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On Sunday, June 28, we did a workshop at Many Peoples Church in Rogers Park, a neighborhood on the far north side of Chicago. The church grew out of the community networking and development work of Pastor John Hoekwater, though he would credit any number of other local people for their integral participation. The church is next door to The Common Cup, a coffee shop owned and run by the John and Ruth Hoekwater. Each month, the proceeds from the coffee shop tip jar are donated to a non-profit organization that benefits the residents of Rogers Park.

One of the things that struck us about Many Peoples is how thoroughly it was woven into the surrounding neighborhood. Their space on Morse Avenue is used by a number of community groups and it was actually difficult to keep up with the many ways the workshop participants were connected to the church and other community organizations. There were a couple of Americorps volunteers, some folks from another local church, a seminary intern--it was kind of dizzying, but in a good way.

Greenhouse

One project that came up several times in conversation was the Gale Greenhouse. It just so happens that the only Chicago public school with a greenhouse is located within walking distance of the church. After learning that it was just being used for storage, John received permission to begin growing things there about four years ago in partnership with the Local School Council. Since then, it's been an organic process of figuring out how to encourage teachers and other community groups to get involved.

Roger's Park planter

This past year, John received a contract to grow flowers for several planters in Rogers Park. Jennifer Bricker, associate director at a tutoring organization called Family Matters, also got involved in the greenhouse this year with a group of third graders through a project called T-GROw (Third Graders Reaching Objectives). After school several days a week, students and their one-on-one volunteer tutors worked with the plants in the greenhouse and then spread their desks throughout the space to work on homework together. Jennifer said that even though they only had a few students participating in T-GROw, they soon had participants (and others) asking if they could be in the greenhouse on Saturdays and through the summer. Plant sales helped raise money for the group to attend a summer camp at Angelic Organics. The greenhouse project even spilled onto the school lawn this summer in the form of a community garden that was planted by T-GROw students, their parents and, as a last-minute surprise, a group of farmer refugees from Bhutan.

I got the impression that working in Rogers Park can be like putting together an extremely complicated puzzle of permissions, spaces, needs and commitment levels--frustrating at times, and yet when the pieces fit, very rewarding. Jennifer credits John's willingness to let people run with ideas, even if they mess up or fail, for providing fertile soil for creativity in the neighborhood. The greenhouse project is up in the air for next year as the school will have yet another new principal, but from our short time there, I have confidence that the projects rooted at Many Peoples Church will always find a place to spring up, like a wild morning glory.

Big Momma's

Our friends Matt and Elizabeth from Shickley, Nebraska said that if we were going through Omaha on our way to Chicago, we should really consider stopping at Big Mama's Kitchen. Matt gave us a business card he'd been keeping in his wallet for just such a recommendation. And we're glad Elizabeth gave us very specific instructions for finding the restaurant once we arrived at the Turning Point Campus on the north side of the city. Formerly a school for the deaf, the campus is now home to a number of Christian community development ministries. Tucked away in the old cafeteria is an incredible soul food restaurant.

Big Mama is Patricia Barron, whom Matt and Elizabeth know from her involvement in the Mennonite Church Conference that encompasses their region. Just a year-and-a-half old, Big Mama's Kitchen has already been featured on the Food Network. And for as many people who seemed to find its obscure location on the Saturday afternoon we were there, word of mouth must be working in the restaurant's favor.

We were glad Pat was able to escape from her busy kitchen to chat with us for a bit. One of her primary values is making good food for people from scratch, the way she experienced cooking as a child. When food is made to order, it takes time and time gives eaters the opportunity to sit around the table and talk. Pat also tries to use local, organic ingredients when she can because our bodies weren't made to take in all the garbage that comes along with highly processed foods. Some of her greens come from City Sprouts, an urban gardening project in Omaha, while others come from a woman who grows them hydroponically in Iowa.

A short sentence on the restaurant's web site seems to sum up her approach: "Peace begins when the hungry are fed." I would say that Pat seeks to feed more than just physical hunger. Matt and Elizabeth mentioned that she tries to hire people who don't, for whatever reason, have any work history, allowing them to develop skills and a resume.

But of course, satisfying physical hunger with good food is still one of Big Mama's primary specialties. We had her famous oven fried chicken with cornbread, macaroni and cheese, greens and sweet potato pudding with a piece of sweet potato cheesecake for the road. Yummmmm.

Flatland Farm

Rob and I owe a large portion of the credit for inspiring the food tour to Matt and Elizabeth Troyer-Miller. Friends whom Rob met during his time at Goshen College, Matt and Elizabeth joined three others last summer in traveling around the region for the Central Plains Mennonite Conference. The mission of their tour, through conversation and worship, was to reinvigorate congregations in their practice of the church's Christ-centered peace ethic.

Given their inspiration for the tour and their blossoming interest in food production, it seemed appropriate to make our way out to visit Matt and Elizabeth in Shickley, Nebraska. They moved to Shickley, Matt's hometown which is located about an hour and a half from Lincoln, after their tour last year. After years away, Shickley still feels like home to Matt. While Elizabeth has had a harder time adjusting, she's made good connections with people, animals and land. In addition to their Pomeranian named Patmos, the small Troyer-Miller homestead two blocks from downtown is home to about 30 chickens, some purchased and some inherited from a local school project. A local family helped slaughter one batch of birds and the meat the Troyer-Millers eat is mostly very-local chicken raised in their backyard.

Flatland Farm 2In spite of never having gardened before, Matt and Elizabeth have also started several beds with onions, potatoes, herbs, tomatoes, leeks, peas, peppers and many other kinds of produce. A large portion of their garden is on the property of their 93-year-old next-door neighbor, Ethel, whose yard also contains perennial patches of asparagus, rhubarb and berries. Their friend Kate, in town between college and a Mennonite Voluntary Service assignment, helps out with the garden as well. In addition to eating and freezing what they grow, Elizabeth and Kate sell produce and home-baked goods at the farmer's market in York on Thursday evenings.

Another source of food for their household has been the small grocery store where Elizabeth works. When produce starts to look less than saleable or arrives damaged, she rescues it before it ends up in the dumpster, from a flat of strawberries to a bunch of red peppers that were over-ordered.

Members of Salem Mennonite Church, located outside of Shickley in the midst of cornfields, the Troyer-Millers understand their food habits as part of their quiet witness to a simple, stewardly way of life that maintains a connection to the land and their community. Matt articulates their philosophy this way:

One thing that we're aware of is that we're in the heart of agribusiness and there are a lot of people--a lot of really good friends--who make their livelihood and whose identity is wrapped up in farming. And farming in this area is very commercial, it's big. You either do one thing and you get big or you aren't a farmer anymore. While [Elizabeth and I] don't necessarily...talk a whole lot about why we're doing what we're doing or the choice not to use pesticides or some of those things, ...I think it's obvious that we're doing things differently. I think it's a way of being prophetic, but not being a jerk about it. Because if you're just yelling at people and just telling them what you're doing, but you don't really love them, then you're just kind of being an asshole. But if you don't necessarily rub it in people's faces and you're doing it in a way that opens doors, then it's a different way.

Matt and Elizabeth's witness is bearing fruit literally and figuratively. About 30 people attended the food and storytelling workshop we did at Salem Mennonite Church--a big deal in a town of 360. A mother of three teen-agers marveled several times at their influence, especially on the youth in the church. A couple of teen-agers even came to the workshop without their parents, just because they were interested in the topic. Seems like good seeds are being planted all around in Shickley, Nebraska.

Harriet Kattenberg

In the course of planning the first leg of the tour, Dan Perkins suggested I get in touch with the Kattenbergs at Seed Time & Harvest, a certified organic CSA and market garden in Hull, Iowa. While Dan was at Dordt College, he had worked at the farm, one of the many students who have participated in seeding, transplanting, weeding and other labor-intensive chores over the past several years.

We're glad we followed up and grateful that Harriet Kattenberg agreed to meet with us in the middle of a very busy week. Earlier that morning, a group of about 20 elementary school students had been on the farm learning how to enjoy sauteed radishes and picking vegetables to bring home as part of a program that's teaching them to delight in healthy foods and be young ambassadors to their families. After a storm system blew through, necessitating the children and the hay wagon covered in seedlings to be shuffled indoors, the afternoon was shaping up beautifully by the time we arrived.

Seed Time & Harvest

Harriet and her husband Henry bought their farm, which is surrounded on three sides by huge corn and soybean farms, in 1983. The very day they took possession, the weed commissioner (yes, there is such a thing) was on their case to clean up the neglected land where thistles had grown so big the stems were the size of your wrist. Having jumped in without any equipment to clear the land, they finally found someone to loan them some machinery and they've been cultivating and improving their land ever since. Out of the ten acres, about five are cultivated in produce and flowers. The Kattenbergs' married daughter maintains a cut flower business from the property and Seed Time & Harvest serves 80 families with CSA shares, in addition to having enough additional produce to sell at the farmer's market in Sioux Falls on Saturdays.

Harriet's emphasis as a grower is on being able to offer produce that is certified organic and nutrient dense, fertilizing with sea minerals and rock dust. Like many of the farmers we've spoken with, she recognizes that "certified organic" is only useful as a label as long as consumers demand it. As a term owned by the government, "organic" sets minimal standards that huge operations can achieve, while smaller farms like Seed Time & Harvest and Kinnikinnick Farm go far beyond the basics dictated by certification to maintain a more healthful balance on their land and in their products.

For Harriet, her efforts in the dirt and heat are driven by something that's simply in her blood. She grew up in a local farming family and, while her mother always gave the kids the easiest tasks when it came to harvesting and preserving, she found herself drawn to the hard, but rewarding work of cultivation. While her mother was reading magazines like Organic Gardening, her dad read professional magazines from the farming industry, and always practiced the latest methods of agriculture for the family corn operation. After her dad had health issues, however, Harriet's parents moved to Washington state and their eating habits changed as they both started responding to common reading material about the best foods for maintaining health.

In addition to the food and farming inclinations in her family line, Harriet finds that farming is meaningful work for expressing her faith in God and responsibility to creation:

I feel the Creator gave us a beautiful earth and we have really poisoned it. And that's not very comforting, to have poisoned it to the point where we're worried about water--good, clean water. Streams are dirty, the ground source water has chemicals in it, there are medicines coming back through water. It's just like, why is man so ugly? Why have we done these ugly things to such a beautiful creation? So you try to walk as gently as possible and treat the land as gently as possible.

I got the sense that her motivation comes from a place of deep sorrow as well as deep joy. Toward the end of our tour, we stood at the edge of a bed where five of the summer's eight college-aged employees were weeding rows of garlic that wafted around on the wind. Beyond Seed Time & Harvest's vegetable gardens and greenhouses stretched fields of corn and soybeans, as well as dairy farms and hog confinements as far as the eye could see. One farmer we had spoken with earlier described this as the prettiest time of year, with the fields in deep green, as peaceful and expansive as the ocean. I asked Harriet if she saw, in this vista from the farm, just a sad and broken world or a beautiful world. She paused briefly. "It's still beautiful," she said. "The land has a remarkable ability to heal itself."

On the way out, we passed the apple trees, which are certified organic, though Harriet is still fighting the worm battle. As we parted, she pointed out an oriole flitting around the orchard. Birds and butterflies and bees--they're all signs of a healthy ecosystem, indicators of land that, in partnership with humans and animals, is indeed healing itself.

Cornucopia Farm
Photo of Janna Wesselius at the Sioux City market (borrowed from their blog).

After a long drive from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, to Sioux Center, Iowa, we were refreshed in body and spirit by a good visit with John and Janna Wesselius at Cornucopia Farm, a new-ish CSA and market garden in the middle of big ag country.

After several years in southern Ontario, the Wesselius family moved to Sioux Center, where Janna grew up, in order to embrace better job opportunities and natural beauty. They lived in town at first, but were propelled to the country by their growing garden. Today, they and their four daughters manage nine acres of vegetables, heritage breed chickens, cows and very shortly: pigs. Our tour of the various beds and buildings around the property was a tour of constant creativity, innovation, imagination, hard work, collaboration and joy.

The Wesselius family belongs to First Christian Reformed Church and sees their farm project as a natural expression of their faith. Our short time with John revealed his place in a strong and growing line of Christian farmer philosophers, many of whom are returning to the land after or alongside other professions (John sells school supplies in a large regional territory). John referenced Joel Salatin several times as a primary influence. Salatin is featured in Michael Pollan's infuential book The Omnivore's Dilemma, as well as in a new film called FRESH. Salatin's Polyface Farm in Virginia is "in the redemption business" and John highly recommended Salatin's book Everything I Want to Do is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front. Like many farmers we've met on the road, John echoed the mantra, "I just want to be left alone." Food safety and land use regulations directed toward large-scale food production are making things more and more difficult for small family farms, where direct relationship actually mediates many of the problems the government is trying to address through complicated legislation.

Together, John and Janna nourish their family with good food that has been grown in partnership with God's creation, but they're invitational as well. They serve 21 families with CSA shares, offering a small produce stand at Central Park in Sioux Center alongside their Tuesday morning pick-ups. They participate in farmer's markets in Sioux City and Sioux Falls, as well, carefully tracking their inputs in terms of infrastructure, supplies and labor hours to set prices that reflect the careful, hand-cultivated nature of their products. Janna also enjoys inviting groups of students from Dordt College over for dinner so they can learn about faithful food production and preparation experientially.

We finished our evening with the Wesselius family over vanilla ice cream topped with fresh strawberries from the garden--experiential learning, indeed.

For more photos of Cornucopia Farm and other stops on the Eat Well Food Tour, check out the tour Flickr page.

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to talk with Bruce Dooyema of Center Fresh Egg Farm in Sioux Center, Iowa. With 5.5 million laying hens, Center Fresh is #14 on the United Egg Producers' rankings of just under 300 members--quite a different style of operation than the heritage breeds in chicken tractors that we've been seeing elsewhere on the tour. It was good to sit down face-to-face with someone who often gets ironically dehumanized by folks in various food movements. Though I wouldn't say we were converted to the necessity of such large-scale operations in feeding the world, we were grateful for the civil dialogue.

Sioux County contains the most productive agricultural land in the state of Iowa, primarily due to multiple large hog, cattle, chicken, corn and soybean operations. Bruce, and his pastor John Lee from Bethel Christian Reformed Church, emphasized the desire of Iowa farmers not just to revel in local success, but to contribute to global issues like hunger and unemployment through overseas partnerships. Working with Partners Worldwide, Bruce and his brothers are involved in a project to start an egg-laying operation in Mozambique. Other area farmers and churches are involved with Partners Worldwide in a Farmer-to-Farmer project:

Because many in Nicaragua are not privileged to own their own land they are forced to rent land or work for larger farmers. Farmers in Iowa understand the importance of owning land and the stability and security that comes with it. As a result, they started a Farmer-to-Farmer partnership and are purchasing large tracts of land in rural Nicaragua, subdividing it, and selling it to landless farmers. By addressing the problem of farmers with "no land and no capital," the partnership has grown to 54 thriving farms on 260 acres. Now, the farmers are growing high value crops, exporting coffee, have put in water systems for their communities and are sending their children to school. Each year for the past four years the Iowa farmers have returned to work along side these new land owners, encouraging them in their shared language--a mutual love for the land.

Though we still see a need for collective discernment and imagination in farming and eating congregations alike in this rural area, the pervasive consciousness of abundance and global justice is a hopeful sign of more good things to come out of Sioux County. Pastor John Lee's efforts in the community are also a sign of hope. Having grown up in a farming family in northern Michigan and served for three years in Nicaragua, Pastor John brings a unique ability for building bridges and challenging both eaters and farmers to deeper understanding of how theology, business and agriculture are interconnected.

John Scherer

Rob and I met John during our first year working at Calvin College. He was one of the sophomore students in our cultural discerner group, studying the interrelatedness of theology, philosophy and popular culture. Since then, he's become a good friend and we've enjoyed many late night conversations about every corner of life.

We've watched with interest as he graduated this year with a degree in philosophy and took up an internship on Kinnikinnick Farm in northern Illinois. He graciously received us in the course of the food tour to show us around the farm and engage in a fascinating conversation with Farmer Dave (David Cleverdon).

Kinnikinnick FarmDave and Susan moved to Kinnikinnick Farm in 1992, combining the desire to have a neutral space for a blended family and continue growing good food, which had begun in a backyard garden. Dave, in his 50s at the time, had taken a wandering path to the farm through theology, law and politics--not unusual, he says, for many of today's small-scale market gardeners, who didn't grow up in farming families, but decide to take their food concerns seriously by diving into the field. Another trend Dave sees is that chefs are increasingly interested in purchasing local produce and using unusual cuts of meat, often buying whole animals, which allows them to combine a new level of challenge with better flavor and personal economic and environmental values.

Located right down the road from the (in)famous Angelic Organics (see The Real Dirt on Farmer John), Kinnikinnick primarily sells at farmer's markets in Evanston and Chicago, as well as to Chicago-area chefs. In an effort toward financial viability, the next phase of Kinnikinnick's growth is to become part of the growing eco-tourism movement in partnership with Feather Down Farm Days. John notes that the farm has become a good gathering place for Dave and Susan's extended community of friends. In fact, two of them were on the farm the day we were there, helping build a few new chicken tractors, which allow mobile grass grazing for the farm's hens.

About a month into his internship at this point, John took some time out of one of his exhausted evenings to reflect on some questions about his experiences so far.


Who or what has influenced your interest in the sources of our food?
I read folks like Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben and, of all people, Richard Rorty. My career as a philosopher at Calvin and my penchant for criticism, I think, has led me to wander off on my own and figure out how food and economy work--separately and in tandem--what it is, exactly, we put in our bodies and how those things hang together in the broadest possible sense. Spending a life living into such questions seems to me a good way to spend my time.

You graduated in May with a degree in philosophy from Calvin College. How did that degree prepare you for work on a farm? In what ways do you hope to apply your studies in philosophy and other areas of a liberal arts education to working with the land?
Sustainable agriculture, I am beginning to say, is a "worldview laden" endeavor. All of one's history and outlook are operative in making the decision to live off the grid, for instance, or farm without chemicals. Anyone really serious about the land and our relationship to it can't, so far as I can tell, take liberal arts preparation too lightly. The further we probe in to the various dimensions of the natural world, the more unprepared we feel to make sense of it all. Or at least that's the hope. Calvin is in a longstanding Christian tradition that isn't afraid of that prospect. As long as it is impossible to divorce the question of what it is we ought to do from the question of who we are, I think philosophy and agriculture work quite splendidly together.

What have you been gleaning from your experiences on the farm so far?
There is a dislocation that occurs in the modern environment. Most often we have a hard time explaining where we are. Sure we know which city we might be in. We're pretty good at figuring out where we are in relation to other "destinations" as well. But a new sensitivity has emerged in my daily life that requires me to really know where I am. I need to know the soil structure of our north beds, because if we lime those this year, the calcium dispersed will act for over three years on account of the clay soil. Further west, and towards the front of the property, it's a different story. Grazing our chickens so that their rich nitrogenous waste acts in accord with future growing space is priority number one. And when storm systems move in I know they are the most volatile when they travel east. At that point, it's a scramble to get inside and review the instructions on how to shock a well until the rain stops. But the precipitation can stay for as long as it likes. There are few things more beneficial than a rich water table. It keeps this place alive.

How would you describe your ideal vision for your life ten years from now?
When you're sunburned and sore in late June, idealities no longer seem terribly appealing. It's not that I would prefer to live without them. Rather, I've learned to move with the environment, grow where I am planted and hope that I can muster enough fortitude to stay put long enough to catalog sorrows and joys. No vision is ideal. Rather, I think the ideal is in living brutally. I'd like to live where I work in the future and eat locally and organically, sure. But I'd also like to be an idealist, of sorts, about being real. I want enough strength to waver rarely but also enough courage to rest from to hard work of making the Kingdom a reality here and now. Such is the tension I'll be spending the rest of my life holding and reshaping.

Holly Bechiri has a great post over at CRC Justice Seekers called "Foraging in the middle of miniscrapers" in which she reflects about a recent berry-picking excursion in the middle of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

It's been interesting along our tour to talk to people about all of the space in the middle of urban and suburban areas that goes uncultivated (or, in Holly's story, "wild" food that goes unnoticed). Tuttle Farm is a great example of the possibilities for growing food on an average suburban lot. And two of the churches we've visited have discussed what it might look like to use some of the land around their buildings for community gardens.

What might it look like if we all attempted to grow a bit of the food we eat on land we steward?

Natascha MalloyOn Saturday afternoon, Rob and I wandered around the Sheboygan farmer's market with a video camera, interviewing several folks about how their values influence their food choices. People were at the market for a variety of reasons; physical health, animal ethics, community, environmental justice and flavor all made the collective list. Some had been shopping farmer's markets for years, while others were just starting out. One woman we talked to had just read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and was trying to put what she'd learned into practice. Another woman expressed her desire to integrate healthy eating with the practice of yoga and her faith as a member of a local Catholic church.

One very interesting quality of the Sheboygan farmer's market is that approximately three-quarters of the sellers come out of the local Laotian community. After the Vietnam War, many Hmong people who had sided with U.S. forces fled their country as refugees and ended up in southeastern Wisconsin. In fact, the first Hmong Christian Reformed Church is located in Sheboygan and many local CRC congregations financially support the Hmong church's outreach to the immigrant community. Our best guess as to the high percentage of Hmong farmers at the market is that the refugees started growing traditional foods they couldn't find in Wisconsin supermarkets in the 70s and with the resurgence of farmer's markets, they've found a money-making outlet that intersects with their agricultural tradition.

The longest, most in-depth conversation we had at the market on Saturday was with Natasha Molloy, who was at a corner booth selling bread. Her husband Dean bakes artisan sourdough loaves loaded with seeds, nuts and other organic, healthful ingredients, while Natasha helps with other aspects of their business, called RealBread. She and Dean actually met at an ayurvedic institute where Dean was cooking. Today, in addition to raising two children and holding down other jobs, the Malloys run RealBread, selling at several area farmer's markets and maintaining a bread share program modeled on Community Supported Agriculture.

Born and raised in India, Natasha said that her upbringing taught her the values of eating a variety of foods and eating foods that take a lot of time to prepare. She and her family regularly attend a Unitarian church, while adhering to traditional principles of Veda, which is not a formal religion, but a way of life. Practices that emerge from this way of life include yoga, which aligns the body, mind and soul in preparation for long periods of meditation. Eating a wide variety of whole, organic foods is also a practice the Malloys take very seriously--seriously enough to start a business as a way of inviting others into more conscious, healthy living.

Even though we were coming to eating well from quite different angles, we found a lot of overlap in our desires for a healthy earth, creative preparation and loving stewardship of the body. I also appreciated her perspective on the interconnectedness of mind, body and soul, which I think we Christians sometimes tend to neglect in spite of Jesus' example and our understanding of our created nature. The gorp bread--with raisins and a variety of seeds and nuts--that we bought from Natasha was delicious and made a great addition to the snacks at the workshop we conducted the next evening at Calvin Christian Reformed Church in Sheboygan. In many ways, food is something that can unite diverse people in love and hospitality for conversation, encouragement and imagination.

A murmur rippled through the crowd perched on the tractor-drawn wagon. "That's Joe Leibham. In the red shirt. He's a state senator." As the wagon rounded the corner on the way from the parking field to the farm, Senator Leibham waved. Suddenly, I had a much better understanding of how the annual Dairy Breakfast functions in Wisconsin.

When we scheduled our stop in Sheboygan for the Eat Well Food Tour, we didn't realize we'd be there over Father's Day weekend. We also didn't realize we'd be in Sheboygan County on the weekend of the Dairy Breakfast, which draws thousands of people and moves from farm to farm each year, celebrating local agriculture throughout the state.

Community is a primary theme at the breakfast. Originally a means of connecting people with the sources of their food, the organizers maintain that goal by serving Wisconsin dairy products and hosting farm tours and other interactive events for families. While karaoke in the breakfast tent was an attempt to involve more folks in the morning's entertainment, the blaring music ironically inhibited conversation and was probably none too pleasant for the nearby cows, who were mostly massed in one corner as far away from the crowds as possible.

Another theme of the breakfast was abundance, as participants revel in the rich agricultural potential of the local region. The breakfast itself consisted of a huge helping of ham and cheese eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese cubes, bagels with cream cheese, donut holes, coffee and, of course, milk. The line between gluttony and feasting is pretty fine sometimes and I certainly can't make a call on that issue on behalf of everyone at the breakfast. I was mindful of a statistic I heard recently: the number of obese people in the world has just surpassed the number of malnourished people in the world, which begs the question of whether we in North America feast all too often.

Commerce is also a huge theme of the breakfast, in both positive and negative ways. As the current Alice in Dairyland suggested, buying food produced in the state helps maintain a healthy economy and support family farms. But I wasn't seeing much in the way of celebrating how eating local represents good stewardship of the earth by cutting down on transportation resources and encouraging seasonal habits. Pioneer had sponsored the paper plates and Ulta Genetics had branded the Styrofoam cups. Culver's was giving out custard for dessert (can you have dessert after breakfast?) in plastic cups with no recycling option available that I could see. (In case you're wondering, Rob and I brought our re-usable camp dishes along.)

Garrit and Muriel Ledeboer

Before we left, we had the opportunity to talk with Garrit and Muriel Ledeboer, the patriarch and matriarch of the family that runs the farm where this year's breakfast was held. A long-time member of First Reformed Church in Oostburg, Mrs. Ledeboer emphasized the family's dependence on God for everything, from sun to rain to good soil to healthy animals. The family has strived to honor the created rhythms of nature, as well as the rhythm of work and rest revealed at the very beginning of the Christian story. One year, she says, they even lost a crop because they didn't bring the hay in on a Sunday before it rained, but they trusted God to provide if they honored the Sabbath. Mrs. Ledeboer still cooks hearty breakfasts and lunches for the farm crew and sees that her children and grandchildren are increasingly conscious about the sources of their food.

I would have liked to talk to one of the Ledeboer sons before we left, but we had to get back to Sheboygan in time to make the farmer's market. My hope would be that the younger generation of this farming family would be able to further articulate how Christian faith distinguishes their specific farming practices, perhaps in contrast to other "faiths" that shape commercial agriculture today, including consumerism and rationalism, to the peril of the animals caught up in the system.