2011 Message from the Director
January 01, 2011
Work Song, Part 2, A Vision
By Wendell Berry
If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow-growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
if we will make our seasons welcome here,
asking not too much of earth or heaven,
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
here, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides, fields and gardens
rich in the windows. The river will run
clear as we will never know it,
and over it birdsong, like a canopy.
On the level of the hills will be
green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting over its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields.
In their voices they will hear a music
risen out of the ground. They will take
nothing from the ground they will not return,
whatever the grief at parting. Memory,
native to this place will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its possibility.
Dear Friends of the Farm,
How many times over these past thirty years has this poem by Kentucky farmer, philosopher and poet, Wendell Berry, sustained and encouraged us to remain faithful to the lands and waters of this bioregion especially these unique lands of Genesis Farm? I am reminded of how many of you have been part of our circle of friends from the very beginning! What an immense blessing you have been over this time.
Whether we live in cities, suburban subdivisions, towns or rural country sides, these last thirty years have seen profound changes at every level of our personal, family, neighborhood and national lives. Change has taken us on a roller coaster ride, thrusting some of us into upper mobility with expectations of even better times for our children. It has also taken some of us into declines of unexpected constraints, bitter disappointments, loss and anxiety. Thirty years in evolutionary time is a blink of an eyelash, but in our ordinary day-to-day lives, thirty years is a major chapter in our life stories. It certainly has been in mine.
When I came to Genesis Farm, I was 40 years old and in the prime of my creative energy. This past spring, I turned 71 and, while my heart and spirit seem younger than ever, my physical powers keep alerting me to a greater practical reality. So many of the friends and early supporters of Genesis Farm are no longer with us and many others among you are, like me, moving into an elder phase of our lives. Behind us are the generations of the young, born into these new times, some just arriving in this new century where a widening gap opens between their youthful dreams and the sobering realities of a planet in ecological deficit.
These changes move us more tenaciously than ever to re-vision the worldview that has spawned the industrial mindset with its devastating effects on our children’s future. We have outright taken loans on their inherent right to pure air and water. We have mortgaged their physical and mental health to lenders and conveyers who promised that, if we would trust them to mechanize, consolidate and centralize our nation’s food supply, they would secure the health and vitality of our children and their children after them. Instead this reckless spending spree is now coming due in immune deficiencies, neurological disorders, degenerative illnesses and astronomical costs of medical intervention.
Now as even the freedom to act responsibly may be draining away, we find we may not be able to move fast enough for those same forces commandeering our lives. Through inexcusably corrupt wars, waste, falsified information, ruined places, desperate addictions and a belief in unlimited economic growth, we are mindlessly adrift on a raft carrying us into places we had best avoid while we can.
It is within this context that Genesis Farm deepens as a reflection center welcoming all people of goodwill longing for and working toward a new vision of spirit and earth through our mission’s three areas of focus.
The first focus, a search for a transforming vision, draws from three sources of inspiration: first, from the new scientific understandings of the evolution of the Universe as a primary source of sacred revelation; second, from the wisdom of indigenous peoples, especially those who had inhabited this region of the North American continent; and third, the sacred traditions of the world’s classical religions, especially our own Judeo-Christian legacy, which formed the vision of the Dominican sisters whose generosity became the foundation of all that has emerged on these lands.
The second part of our mission, its bioregional focus, grounds our work and day-to-day lives in this Ridge and Valley region of northwestern New Jersey. To re-inhabit these lands aligned with the dynamics that Earth has used to bring forth such original diversity, beauty, health, creativity, wisdom and regenerative energy has “made our seasons welcome here.”
Third, we focus on the global commons of a single planet and a single community of life inextricably woven together over time and space and now being ripped apart by so many senseless and thoughtless activities that describe our precarious times.
These are the ways we hope to further our work over this coming year . . .
Deepening our exploration of a transforming vision
We have had a long association with Miami-Dade College and its unique and pioneering Earth Ethics Institute in Miami, FL. Many of our students have earned graduate degrees in Earth Literacy because of our collaboration with them and St. Thomas University in Miami, Holy Names College in Oakland, CA, and St. Mary of the Woods College in Terra Haute, IN.
We are expanding the opportunities available to graduate and undergraduate students who want to compliment their environmental and sustainability courses with internships, residential and independent learning experiences here. We are especially eager to provide these opportunities to students in nearby and local colleges and universities, through our rich, ever-expanding library of ecological books, tapes, journals and films as well as a wealth of hands-on and research projects in sustainability.
Our commitment to distance learning has expanded thanks to the efforts of Dr. Larry Edwards, adjunct staff member of Genesis Farm. His online course now offers a three-day immersion experience in residence at Genesis Farm each summer for students who wish to experience these lands and gardens, the foods and rituals, and the companionship and support that can enliven their course work.
In addition to the online course in Earth Literacy, we plan to expand our web-based resources to include webinars and other distance-learning opportunities, allowing people to take courses or participate in programs without having to travel.
Deepening and expanding our bioregional focus
Our engagement with and promotion of the emerging Transition Movement has brought a compelling context and language to the work we have been doing on this land and in this region over the last thirty years. We have been deeply inspired by the vision and extraordinary work of this movement and its founder, Rob Hopkins. Facing honestly into the probable disruption that industrialized economies will experience through energy scarcity, unprecedented climate change and economic stability, they are preparing for the future with inner resilience, an ethics of caring and a depth of human ingenuity. Their efforts in the U.K. have spawned a world-wide movement. Through the efforts of Seanna Ashburn, Michael Brownlee and Lynette Marie Hawthorn, Genesis Farm and a growing number of local initiatives have joined this movement as it links with thousands of other grassroots people working for ecological restoration, social justice and spiritual fulfillment.
We continue to integrate this Transition focus with insights drawn from a “New Cosmology.”
The Hillside Garden
There is a lovely landform behind the main cluster of Genesis Farm buildings. Two gently sloping hillsides meet at a narrow and seasonally running stream which meanders through until it joins a lush and vibrant wetland. Hundreds of years ago, it was probably covered with an old-growth forest. Later, farmers grazed sheep and dairy cows there. It was the site of the original Biodynamic garden planted by Heinz Thomet when he joined us in the mid-1980s, before the Community Supported Garden was moved to the upper fields where it continues to flourish.
The imprint of many of the original raised beds still reveal themselves each winter as the meadows die back. What has also been revealing itself is the possible emergence of a cohesively designed demonstration garden, comprised of a number of smaller gardens linked together, each designed on the scale of backyards, corner lots, neighborhood shared spaces, city plots, rooftops and outside living spaces available to the many friends, neighbors, inquirers, school children, volunteers and other diverse groups who come to visit Genesis Farm. If, as predicted, we will all need to participate in growing, preserving and storing more of our own food, and conserving more of our water and energy, this hillside garden will provide hands-on learning and self-guided suggestions for doing so.
Biodynamic methods of farming and gardening bring healing to the land. The insights of Rudolf Steiner are more relevant today than when he wrote and lectured on them early in the last century. The healing and transformative role of herbs and composts, pollinating insects and cosmic energies for distressed soils and microbial life will be restored once again, renewing these deep spiritual homeopathic remedies for the soils of this hillside and hopefully out into the bioregion’s treasury of gardens.
This past October, we hosted a gathering of the Powers of Place Initiative. Working with Maggie Moore Alexander, wife and partner of renowned architect, Christopher Alexander, they experimented with identifying and designing the properties of wholeness described by Alexander in his monumental work The Nature of Order. To inform the design of a small memorial grove that honors the inspiring visions of Thomas Berry, Frederick Franck, Gerald Mische and Dr. Walter Burnstein, each of whom were fundamental to the early mission and work of Genesis Farm, we strove to infuse these same elements, often referred to as “a Pattern Language.”
These “principles of wholeness,” as well as of Permaculture design, will guide the process we create for the Hillside Garden. As we incorporate orchards, vegetables, herbs, bees, composting sites, cold frames, small animals and native grasses, we desire to manifest a glimpse of beauty proclaiming the spiritual and sacred essence of Earth, our garden planet.
Deepening focus on the Arts and Seasonal Festivals
For nearly thirty years, Genesis Farm has welcomed and celebrated the deep riches of the seasons, drawing from the great religious and cultural legacy of humanity’s stories symbols, music and art to mark our own passages in these yearly and historical moments of transition. We want to engage the greater participation of the region’s storytellers, families, artists, musicians, children, elders, and dreamers to shape celebrations including the lands, waters, animal and plant voices of this “great Limestone Valley and Appalachian ridge.”
Deepening of collaboration with grassroots efforts in this Ridge and Valley Bioregion
Over the last thirty years, we have witnessed and have been inspired by many individuals and organizations that have formed to protect the farms, open spaces and cultural history of this region. Likewise, there have been initiatives forming community-supported farms, networks among farmers and markets, ecologically based schools and learning programs, local businesses and radio stations. A few years ago, the Sustainable Ridge and Valley Alliance formed to strengthen and collaborate in the common goal of protecting and fostering the human and natural communities of this region. We wish to deepen these connections.
Securing the global commons
In The Great Work, cultural historian Thomas Berry suggested that democracy must now give way to biocracy, meaning that there cannot be humans on a planet bereft of the presence of the natural world and poisoned in its air, soils and water. Granting inherent rights to all beings, as well as human beings, may be the next greatest impetus to the ongoing survival of our planet. Since we were founded with the collaboration of Global Education Associates in 1980, Genesis Farm has worked to promote a worldview based on the interdependence of a single web of life in a single planetary community in a single sacred universe.
We want to expand our commitment to promote the rights of nature and all people as well as the traditional sense of “the commons,” the “common good” and “common sense.” We want to expand our promotion of the Earth Charter (www.EarthCharter.org) and herald the immense contributions of the people of Bolivia and of Ecuador for their historic contribution to creating constitutional protection for the rights of nature and the rights of all life to clean air and water, in contrast to the shameful forces which would privatize these inherent properties. We are grateful to, and wish to expand our humble solidarity with those courageous peoples who cling, against all odds, to the inviolate rights of all life.
Given all that we hope and plan to do in the coming year, I invite you to join us in our work. We deeply appreciate the thousands of people who have touched Genesis Farm in so many ways. This land lives and breathes with your energy and we are glad to be companions as we go forward in the Great Work.
Blessings and Peace,
Miriam MacGillis, O.P.