This article by TNFP’s Growing Together Market Manager, Sally Rausch, was recently featured in Tending the Fire Quarterly, which reports on efforts of contemplative justice within St Augustine’s Chapel, the Center for Contemplative Justice and the wider world.
In a time of extreme division in our country - most notably, the fight for a literal wall to separate us from our southern neighbor, I am time and again reminded that we long for deeper connection, deeper relationships, and a deeper sense of belonging to each other.
During my recent knitting project, a blanket, I couldn’t stop thinking about this innate desire. As a (very) novice knitter, this project improved my ability to pick up dropped stitches. As I moved along, I slowly got better at seeing them, picking them up, mending the hole they’d created in my work, and incorporating the stitch back into the pattern of the blanket. Knitting seems a fitting metaphor, a tangible representation of the way we are all woven together in this large patchwork connecting people, the earth, and all beings that inhabit this place. Some of the holes are gaping, seemingly too large to mend, but the blanket is meant to be whole.
I have the privilege to work at The Nashville Food Project, where we believe food is one way we can begin to pick up the dropped stitches and reincorporate them into the fabric of our shared humanity. As a manager of our market garden program, Growing Together, I work alongside eight farmers and their families who grow vegetables to sell across Nashville. These families came to Nashville as refugees from Burma and Bhutan, bringing with them cultural traditions and years of experience working with and rooted in the land.
As I witness the farmers and their families in the plots, tending the soil, pulling weeds, and harvesting for the day, it is hard to miss the reconciliation unfolding. Farmers who were forcibly removed from the land they called home, many of whom spent decades in refugee camps, are now putting down roots and reconnecting to the land in this new place. Farmers who are spending countless hours every week tending their plots side by side are connecting to each other and to the Nashville community through this shared work.
I notice a similar pattern at the Richland Park Farmers’ Market. Here the Growing Together booth is piled high with veggies of all kinds, a dozen varieties of mustard greens, radishes of many shapes and colors, spinach and arugula, tomatoes and peppers. But what’s missing if you only look at the beautiful vegetables on a steamy summer day are the hands that got those veggies to the table and every touchpoint of connection between seed and sale.
Noticing the baseball bat-sized bottle gourd at the farmers’ market booth one Saturday, I smiled, remembering the cold March day when the farmers and staff gathered together at The Nashville Food Project’s greenhouse to plant seeds for summer crops. Several staff members and I were busily distributing the seeds that farmers had ordered for their disease-resistant and heirloom varieties of tomatoes. As I moved from one table to another, I was greeted by Chandra, one of the farmers who has grown with Growing Together since its inception. He was holding out to me a large tooth-shaped seed from a cluster cupped in a wrinkled paper towel that he had pulled from his pocket. It was unlike any seed I’d ever seen – it was a bottle gourd seed. Chandra had been saving this seed over the course of several seasons, perhaps even traveling with it across thousands of miles from a refugee camp in Nepal to Nashville several years ago. With encouragement, Chandra assured me that I too could grow this crop, and I slipped the seed into my pocket, a gift. He was right! The plant was prolific, the vine growing across the metal archway leading into our home garden an invitation to delight. The gourds filled our kitchen counter in the late summer, gifting me the opportunity to seek advice from the Bhutanese farmers about how they prepare and eat bottle gourd at home. That one seed bridged language, culture, and place, teaching me not only what a bottle gourd is (and how many people one plant can feed!), but also that our differences create opportunities to learn from each other.
Often, tomatoes are piled all around the bottle gourds on the market table. As I stood admiring them on a humid August morning, I was reminded of a moment earlier in the week when I’d watched a farmer, Garja, and the look of pure joy on his face as he ate a tiny, sweet, cherry tomato straight off of one of his plants. I too have experienced this same pleasure in my garden, finding nature’s sweet candy irresistible and filling my belly before I even make it to the kitchen. While our differences create opportunities for learning, our similarities cultivate connection.
I remember so vividly a coworker and I were standing between two farmers’ plots one morning, listening as they shared about their prayer rituals performed before coming to the garden. Their morning prayers always include a prayer for peace. After listening intently, my colleague said, “every day I pray for that, too.” Maybe the prayer rituals look differently, but the fiber of the blanket sure seems the same.
I must admit that I come to the communion circle at St. Augustine’s Chapel without any idea what it means to eat the body of Christ. The theological implications seem inaccessible and the mystery too great. What I do know is that I’m hungry, that I long to receive a piece of bread from my neighbor and I delight in sharing the same gift with another. Just as I long for the sour leaves and shrimp paste my farmer friend brings to share with me, I delight in sharing my zucchini muffins as we stand at the farmers’ market table together. Food binds us together simply because we all need it! Growing Together has taught me that we need the nourishment of connection just as much as we need the nourishment of food. And Growing Together reminds me of what is possible: to give and to receive nourishment, love, and our gifts, this is justice.
I am not sure I know what prayer is, but my hope is that we continue living out our deep desire to weave our human fabric closer to wholeness.