January is a good time for reflection on the farm. The holidays are over, you’ve recovered enough from summer that you can bear to think about what happened, but you haven’t yet gone mad waiting for spring to come. It’s a time when you can step back and regroup, maybe give yourself a break from the farm and rest up for a while before diving into planning and the seed order.
This year, Geoffrey and I are taking that reflection time in Georgia, on Koinonia Farm. This is the last part in a series of travels that last winter and spring took us to Israel, Italy and England seeking the connections between religion, agriculture and community. During that time we committed to farm on the land that’s been in Geoffrey’s family for forty years, and developed a permaculture plan to help us follow through with that commitment. It was a deeply educational trip, and it left us with a staggering sense of how lucky we were to have the resources we have, and how important and beautiful a land-based culture can be. Being in rural Europe really makes you appreciate how long it takes to really settle the land and live in relationship with it.
That struggle for careful relationship is clear here at Koinonia as well. I won’t go into the long and harried history of this “demonstration plot of the kingdom of heaven,” but needless to say, it hasn’t been easy for them as they have lived out a commitment to racial equality in the deep south. But under the leadership of Clarence Jordan, this community has put down deep roots on the land. Literally: they planted over ninety acres of pecan trees, investing in perennials in spite of the uncertainty of their future. As the story goes:
[One] rainy, cold Christmas Day, Clarence Jordan was asked skeptically why he was planting pecan trees that would take 25 years to produce a cash crop. He replied, “I’m planting them for the people that are coming after me.”
That commitment has insured the continuing viability of the farm through good times and bad times. Now Koinonia focuses on hospitality and “feeding the hungry in body, mind and spirit.” They are in the process of learning more about permaculture and have already put a number of permacultural systems and ideas into place on their campus and farm land.
And so, as we begin our new year here, I find myself reflecting on how history and commitment are necessary ingredients for religion, agriculture and community. These are things that have to transcend the turning of the seasons or even the efforts of one lifetime to come to full fruition. An agricultural system that only provides for one year of harvests will degrade its soil over a lifetime, and will lead to disaster over the course of generations. Communities without history or commitment easily fall apart when they encounter difficulties, either internal or external. And religion without history or commitment has little to offer.
It’s hard to plan for the long-term, but we’re giving it our best. This will be our first season farming our land, but as we pin down the details for this 2012 season we are already trying to look ahead to what we want to harvest twenty-five years from now, and what we want to leave in place for “the people who are coming after us.” Perhaps if we plan for it now, and commit to seeing these plans through, we can create a world with a saner, more just food system. Here’s to sustainability and abundance, now and yet to come.