As we all know, the end of September means the beginning of the fall season, and fall weather has come in right on cue. The heat of the summer has finally faded away, and we’re enjoying the the cool overnight temperatures and the pleasant days autumn has gifted us. It was a long, dry summer--Rockland County officially entered moderate drought conditions during the past several weeks, and at Stony Point Center, we only recorded a few inches of rain during all of of August and September. That is all about to change as we prepare for a week of heavy rain as September comes to a close. On the farm, we are getting excited about SPC’s upcoming Oct. 11th Farm-to-Table Gala and the flavors of this season’s harvest that we will be sharing when the Community of Living Traditions honors Jun-san Yasuda of the Grafton Peace Pagoda with the 2nd annual presentation of the Living Traditions Award. But before we turn our attention to October and everything the fall season will bring, we’ll take a moment to reflect on the month of September and the end of the summer of 2015.
The defining experience of the past month for me came when the middle school youth group from the First Presbyterian Church of Yorktown, NY came to Stony Point Center for our second ever food justice retreat. The 22 middle schoolers and adult chaperones spent three days and two nights at Stony Point Center working on the farm, learning about food justice, and connecting with the land and with each other. The retreat began with a good sign when the group was treated to a view of a full rainbow that stretched across the sky overhead during a farm photo scavenger hunt activity designed to get everyone familiar with all of our gardens. Throughout the retreat, we focused on the text of Isaiah 58, learning about God’s vision of justice for humanity. Members of the Community of Living Traditions led the group in a “tableau activity” where students acted out still scenes of injustice, inspired by the movie Food Chains the group had watched the night before, and then “broke the yoke” by transforming the images of injustice they created into scenes of justice and cooperation. The group from Yorktown also worked hard in the fields harvesting butternut squash, pulling weeds, and harvesting bamboo for this year’s Sukkah. In addition to experiencing our multifaith community through a three-part earth care teaching from Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, the group also had the opportunity to live into our vision of multifaith life together. One of the adult chaperones in the group articulated that vision perfectly when she remarked (I’m paraphrasing here), “It was so cool that we, as a group of Christians, could be led by a lovely Muslim woman (Amirah, SPC’s farm apprentice) in harvesting bamboo for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Sukkot.” It was a unique experience for everyone. During our final reflection before the group left Stony Point Center, I felt assured that we now had a new community of partners dedicated to pursuing food justice at First Presbyterian Church of Yorktown.
Aside from the food justice retreat, September has been a month of transition on the farm. At the beginning of the month, we were up to our ears in tomatoes. Now we have removed almost all of the tomatoes from the fields and seeded cover crops in their place. Planting cover crops is probably the most important of all of our soil care practices here at Stony Point Center. By seeding cover crops like barley, buckwheat, winter peas, and hairy vetch in September, we are able to get an established ground cover before the first frost of the season that will prevent erosion, add to the soil’s organic matter, and make nitrogen available for next season’s crops. We spent hours and hours working with the soil using a broadfork in the heat of August and early September to prepare the land to receive this year’s cover crop seed. Now, at the end of the month, I can smile as I look out upon what looks to be a solid “stand” of cover crops, knowing they are about be treated to a week of steady rainfall.
Describing our use of cover crops and the broadfork to care for the soil is an appropriate segue to report on the opportunity I had to attend the “Just Food” conference last week at Princeton Theological Seminary. I was treated to keynote lectures by Will Allen, CEO of the Milwaukee-based nonprofit Growing Power, who described his work making compost and building hoop houses; theologian, writer, and professor Dr. Norman Wirzba who spoke about gaining an awareness of where shame exists in our eating practices and food systems; and Dr. Nate Stukey, director of Princeton Seminary’s new program called the “Farminary” (think farm + seminary), who talked about advancing a new understanding of theological education where we consider not only the nature of God, but also the relationship between God, humanity, and adamah (the fertile soil which God used to shape all of creation). I also attended workshops led by Rev. Noelle Damico who spoke about the moral framework of the worker-driven model of social and corporate responsibility created and promoted by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and Dr. Michael Hawn who led a group in singing and exploring hymns that articulate a sustainable ecology. The recurring theme in the conference seemed to be the importance of considering our relationship with the soil, and I returned to Stony Point Center feeling affirmed in the work we are doing together here: caring for this land, appreciating its harvest, and inviting others into the work of seeking food justice in our communities.
May you all be blessed in this autumn season!