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A Seat At The Table

Today, Convivium's Hannah Marazzi sits down with the folks from Barnabas Farmworks to learn more about their theology of farming and discuss pigs, poetry, and the sacramental goodness of the ordinary tomato. 

9 minute read
Topics: Agriculture, Faith
A Seat At The Table March 7, 2018  |  By Christoph Sanz with Kimberly Wilkinson, Hannah Marazzi
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Convivium: How would you describe Barnabas Farmworks?

Kim Wilkinson: Barnabas Farmworks is part of a bigger ministry organization called Barnabas Family Ministries. We are a retreat and conference center on Keats Island (in B.C.) that runs family camps in the summer, and solo retreats for the rest of the year. Our mission is to strengthen, educate, and encourage families. We are located on 80 acres that originally was farmland before we purchased it and started using it for camps. We’d always maintained a little bit of farm activity but it wasn't an active part of the ministry until six or seven years ago.

One of our supporters and volunteers said, "You know, you could probably start a small vegetable garden, and then provide some lettuce and stuff for your kitchen." We wanted to feed the families that were here throughout the summer. So, we decided to give it a try and hired a person to just maintain a small vegetable crop for the summer. Every year, we started carving off a little bit more garden space, and adding some new crops. I came in the second year, and by the third year, we were adding greenhouses and more animals. The idea was still just to produce food for our kitchen. But given where the farm is situated on the property, it's between the center hub of the property and the forest.

During the summer, leaders started taking kids to the farm every morning on the way to different activities. Kids would stop and ask questions about what was going on. The farm grew and became more of a fixture in the camp.

Three years ago, we started the internship program, because we saw there was opportunity to bring the people that we were staffing the farm with in on the process of the project in a more intentional way. This process is tied pretty deeply to our faith. We’re at the point where the relational and educational components of what we're doing are probably a more important piece of the puzzle than what we actually end up producing.

When we're trying to decide how to spend our time, the relational component takes precedence, with our guests and the kids that are spending time with us on the farm, but also with our neighbours on the island as well.

C: What’s a typical day on the farm?

KW: The summer is when we’re operating at our full capacity. We have a team of farmers and there is a large community and ministry focus as well. We eat together in the morning, and then have a devotional time, and after that we get rolling on the farm. We try to share tasks and rotate through them as much as possible.

We have about 100 laying chickens, and through the summer season around eight pigs, four sheep, and an ever-changing assortment of ducks, and rabbits, and little critters. One or two of us is usually taking care of those animals. Other farm related tasks include watering, harvesting, weeding, transplanting, things like that.

Over the course of the week, each age group of kids will spend a significant portion of time on the farm as a part of their camp experience. The younger kids mostly just wander through different parts of the farm, picking and tasting whatever's ready, petting the animals, and helping to feed them, gathering eggs. As the kids get a little bit older, they might make a salad for themselves from what they’ve harvested from the garden or we’ll give them an object lesson. Afternoons are spent with community after sharing lunch together. Neighbours come for ice cream, so while we’re busy with tasks in the afternoons, we’re also engaged with guests and islanders.

We come together again in the evening and share a meal together with the guests and staff again, and then designate some more tasks for the evening like feeding the animals, closing them up for the night etc.

Christoph Sanz: Some weeding, a lot of talk, and a lot of eating. Those are the three core parts of our lives.

Convivium: Christoph, as an intern, is there a specific portion of your time here that’s most important to you?

CS: We always talk about the relational and spiritual benefits of weeding. There's something about being stuck on the same patch of dirt together for two or three hours. We really seem to have our best, most life-giving, and Spirit-breathed conversations weeding. It seems to be the special glory of God that he draws us together during that time. It's probably the most mundane and boring task on the farm, but it's initiating a moment of community and teamwork.

There are also these special little moments of glory with the kids. They just see things in these great lights that make everything new for you. Last summer, we had a kid with us in this little strawberry patch. I think he was maybe seven, and he just sort of stopped mid bite and said, "Wait. Are we growing the strawberries, or are the strawberries growing us?" And it was such a wonderful little insight. I thought, "Yes! Both are true." Those little moments feel like a precious gemstone in the rough of the work of the day.

C: You have clearly articulated the inextricable link between your faith and work. Your website reads, “We are constantly amazed and inspired by the ways that Christ used food to invite and facilitate community and we strive in everything we do to practically live by that example.” Would you guide us deeper into your theology of food?

KW: I feel like our theology of food has grown as the farm has grown. We find that this is a really special place for relationships to be built. We get to see through the entire process of the food's life. We're a pretty small operation, and everything we grow either goes to our own kitchen, or we sell it to our neighbours on the island. When we're growing food, we are able to nourish our community. This is a way for us to “set the table” for our guests and grow relationships and friendships all year round.

Food creates a place, and you sometimes don't even realize it, but you're able to break down some boundaries when everyone's at a table. Everyone needs to eat. This is a place for relationships to grow.

CS: There's a quote by Robert Capon that we have written out and taped to the door that we always come back to. It goes, "Food is a daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for continual remembrance. The world will always be more delicious than useful." And that always has seemed sort of a great unofficial mission statement for us, that what we're doing is just celebrating, the over-abundant goodness of God through food. It’s a celebration of the wonder of the goodness of God, his abundance, and the way in which celebration can be built into this process. 

We have people through and they're like, "I had no idea that tomatoes could be purple." There's something sacramental about it, right? It wasn't an accident that Jesus used bread and wine, that he used a meal as a symbol of remembrance. There was intentionality behind it and we want to create the same sense.

C: What about your theology of space? Increasingly children in North America are growing up off the land, in very urban environments. How has your faith has intersected with your sense of space through this process.

KW: When you're working in the soil, being tied to place is almost unavoidable, especially when you spend any extended period of time in the same space. We learn the parts of the garden that will dry out first in the spring, the ones that are going to be wet all the way through until July or August. You learn where in the garden gets sun first, and where we'll be planting things and we learn where we are going to have animals escape through different parts of fences consistently. You're physically in that place, day in day out, and with that comes a lot of the wonder that Christoph was talking about before. You start to see creation and see how the different parts of it work together, how everything has a place, and a purpose.

CS: We read a piece in the New York Times describing digital nomads; that lifestyle was described as a “post-place life.” This idea that people can live divorced from place has a lot to do with commitment. There’s something very transient in North American culture. We say, “I will commit to this community, or this area, or this land, as long as there's some benefit to me.” Farming forces you to think long term, to commit to something, and stay regardless of whether the grass is literally greener on the other side of the island.

You think, “This is my land to work. This is where I belong.” I think it helps you shift from an inward focused life to an outward focused one.

The question then becomes, "What can I give into the land, and what can I create as community around the land?" I don't think that that has to be limited to agricultural or rural spaces. I think that happens in the city, too. I just think it's the culture at large in urban environments that works against you. It takes a greater takes a greater intentionality, I think.

C: Words like “stewardship, sustainability, and care” can be found all over your website. Tell us about Barnabas Farmworks’ approach to creation care?

KW: We have a very strong awareness of everything that comes on and off the island, because it takes often a tremendous amount of coordination to make that happen. When we first brought pigs onto our farm operation, it was actually just as a way to deal with food waste. We’ve started taking our neighbours food waste as well. We actively compost, and anything we can't take to our pigs often goes to our chickens. They provide us with eggs and manure that we end up using to fertilize our gardens. We end up taking a lot of wood chips and sawdust waste from our shop and construction projects that can be used in different parts of the farm, either as bedding or as fertility.

In terms of how that ties into our theology of creation care, a lot of it comes down to recognizing that everything has a place and a purpose. This is part of the Christian value system, because it is an important part of loving your neighbour to look after the land that you've been given, both the small pieces that we live on and the planet as a whole. It is how we look after each other. We're trying to take that mindset in full step in things that we can do here, and we may not be changing the whole world right now, but we're trying to do what we can with what we have.

C: There are so many parables and Biblical allegories that are rooted in the earth and the relationship to land. Is there a specific story from the Bible or particular passage that you hold close to your heart as you undertake this work?

CS: It seems significant that the Biblical narrative starts with gardening. A lot of Jesus' parables about the work of the Kingdom are about farmers. The Biblical narrative of feasting also seems really significant. A lot of Jesus' parables about what the Kingdom of God is headed towards are about feasts, about weddings, about tables and inviting people.

A part of the work we are doing, even in the breaking of the ground, planting, bringing order out of chaos, and growing produce where there was none before - all that is a foretaste of the Kingdom, right? It's a foretaste of shalom that Christ is bringing in with all things in relationship with each other.

C: Barnabas Farmworks is the intersection of many things: education and encouragement, hands and minds, poems and pigs. What have you learned about bringing together people in a place like Barnabas Farmworks?

KW: The experience feels like such a privilege. Honestly, we didn't really, especially in the early years, actively try to bring people into the farm, but they started showing up and this Farmworks initiative has grown into something people want to be part of. That’s surprising and pretty exciting.

A friend came to help us in the fall and he said, "Isn't it interesting how you just start doing something, and are stuttering along, listening to God each step of the way, but by just doing something that you love with your whole heart, people begin to show up, and want to be a part of it."

CS: I think everybody, on some level, desires to have a seat at the table. Everyone wants to belong somewhere, and we get to provide that. I'm really struck by how strong the need is in all of us, to be able to sit down at a table with other people, and how it's not that hard to provide. Set the table and then believe that God will fill it. I'm a little surprised by how little it takes to minister to people in such a powerful way, that sense of belonging and feeling welcomed.

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Topics: Agriculture, Faith
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