Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Getting Biblical with Farming

For the last 25 years or so, I have been a shareholder in an organic farm run by a bunch of crazy eco-feminists who believe in organic food and world peace, and who also happen to be nuns (of the Dominican Sisters of Caldwell, New Jersey).

The entrance to the mysterious Genesis Farm.
Their leader, Sister Miriam, told me that back in 1980, the Sisters wanted to start an organic farm and so prayed about it. Shortly, thereafter, they got a telephone call informing them that Rupert and Mary Von Boecklin had died and left them land in Blairstown, New Jersey—a farm, in fact. The Von Beokclins had lived on and farmed the 140-acre farm—which included rolling hills, woodlands, marshes, houses and farm buildings—since the 1940s. Previously, the farm had been owned by two other families. Over the years it had been used for cattle, dairy and sheep farming and was known as the Red Cat Farm to people in the area. But Red Cat Farm was not a good name for Dominican Sisters, so they re-named it something more Biblical—Genesis Farm.

Oddly enough, there had never been any association between the Von Boecklin family and the Dominican Sisters before they got that phone call, so I guess this is one of those times where the cliché “God works in mysterious ways” seems the only explanation.

Tenacious G, aka Grandma, posing by the food shed.
Why did a group of suburban nuns want to grab pitchforks and create an organic farm? According to their website: “The decade of the 1970s marked a growing awareness of the urgent problems that were affecting the planet worldwide. The pollution of air, water, and soils had been documented by Rachel Carson and a steady stream of other scientific and ecological writers. During the 1960s and 1970s the family farm crisis with its consequent effects of malnourishment and world hunger had also become evident. Racism and war had torn deep rifts in the fabric of our national life, and the connections between our local and global problems had become much clearer.” Basically, the world was going to H*ll in a handbasket.

The Dominican Sisters are an intrepid group of women who live what they preach. In fact, their farm not only grows the great local, organic food that I take home every other week, it also is an educational center. I learned to cook healthy food and bake bread there. They also have courses in living simply and Earth literacy. Most recently, I attended a slide show given by a young man who had traveled to India, South America and other countries around the world on a grant. His purpose was to study how indigenous cultures are fighting back against companies like Monsanto by preserving their seeds of heritage. It was a very inspiring talk.

In the United States, it seems that our government—and therefore any regulations that govern the safety of our food and environment—has been bought out by corporate financial interests. That’s right. People are so greedy that they are willing to produce cheap, unhealthy food for our nation to eat so that they can make a buck. While corporations argue that pesticides and genetically altered crops are necessary to feed the multitudes, studies are beginning to show just the opposite—that small, organic farms are more sustainable and productive than large agribusinesses with their pesticide-dependent monocultures. To read more about that, download Organic Food and Farming: Myth and Reality produced in the UK by the JMG Foundation and the Soil Association.

The American public is beginning to get wise to the nonsense going on in Washington. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there are more than 12,500 community supported farms in the United States. As people begin worrying more about the contamination of the food supply, locally grown organic food is becoming more important to educated consumers—particularly those raising children. To find a farm in your area, go to the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association website.

Let's face it. To eat food that is not contaminated with pesticides and genetic tampering, you pretty much have to find your own food source these days—which harkens back to our distant, peckish ancestors. Think of Community Supported Gardens not just as a source of wholesome produce, but as a fashionably retro, 21st Century version of foraging.

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