in his absence. Cliff’s faith seems to be equally central to his balance and sanity. They are wonderfully joy-filled, kind, compassionate people, the Kindys. Clear on their leadings, without being doctrinaire, hard-working without being addicted to work, clear-seeing in their convictions yet deeply respectful of the differences in people’s gifts and struggles. We feel enormously privileged to have this time as guests in their home, partaking of their very generous hospitality (and Arlene’s fantastic cooking), to work and learn beside them.

With CPT partners across the country, Cliff is helping to develop a campaign to stop DU (depleted uranium) use and production. He humbly asks Mark’s and my advice, as well as that of other activists, Sox and Lisa, who come to volunteer on the farm (“Now how did you and Sox meet again?” “Oh, we were in jail together a while back.”). But as wise as he is to get as much information as possible, I sense there’s a subterfuge afoot here. Cliff isn’t some hotshot drama-dude who flits in and out of war zones for the photo-ops. He’s an organizer, and I remember in the back of my mind the advice he gave Mark and me about building our community: make sure all the members are invested from the get-go, co-creating the community, not coming in later to something you’ve already built. I realize, after marveling again that this accomplished experienced elder-in-work is asking the opinion of less-experienced, less-successful activists, that this is exactly what he’s doing. Both the fact that he has solicited our opinion, and that CPT really seems to have their act together and to be building an essential, well-thought-out campaign that maybe really could prove a turning point for the war, makes me feel like this is something I want to be a part of. I don’t know how, given Mark’s and my current path, but I want to. And then I realize what Cliff’s done, intentionally or no, and I have to chuckle myself. It is good, deeply good, to be among and learning from such gifted, wise, good people.

We are learning lots about organic gardening (there is always more to learn) and sustainable-building practices/living practices (I write from a converted drive-thru corn-crib, now a very well-insulated, lovely home). More on those soon. Love, Val

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Shadows and Friends

Each morning here at Strangers and Guests, save Tuesday when we have Bible Study, we take a short time for prayers before beginning our work day. Each morning I find something in the Psalms we read aloud together, or the sharing of wisdom from “The Rule of St. Benedict,” which Betsy and Brian follow as Benedictine oblates, that speaks to my condition.

(Afternoon Sky above Maloy, Iowa)

This morning in the Rule we were instructed to honor the differences we have among us, in terms of our capacities and needs, without grumbling. This idea is so radically anti-capitalist, it’s a wonder Benedictine monasteries haven’t been shut down throughout the Western world. The members of the community are instructed not to treat those who may be considered “greater” in society’s eyes with any more respect or deference than those considered “less.” More to the point, community members are instructed to give thanks if they are capable of giving or doing more, and to be humble and not self-satisfied if they can only give or do less.

(Old gas station in downtown Maloy, Iowa, population 25)

Throughout our stay here, I have frequently felt the need to nap. Whether from our travels, my occasional anemia, the warm, humid weather, or some other cause, I am frequently tired here, in a bone-deep sort of way. Of late, I have also really felt the need to take time for myself during the workday, away from the main house, to journal, write, and think in a quiet space. I write you now from this blessed space and time.

(Betsy Keenan saying hello to the momma goats and el gato)

What I really love about this wisdom, and am so grateful for in the philosophy of Catholic Workers, is this simple idea that you give what you can and you take what you need. We are not expected to perform, identically well, for identical workdays, each and every day, as though nothing else were going on in our lives. We are asked to work from love and desire, not from guilt, and this freedom to choose results, for me anyway, in a genuine love and desire, an honest participation in the work, rather than one filled with resentment. It also means sometimes I choose not to work, and I wrestle hard with my guilt, lack of self-worth, and workaholism in such moments. Choosing not to “work,“ and instead to write (which, of course, for a writer, is and should be considered work), I find myself immediately confronting very familiar demons. It is good, and quite empowering, to face them in such a way.

(Betsy and her old fashioned rag rug loom)

I am reminded of another time I felt such welcome, acceptance and freedom: in the village of La Realidad, Chiapas, Mexico. I was blessed with the opportunity, thanks to the Indigenous Women’s Network, AFSC, and the National Commission for Democracy in Mexico, to participate in a delegation to Zapatista-held territory in the late 90s. The quality and beauty of that journey would require several entries in itself. But in relation to the current topic, I realized there, in this village of Mayan people, eeking out a living with digging sticks and rough earth, suffering daily harassment and brutalization by the Mexican army, and resisting with such dignity the neoliberal variation on the five centuries-old theme of colonial subjugation, that I felt more free than I ever had in the United States. The reason was simple. In La Realidad, everyone gave what they could and took what they needed. As a result, there was enough, for everyone, without anyone feeling so overwhelmed and exhausted he or she couldn‘t continue. It wasn’t a wealthy existence, but what there was, was shared, and no one was expected to give beyond capacity, or accumulate wealth at others’ expense and suffering. I was invited to come live in the village, with the peace campers, and work on my novel. “Oh, I couldn’t live here and not work for the village,” I replied. “Of course, you’ll work here. We know that. We know that you’ll give whatever you can--we know that you couldn’t NOT do so. But that should still leave you time to write, and rest.”

(Vanna White and Franken-corn)

I didn’t take them up on the offer. I should have. I still don’t have that novel written.

This morning, I am also reminded of the following poem, a gift from our dear friends Dan and Kristina in Independence, MO. I dedicate it to survivors, and to Betsy and Brian, people of such kindness, who have shared so much with us.

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrows the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

(Milkweed and Butterfly having a drink)