David Young: Thoughts on Washington DC

The following blog is a guest post from David Young, the founder of Capstone Community Gardens in New Orleans. You can learn more about his work at www.capstone118.org

I had the opportunity to be in Washington D.C. from September 20 through 23, 2017. This was made possible by the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness and the Global Food Initiative. The main purpose was to do a presentation with Nathan Hosler of the Office of Public Witness, at the University of D.C. during their Urban Agriculture Symposium and Association of Vertical Farmers Summit. Our presentation topic was: Food and Faith; The New Orleans Story of the Church of the Brethren. It ended up being so much more than that.

One of the things the Office of Public Witness does is look at policy and how they effect Brethren and projects of the Brethren.

Having had previous meetings and discussions with Nathan he was familiar with some of the challenges Capstone faces as an urban farm. One of those is being in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. Orleans Parish (county in other states) has a 100% urban designation by USDA which prevent us from using many of the benefits USDA makes available to those with rural designation.

Nathan and Tori from the Office of Public Witness arranged for me to meet with staff of the three legislators from Louisiana. Within a few hours of arriving I found myself on Capitol Hill, spending about 30 minutes with each staff person, explaining how federal, state, and local policy effect how we can operate with our mission to grow food and share it with those in need.

One of the most pleasant surprises was a World Day of Peace service at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. Multiple churches of different denominations worked together to coordinate the service on the evening of September 20th, a day early, since Nathan and I would be occupied at the symposium on the 21st. The garden theme was included as part of the service. It was a nice gathering with a handful of denominations represented as one worshiping and praying for peace.

The Urban Ag Symposium started with Nathan and I doing a brief TV interview about what the Office of Public Witness provides and the community mission of Capstone. Since the mid 70’s I have understood the important role our land grant colleges play with agriculture. The University of D.C. is the only Urban Land Grant College. I also found it surprising to hear the Dean of the University talk about the faith based involvement the university has.

Later that afternoon Nathan and I completed our presentation at the symposium which was well received. The symposium partnered with the Association of Vertical Farmers. There were presentations that talked about some of the various vertical farming systems. Capstone has a combination of in -ground farming, elevated farming (raised beds), as well as some vertical farming with the aquaculture systems.

The second day started the Association for Vertical Farming Summit. The make-up of those in attendance changed from the previous day. The Vertical Farmcing Summit included more people who held titles of Scientist, PhD, Artificial Intelligence (A.I.).

There was dialogue and presentations on controlled environment, high capacity, 6 to 30-foot-high vertical growing systems. Complete grow systems self-contained in shipping containers. There was also an emphasis on using technology and Artificial Intelligence to analyze and evaluate plant needs. This ranged from mini drones gathering samples in mid-air to leaf mounted cameras and scopes.

Going back to when I was part of commercial agriculture in the late 70 and 80’s and currently doing urban farming I ask, what are you testing for? Most people I know now typically do more harm to their crops by overreacting to the test results. The group agreed with me. I’ve never tested much, I look at the plant and figure out what if any corrections I should take. The group said we don’t have that experience or knowledge to do that.

It comes very close to feeling like I’m watching a movie that was made a long time ago and this would have been considered sci-fi. I found myself in unfamiliar territory as I ask myself are these scientists, PhDs, and Artificial Intelligence people our next generation of farmers even though they admit they don’t have any experience in growing food. One representative from USDA said this type of farming will never replace conventional farming.

One three story vertical system in Jackson Wyoming cost 4.5 Million dollars to build. While they are at the other end of the spectrum of production and a for profit business I think back to my first two seasons with the gardens at Capstone. 4’x14’ and I spent $100 each growing season. If someone wanted to help I asked them to bring the plants or seeds they wanted to have grown. We’ve grown considerably since then. Going to the Garden Grants and Global Food Initiative grants have been beneficial to our success. Even as we continue to grow I feel we maintain a solid well-grounded relationship between the food we grow and our community we share it with.

On the last day, we took a tour of two urban gardens that were operated by Cultivate the City. These two gardens have a combination of raised and vertical farming and are doing some aquaculture. Even though both were rooftop gardens these gardens had a more familiar feel to them. At one farm the founder said we have people water the plants with a watering can. I feel it makes them more attuned with what they are growing. Quite a contrast to having micro drones collect samples.

Here is where I share my lack of following sports or having TV coverage. While I was in Washington I kept seeing a large cursive “W”. I kept thinking a certain large drug store chain was doing a lot of advertising. It was only when we went to the baseball stadium to see their roof top garden and the “W” was more prominent that I realized the “W” was for the Washington sports teams.

In D.C. there are many rooftop gardens because there is a storm water fee. If you allow storm water to openly drain away from a building or hard surface such as a parking lot you pay a fee on that. The roof top gardens make flat roof areas green space for growing plants or food which in turn offers relief from the storm water fee.

The University of D.C has a large green roof including a greenhouse. They grow succulents as well as produce. At the baseball stadium, the roof top gardens are on top of the concession stands. You open a gate on an upper level in the parking garage, climb up a ladder, down the other side of a wall, and onto the roof. It’s covered with hundreds of milk crates. Each milk crate contains a 5-gallon bag made of recycled material. This holds soil or compost and the plants.

One benefit to this type of garden is if you have to relocate the garden due to turning over ownership of the site or other factors you simply pick up the milk crate with the soil and plants, load them and move them to their new location. When we harvest honey, we put the 5 gallons buckets containing honey in a milk crate to make them more stable for transport and easier to handle.

While the material expense may be above our budget I think the concept in an urban setting is great. Having rehabbed a total of 40 lots in the Lower 9th Ward and returning many of them to families or organizations who decided it was time to develop that property it would have made things much easier in some cases to be able to just load the entire garden on a trailer and move it to another site.

I don’t know that my visit to D.C. is going to change anything or even influence any of the policy decisions. I do know the response from several of the smaller urban farms has been positive as we look to continue the discussion and enhance our relationships and collaboration.

 

International Day of Peace- Showing Christ’s Love to Refugees

14358849_1357697974259959_1193283755563389818_nOn September 21st, brothers and sisters gathered all around the world for International Peace Day. At  the Washington City Church of the Brethren, a small community gathered around the peace pole in prayer. Josh Ammons delivered this reflection.

 

I was asked to speak on the refugee crisis on the International Day of Prayer for Peace. “A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.” Europe is facing the largest numbers of refugees since WWII. Most American refugees come from Africa and the Middle east. There is likely no group of people who need peace greater than refugees. Humanitarians of all types have great concern for the refugee crisis, but as Christians our concern for refugees is a part of our anthropology.

 

Many scholars argue that Jesus himself was born as a refugee. As Thomas Merton so eloquently writes:

“Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, and yet he must be in it, his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected by power, because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world.”

 

Jesus instructed us to care for the refugees both by his words and deeds. In Matthew Jesus says:

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’

Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? When did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?’

And the King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’”

 

Jesus spent much of his time on this earth healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and spending time with the downtrodden of society. But many claim that the refugees are not just poor, sick, and hungry, but also a threat to our society. Jesus’ life shows examples of how we should treat those who threaten to upend our way of life in his final miracle. Jesus had just been betrayed by Judas, and the high priests were taking Jesus away to what would later be a death sentence. Simon Peter was likely overcome with fear that the life he had known as a disciple would be forever changed. He probably felt the need to defend the Jesus that he loved by any means necessary. In the heat of the moment, he struck the high priest’s servant’s ear with a sword in defense of Jesus. This man’s name was Malchus and we would become the last man to experience the healing grace of Christ before his crucifixion. Jesus healed his ear, and in this moment he showed us how we should treat those who we are afraid of. Historians say that Simon Peter died as a martyr for a faith that instructed us to love even those who we are most afraid of. As it states in Matthew:

 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I tell you not to resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also; if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well; and if someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even Gentiles do the same?

Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”

 

Much debate can be had over issues of national security, but as Christians we are called to walk through our fears with faith in God’s teachings. Whether or not refugees are viewed by us as friends or foes, the Gospel commands us to treat them as brothers and sisters. The love Christ calls us to is not easy, even for great Christians like Simon Peter, but we serve a Powerful God who restores us when we repent and turn toward the love of Christ.

 

Prayer for refugees and victims of war

Lord God,

no one is a stranger to you

and no one is ever far from your loving care.

In your kindness, watch over refugees and victims of war,

those separated from their loved ones,

young people who are lost,

and those who have left home or who have run away from

home.

Bring them back safely to the place where they long to be

and help us always to show your kindness

to strangers and to all in need

Grant this through Christ our Lord.


 

1.http://www.plough.com/en/subscriptions/daily-dig/odd/november/daily-dig-for-november-29

2.http://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=1514