Sunday, February 27, 2011

Meet Pete Robertson -- New Farm Manager at the Nature Center

A similar article about Pete and DeLano Farms
appeared in the Kalamazoo Gazette on Sunday, February 27.

It's interesting happenstance to reach middle age and discover that you have all the education, talent and experience necessary to venture forth in a new frontier.

Pete Robertson is discovering just that as he assumes the newly-created position of farm manager at the Kalamazoo Nature Center's DeLano Farms.

Robertson's first taste of farming began at home.  His parents both grew up on a farm and his father worked in the food processing industry.  His family always maintained some connection to the land through a garden and through his aunts and uncles who continued to farm.  His mother cooked daily and canned fruits and vegetables.

Robertson studied agriculture at the University of Illinois and after graduation in 1983 he went to Chicago to work in a bank.

After two years in the city he yearned for the dirt under his fingernails and planted his own backyard garden—this was way before gardening and the local food movement emerged.

He then started his own small business, a bicycle shop, but after 15 years when sales began to decline, he sought greener pastures.  Literally.  That's when he realized that he really loved growing vegetables.

In 2007 through a cooperative arrangement with a bed & breakfast owner in Sturgis, he planted a two-acre garden and sold fresh produce at the farmers market.  A year later he set up a CSA. 

Unfortunately, the 2008 foreclosure crisis hit the B&B and the owner was faced with having to vacate her home in 30 days.  Robertson, too, was affected since he was in the middle of the growing season and had delivery obligations to meet.

Things worked out, however.  The B&B owner was able to save her home and Robertson was able to see through the growing season.

However, this experience led him to decide that if he were to continue his agricultural work, he would need to find land.

Serendipity touched him again.  The farm manager job at the Nature Center became available, he applied and got it.

“I see my backyard garden as my primary school education and the CSA as my college education,” quipped Robertson.  “Now that I've 'graduated,' I'm ready to get to work.”

The DeLano Farms will certainly provide him with that challenge as its mission seeks not only to connect children and adults with the land but to teach them how food is grown, how to recognize healthy and nutritious food and how to purchase food.

“Deciding what to do with DeLano Farms has always been a struggle as we tried to figure out how to tie it in with nature,” said President and CEO Willard Rose. 

The DeLano homestead was settled in the 1860s and has been popular place for families and school groups to visit.  Since the 1970s interpretive programs aptly illustrated pioneer life but DeLano was not utilized to its fullest potential, said Rose.

Three or four years ago a board member suggested the idea of turning DeLano Farms into a working farm.  Rose and Jenn Wright, vice president for education at the Nature Center, explored farm-based educational programs, especially in the Northeast where they are most prominent.

Later, consultants from the Farm-Based Education Association ( came to look at the DeLano property and talk with board members, community stakeholders and staff, said Wright.  They suggested the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model for the farm because it could be financially self-supporting

CSA is a local food distribution model based on a mutually beneficial relationship between farmers and the members of the CSA.  Members “buy into” the farm early in the season and commit to share in the harvest, its bounty, its seasonality and occasionally its unpredictability.  Farmers supply produce for weekly pick-ups and are insured a steady market independent of yearly and seasonal fluctuations.  Both parties benefit from this relationship, especially the opportunity to know the people on both ends of the exchange.

“As we considered what was happening in our community where interest in local foods, health, nutrition and sustainability was growing, we discovered that turning DeLano into a working farm tied into the Nature Center’s mission of ‘inspiring people to care for the environment by providing experiences that lead them to understand their connection to the natural world.’  Agriculture is certainly part of nature,” said Rose. 

“All the staff voted for it, said Wright, “including those who have worked with DeLano for 20 years.  It was a definite hit from the beginning.”

Plans are also in the works to incorporate the farm with the Nature Center’s summer camp program where kids will plant, weed and harvest vegetables. 

“We visited a farm-based program in Vermont and found inner-city New York kids mesmerized by what was happening,” said Rose.  “They helped take care of animals and shovel manure but they loved it and did not complain.  When they returned to school, the teachers saw how the farm had changed the lives of the kids and that they participated more in class.”

The Nature Center has been leasing 400 of its 1140 acres to farmers who raise hay, corn and soybeans.  It will dedicate 25 acres to the DeLano Farms Program.

Robertson plans to start a market-oriented CSA with around 70 vegetables.  The long-term goal is to include dairy and meats as well.

“We're not trying to undercut anybody else or take away their customers,” said Robertson.  “We're trying to bring new people into the CSA.  Besides, each CSA has its own personality and products.”

This year DeLano Farms will sell 100 shares at $600 each or $550 for Nature Center members.  It will run 21 weeks from May 31 until October 22 with pick-ups before both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Usually CSAs have a pick-up station where people get their weekly box of vegetables.  The DeLano Farms CSA will have people come to the farm and select their vegetables from an assortment.

“Making trips to the farm connects shareholders to it and their food in a more physical way,” said Robertson, who also hopes this will also inspire people to grow their own gardens.  Various classes on gardening, food preparation and preservation will be offered. Shareholders will also be encouraged to volunteer some time at the farm and learn about new foods and products.

To run the farm Robertson will recruit interns, seasonal workers and volunteers who will apply organic growing methods in sustainable ways in order to produce fresh, nutrient-dense foods that will vary with the season.  For example, spring brings in greens, radishes, peas, turnips, carrots, parsley and cilantro.  Summer provides more variety with tomatoes, melons, peppers, beans, beets, onions, cucumbers, carrots, broccoli and cabbage while the fall sees squashes and potatoes.

“People are astounded at what can come from our local Michigan farms,” said Robertson.  “This, in itself, is a learning experience for most people.”

Robertson said some restaurant chefs have approached him about supplying vegetables from the DeLano Farms.  He will work with them and various food-oriented organizations, including community food banks and kitchens.

“The Nature Center really wants to raise all boats in marketing high quality foods to consumers,” he said.  “We want to be good neighbors.”

DeLano Farms aims to encourage future farmers through its volunteer and worker educational program. 

“Farming is a skill,” said Robertson.  “It requires physical energy, tools, equipment and knowing how to use power.”

He added that DeLano Farms will work with the Michigan State University Extension Service, schools and colleges to accomplish this goal.

“I consider myself to be very lucky to be here,” said Robertson.  “I also feel a responsibility to bring people to the CSA, to fulfill the mission of the Nature Center and to be a good steward of the land.”

Planting begins in March, depending on the weather, said Robertson, and a blog will soon be started under the domain name of  For more information about the CSA, contact DeLano Farms at 269.381.1574 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              269.381.1574      end_of_the_skype_highlighting ext. 26 or see the website:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Farm Journal: Winter Bits and Pieces

Ron and I made three gates for the kid pens today. 

Time is getting close to kidding season and the milk parlor is not quite ready.  One thing we do have in the barn is defined and confined space for the birthing does.  They need this space so the other goats don’t interfere with them, the kids, or us “midwives.” The birthing pen is 8 x 8 and has a heated waterer.  The exterior wall of the dairy parlor forms one wall—making it convenient for utilities and getting the does into the parlor for milking. Ron and Mike are working as hard as they can to get things ready for the kids, does, and  milking. 

Because the milking machines have not yet arrived, we will have 23 lactating goats that need to be milked by hand.  That’s a lot of work for Ron, so I might find myself a little more useful around the farm.

This is an exciting time and like any auntie, (the goats call me Auntie O), I’m looking forward to seeing what the new kids will look like and who they will be. 

We have two new groups of mothers this year:  last year’s kids and the two-year old doelings who have not been bred before.  Of course, our regular does (Ginger, Suki, Koo-Koo, Chantelle, Katie, Elle, Lilly) are looking pretty pregnant, too. 

Ron says that the first time a doe gives birth is a bit scary and bewildering for them.  They don’t know what’s happening.  After the first time, however, they are cool with it.  Katie and Elle are prime examples.  Last year, they just sort of dropped their kids and moved on looking for their next chew of hay. 

On the other hand, some of the does cry with mother's remorse and separation anxiety after their kids are born.  They cry because we take their kids away from them shortly after they are born.  This is sometimes a controversial practice but we do it because the kids have to bond with the farmer and not with the mother.  Otherwise, controlling the goats could be a problem.  The most important reason for this separation is to stop the transmission of diseases such as Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE), which infects almost all Michigan goat herds.   

Many goats are asymptomatic and are carriers of CAE.  The disease is transmitted horizontally through infected milk or fluids and it manifests itself by enlarged joints and a failure to thrive.  Thus, it weakens young goats to the point that they can die by the age of three. Many goats that are thought to be normal, though a bit thin, are actually not healthy.  Weakening the immune system makes the goats more susceptible to respiratory disease and parasites.   

To stop transmission of CAE, kids are not permitted to drink raw colostrum or milk.  Colostrum is heated to 56 degrees C to kill the virus and to pasteurize the milk.  Ron has been doing this successfully for over five years. 

This year all goats in the herd will be tested for CAE, which requires a blood test.  Samples of the blood are sent to Washington State University.

Ron will also have all goats tested for Johne’s.  Johne's (pronounced "Yoh-nees") disease and paratuberculosis are two names for the same animal disease. Named after a German veterinarian, this fatal gastrointestinal disease was first clearly described in a dairy cow in 1895. 

A bacterium named Mycobacterium avium ss. paratuberculosis (“MAP”) causes Johne’s disease.  The infection happens in the first few months of a goat’s life but the animal may stay healthy for a very long time.  Symptoms of disease may not show up for many months or even years later.  This infection is contagious, which means it can spread from one goat to another, and from one species to another (cows to goats, goats to sheep, etc.)

As of last week, the goat herd at Windshadow Farm closed, which means that no new goats will be added to the herd from the outside unless they pass a detailed veterinary exam, take blood tests and are quarantined for 30 days. Biosecurity is critical to maintaining herd health and in producing high quality milk for making cheese.  Ron is a member of a group of farmers that is dedicated to eradicating CAE and Johne’s.  It is interesting to note that in Switzerland CAE had infected 85 percent of all dairy goat herds, but fell to 1 percent after 15 years of dedicated effort.  In the UK the level fell from above 90 percent to undetectable after a decade of work. 

New skills in the making
Because everything at the new farm needs to be built, I am gradually learning new skills, like carpentry.  As a youngster my father did a lot of wood work so there were hammers, screwdrivers and saws around and I learned how to use them.  But these tools were not powered.  I find it difficult to work with power tools because they have a way of getting away from me.  They seem to require a certain grasp and strength that I need to develop.  Ron promises me there will be plenty more opportunities to learn these skills.

After all my years in school, I find that the practical skills of carpentry, gardening, and animal care are the things I want to focus on now.  One of the reasons is that my senior seminar on sustainable cities is really getting to me.  More and more I’m convinced that in preparing for our more limited fossil fuel future, people need to develop such skills, so I’m inspired to get started.

I’m also taking the Master Gardener course from MSU Extension this winter and am excited about studying more of the science that goes into the gardening that we do at the farm.  My class has completed three of 12 weeks already and we’ll soon get to vegetable gardening, which is my greatest interest.  At the completion of the course, we must do 40 hours of volunteer time and I can apply 20 of those hours to working on the garden at Windshadow Farm.  That should only take two or three days at most since we are starting the garden from scratch, too.  The other 20 hours are still to be determined. 

Meanwhile, my freelance writing for the Kalamazoo Gazette has taken an interesting turn.  My editor, Josh Smith of the Living Section, has asked me to cover local food both in print and video.  (Video is a new skill I’ve picked up since I went to Africa in November.)  You can imagine I nearly fell out of my chair over this request.  Watch for my stories in the Gazette, which will also be posted on this blog.  Meanwhile, I still have some food sovereignty stories to write from the conference I attended in New Orleans last October. 

Susie--our newest water buffalo
Susie, a yearling heifer (a heifer is a young buff that's never been bred), came to the farm on November 30, 2010, from an Amish “petting farm” in Pennsylvania. She was scared a bit and unfortunately transmitted lice to the rest of the herd.  She is now confined to a large calving pen because the other buffs have not as yet accepted her. 

It’s a herd instinct to check out a newcomer.  This helps protect against disease or perhaps “unsavory characters” that don’t fit in. It is interesting that in the wild these animals have a hierarchy of dominance within the structure of the herd.  You can recognize the most dominant animals by the way they place themselves in the center of the herd and they are usually the bigger girls.  Less dominant and smaller members of the herd are forced to occupy the perimeter--perhaps they serve as "lion bait" for predators. 

Unfortunately, Susie has been picked on by the other buffs and has yet to be incorporated as a full-fledged member.  In fact, the other buffs have “beat up” on her and kept her away from the food bins.  It’s really troubling because Susie is so sweet. But water buffalo and several breeds of domestic cattle are ruled by a hierarchy of dominance that is enforced by anything from a gentle push to some pretty dramatic shoving.   

Ron is planning to put up another building to separate the animals by age and size.  The goats will be in three cohorts (yearlings, dry does and lactating does), the buffs will be separated as young heifers and mature cows.  Leoben, our bull, will also have his own paddock this summer.  The farm is not always the pastoral, serene place it is portrayed in children’s storybooks! 

After Susie first arrived, Ron put her in the goat pen to protect her because she needed some place to go.  The goats are used to the buffs, and they accepted her without complaint.  Lucy, as usual, climbed on Susie and induced several of the youngest goats (now a year old) to do the same.  This is still not a good thing for them to do especially since some of them are pregnant.  As we get closer to kidding season, Ron determined that Susie would be a potential danger to the goats not because buffs are mean, but because they’re just big animals and accidents can happen.  So Ron moved Susie back to the buffs' pen and hopes she will be accepted.

Susie has been a very sad buffalo since she arrived at Windshadow.  She gets along with the goats but really wants to be among her own kind.  Invariably, her eyes are wet from crying or she has dried tears.  She gets some relief when we stroke her chin.  I feel so sorry for her.  It never ceases to amaze me how animal beings have feelings just like humans do!

After Susie returned to the buff pen, the shunning behavior continued so Ron put her in a barn stall of her own for protection from the nasty buffs that just had to agitate her.  However, Susie’s instinct to be a part of the herd is just too strong and she jumped the fence.  Unfortunately, she injured her lower right leg.

I told Kathy Buckham about this and she related a few stories about one of her cows that regularly jumped the fence at the Buckham Farms (they raise cattle and lamb).  The fairy tale about “the cow jumping over the moon” has a little more truth to it than you’d expect!

Suzu -- RIP
Even though we are getting anxiously anticipating the new goat births, death on the farm is still a very definite reality that we must contend with.

Suzu turned 12 years old on February 4.  That's 90 years old in human years.  On February 14 Ron and Suzanne found Suzu on her side in the goats' loafing area.  They moved her to a comfortable place since she had great difficulty standing.  The vet diagnosed her with "pregnancy toxemia," a very serious condition that is particularly bad for elderly does.  Suzu had been unintentionally bred by one of the bucks and the kids growing inside of her were sapping nutrients from her body faster than they could be replaced.  

Ron and Suzanne isolated Suzu and made a sling to help her stand.  The vet had said that if she did not stand at least 20 minutes a day she would loose control of her legs.  But Suzu was too weak to stand.  Suzanne then propped up Suzu and fed her a mixed ration to try to give her more strength.

Suzu stayed in one of the new pens that will soon house the new kids.  Occasionally, the other goats would jump up on the gate and look in on her.  Today I tried to feed her some grain that she loves, but she had become too weak to take it after a couple bites.  I dissolved a few sugar cubes in water and held it to her mouth.  She took a few sips but couldn’t even raise her head without my assistance.  On Sunday, February 20, she went to sleep forever.  

Suzu was an outstanding doe, with a fantastic pedigree.  She won many first place ribbons as a younger doe.  Ron purchased her in 2008 after she had been retired from the show ring and milk line.  His plan was to breed her one more time in the hope that she'd produce a doe and she gave us Zoë in 2008, a marvelous girl who will undoubtedly be queen of the herd someday! 

Our two oldest girls, Shadow and Suzu, are now dead.  We believe they both had kids in them, which makes it doubly sad to lose them.  Death is hard to take at any age.  What this means, however, is that the animals we care for matter and that’s why it’s painful when something happens to them.  Both Suzu and Shadow gave us some wonderful doelings.

Ron promises to give me some photos of Suzu and Shadow when they were in their prime and both prize goats.  I’ll post them as soon as I get them.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Got chickens? Build them a mansion in this coop-construction class

 from the Kalamazoo Gazette

SCOTTS — Tillers International, 10515 East OP Avenue in Scotts, will host a chicken coop building class March 26-27.

Students will build the new Tillers Hoop Coop, a poultry shelter that holds up to six chickens. The coop is a two-story 68-by-42-by-64-inch “mansion,” complete with an enclosed grazing area beneath the living space with a ramp for the chickens to enter at night to keep them safe from predators.

“Tillers is holding this class in order to give people who are interested in raising chickens an opportunity to build a chicken coop which is functional and good looking,” said Lori Evesque, education coordinator at Tillers. “It provides the level of cleanliness and safety required for chickens, especially in urban or suburban settings where officials are worried about the potential hazards of raising chickens.”

Cost for the class is based on a group rate for up to three people per coop. The fee is $160 for the first person and $120 for the second and third group members. Families are welcome.  All materials are provided at $200 per group. Lunch is also included.

Registration is limited to four coop-building groups.

Construction experience is not necessary; beginners are welcome. Skilled builders will be available to help all participants.

To register, or for additional in-formation, call Lori Evesque at269-626-0223 or e-mail her

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Book Review: The Spiral Staircase

The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness
by Karen Armstrong.
New York: Anchor Books, 2004. Paperback, 306 pages.

Like a beautiful mosaic made up of broken fragments that when combined, make a complete picture, Karen Armstrong’s memoir on her life after seven years in the convent is an incredible witness to the hard and serious journey of self-revelation and meaning making. And perhaps, the importance of her witness is that she illustrates how one works with the interstices of life—the in-between spaces that are the cracks or openings to one’s life purpose—are frequently held together by the gooey grout of failure, sickness, loneliness, and misunderstanding.

The Spiral Staircase provides a moving account of a woman so engaged in the difficult struggle for a relationship with God (i.e., the fullness of life) that her body falls apart under the weight of what seem to be bad choices and bad luck. In retrospect, however, Armstrong realizes that for her the self-study of other religions allows her life to be cleansed of the ego holding her back from making her the person that she was intended to be: a writer for our time to explain the myths, beauties, and vagrancies of religion as it becomes the force for change in our world.

The language of this work betrays an outcome of Armstrong’s intense study of English literature that took her to the near completion of her ill-fated doctoral thesis. While she portrays this event as yet another failure of her life, it is easy to see how the eloquence of her language, amplified introspection, and intense interiorization of her study made her both the compelling and fascinating writer and speaker that she is today. Her allusions to various writers, Tennyson and T.S. Eliot in particular, also illustrate how literature can powerfully penetrate the reader’s soul once analytical academic rigor is set aside and the reader truly empathizes with the writer. A tremendous lesson here is documented for teachers and writers alike.

Finally, Armstrong inspires others, through example, her willingness to take on the woman’s journey to fulfillment and purpose in life. Unlike the man’s journey, which involves a hero’s strength and courage to overcome the tests of many outward forces, Spiral Staircase shows how woman calls on the strength and courage of her character to fight an interior struggle for wholeness—or in Karen’s case, for holiness.

This book is a must-read for people who aspire to or are attracted to the spiritual life for it portrays the illusions and traps of that path. It also provides women, young women in particular, with a view of the journey toward fulfillment and truth that must not be missed.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Women's Eucharist

On the second Sunday of each month, a group of six to fifteen women from the Detroit area meet to pray, sing, dance, reflect on the Sunday scriptures, and to break bread together.

Many of the women come for strength. Some come for sustenance. Others are there because they don’t fit in the Church. The one thing they all have in common, however, is that they see their gatherings as an expression of the friendship and equal partnership they feel with Jesus and each other.

Their gatherings aren’t secret nor are they officially sanctioned, but they do give the women the opportunity to experience the hidden, feminine side of Church, which they find spiritually enriching and can’t get in the patriarchal Church.

The group calls itself Women’s Eucharist or WE for short, and it is part of a nationwide movement that has grown over the past couple decades without much promotion or fanfare. In fact, according to Sheila Durkin Dierks, who studied 100 WE groups across America for her book Women’s Eucharist, many of the women start a group without knowledge of other groups.

Sister Beth Rindler, 73, one of the founders of a WE begun in Detroit in 1990, started the group because she was restricted by Church law from celebrating the sacraments simply because she is a woman. As a pastoral associate with a Master of Divinity (M. Div.) degree from Catholic Theological Union (CTU) in Chicago, she found that her ministry still was not welcomed by parish priests.

“Priests really wanted women to be servants to them and not partners,” she says. “As a religious I thought of myself as a partner to live and share the Gospel in a demonstrable and public way.”

Another member of WE, Peggy Bennett, had no aspirations to the priesthood. Instead, she was looking for a practical, everyday spirituality and was “re-exploring [her] Catholic heritage after being away for a long, long time.”

Bennett had been studying in a two-year Jesuit spirituality program at Manresa in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, before she joined WE. As she looked for the “Spirit” she says she couldn’t find it in the Catholic Church—or any other organized religion. Eventually, she found that Manresa, too, lacked the kind of spirituality she was looking for because, like the Church, it was “too intellectual.” Nevertheless, her advisor suggested that she start a women’s spirituality group and that led to her finding Sister Beth.

The Detroit WE originally met on the 18th floor of a downtown apartment building that overlooked the Detroit River, consequently, the members called themselves “the Upper Room.” However, when one of the members moved out of her apartment and the group needed a new gathering place, Bennett volunteered to hold the meetings at her house in Ann Arbor. Now the group calls itself “The Cathedral” because of the high ceilings in Bennett’s house.

For Bennett, WE exemplifies a democratic form of spirituality: she offers her home and plans the music and dance for the gatherings, but it is the members of the group that make WE a participative and life-giving experience through their sharing, reflections, prayers, and meal after the service.

The intimacy of the group’s celebrations are a means toward joining the personal, political, and spiritual life, says Rosalie Riegle, 68, another member of WE, a professor and founder of a Catholic Worker House in Saginaw, Michigan. Women’s Eucharist is a feminine extension of the home Masses she attended during the early post-Vatican II period.

“[With Women’s Eucharist] everything flows together: the Eucharistic meal and our potluck, the friendship and the love we share and the love we have for God,” says Riegle, who started a Women’s Eucharist group in Saginaw, Michigan, before her recent move to Chicago.

Historical Context of Women’s Eucharist
What led women to this celebration of the breaking of bread did not just happen. Rather, it was and continues to be an evolving outcome of a changing Church in the midst of the vast social and political changes.

According to Dierks, The Council of Trent (convened three times between 1545 and 1563) re-emphasized the Eucharist as a community meal, a holy meal, for all of God’s people. Nevertheless, over the centuries Catholics remained only watchful observers of the priests’ engagement with the Eucharist.

This exclusive practice of the Eucharist was a far cry from the early Christian communities where people met in each other’s homes to share bread and wine and pray. There was no authorized leader, priest or a sacred language in the service. Both women and men also participated in the ministry through the preaching of the word, caring for the needy and managing resources because they believed they were called to these works by virtue of their baptism.

However, something happened in the third century to supplant these communities from their egalitarian structures by a select group of leaders who modeled themselves after the Judaic hierarchical patriarchy. This group became known as kleros or clergy; it differentiated itself from the rest of the people who were referred to as the laos or laity. By 1208 the order of the priesthood was fully institutionalized in the Church. Eventually, the sharing of bread and wine became ritualized, Latin became the language of the Mass and the people became further isolated and closed off from vital participation in the priesthood of Jesus, according to Swiss theologian and priest, Hans Küng.

The Vatican II Council (1962-65) reaffirmed Jesus’ call to inclusiveness while the “unleashing” of the Spirit to all people led to a re-discovery of the meaning of the “royal priesthood” into which all Christians are baptized. In calling for reform, the Council also advised a look back to the early Christian communities as a guide.

Still other events occurring during the 1960s would set the stage for the Women’s Eucharist. In 1968 Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, a doctrine that prohibited Catholics from practicing birth control. Its tumultuous effect resulted in many Catholics either leaving the Church or not receiving communion because they believed that practicing birth control had excluded them from the sacraments. Divorce rates among Catholics increased as the stigma of remarriage decreased.

Secular society experienced equally earth-shattering events. The women’s movement sought to equalize the power between men and women. The war in Vietnam stimulated an anti-authority attitude. Civil rights leaders encouraged the populace to take a stand for powerless and oppressed African-Americans. They also taught the other movements how to promote the Scripture-based principles of nonviolence and justice in order to transform a society ruled by white, male privilege.

As a whole, these social, political and religious movements affected Catholics and their relationship with the Church. In the United States, a 1987 poll noted that 66 percent of Catholics believed that they could be good Catholics without obeying the church’s teaching on birth control. In 1993 that number rose to 73 percent. A 1993 poll revealed that 74 percent of Catholics felt they should have a voice in selecting a priest for their parishes, just as the Protestants did. Sixty-two percent believed in the ordination of women.

Feminist theologian Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza of Harvard Divinity School has said that Jesus’ call for inclusion in the Church especially appealed to women because the Scriptures showed that Jesus’ disciples were both men and women sharing fellowship with him.

Father Kenan Osborne, OFM, professor emeritus of systematic theology at Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union GTU), has pointed out that nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus call for an ordained ministry. “In fact, the word, priest, represented the sacrificial priesthood of the temple, not the discipleship of Jesus-infused ministry.”

St. Peter also emphasizes the priesthood as part of the discipleship of Jesus:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (I Peter 2:9)

Many people interpret this passage to mean that ministry, priesthood and discipleship are for everyone, not just an elite corps of priests—who happen to be men.

The Service
Women’s Eucharist uses the bread and wine in a communal ritual in the same tangible way that the Mass uses them, as a sign of Jesus’ presence when “two or three gathered in my name.

“We are excluded, women and men alike, even in the midst of many priests, if the sacraments are played out on the ordained’s terms alone,” says Dierks. “When he sets the stage, chooses the language, selects the prayers and consecrates as if he were alone in the room, then we have been denied the Eucharist in its fullness.”

Those who participate in Women’s Eucharist value the inclusiveness of each other—without regard to race, class, ethnicity, and religion—and especially as a counterweight to the gender inequities of the Church. Consequently, for some WE is a refuge, for others it is a Church substitute, and yet for others it is a religious add-on to their regular Church worship.

Dierks says that WE is a gathering among friends who operate well without a hierarchy or the specialization of roles. In fact, friendship was the most frequent response to Dierks’ survey question about why people joined Women’s Eucharist. Frankly, she points out, friendship is the very model of relationship that Jesus preached to his disciples.

Rosemary Radford Ruether, professor emerita of feminist theology at Pacific School of Religion and GTU, recognizes the implications for friendship motivations in WE by calling it a “reapportioned theology” or a “de-clericalizing” of the Church that

“facilitates the taking back of ministry, word, and sacrament by the people…Eucharist is not an objectified piece of bread or cup of wine that is magically transformed into the body and blood of Christ. Rather, it is the people, the ecclesia, who are being transformed into the body of the new humanity, infused with the blood of new life.”

And that brings up the issue of transubstantiation, the changing of the bread and wine into Jesus’ body and blood. Of course, only an ordained priest can perform transubstantiation during the Mass, however, the WE women are unconcerned about this for their service. First of all, since non-Catholic women attend the service, they would have a difficult time identifying with transubstantiation. Secondly, as Sister Beth says, if transubstantiation really happens in a traditional liturgy, then it must happen in the Women’s Eucharist as well, because “Jesus Christ is so inviting, I couldn’t imagine him being exclusive.” Thirdly, transubstantiation is not the reason the women gather for WE.

As radical as the WE group may seem in the eyes of some practicing Catholics, none of the WE women expresses an interest in breaking off from the Church to form a woman’s church because the group is not interested in institutionalizing itself. The members prefer to keep the group small and home-bound because numbers don’t matter to them. “The Cathedral” WE has anywhere from three to 19 women attend its services and it “holds a space” for those absent.

Women’s Eucharist also defies definition or recognition by the official Church, but that, too, matters little to its participants because they are simply no longer waiting for institutional approval or sanction. They believe that inclusion for all the People of God should be the issue for Church, so they are simply giving up their attempts to work within the structure.

“If they [the Church hierarchy] can’t hear us,” says Sister Beth, “we’ve got to look out for ourselves.”

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Travelogue: Battle Creek Metropolitan Area Mustache Society

The Battle Creek Metropolitan Area Mustache Society (BCMAMS) held its third annual Festivus celebration to raise funds for the city's Leila Arboretum Society. The event included a chili cook-off, ugly sweater contest, and cardboard sledding. Organizer Jeremy Andrews narrates.

This video appeared on Second Wave on February 10, 2011.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book Review: Call of the Land

Let's not confuse “agriculture” with “agrarianism” says Steven McFadden in his new book, The Call of the Land. Then we might think more deeply about our relationship to the earth.

Our industrialized food system with its processed foods; confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs); long-distance distribution networks; chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers; and genetically-engineered seeds (GMOs) is totally dependent on oil and technology. However, it overlooks our relationship with the land.

“As a matter of survival, the land is calling out to us. As a matter of survival, we must listen and respond,” he says. “We have the potential to do this with a wisdom that will reverberate for generations to come.”

McFadden is a journalist and Reiki Master who is also influenced by Native American spirituality. In fact, he produces an e-book, “Native Knowings: Wisdom Keys for 2012 and Beyond.” It taps the wisdom of contemporary Native American spiritual elders regarding the land, which can be especially useful as we transition out of the Oil Age.

Basically, the book is a resource guide describing projects citizens, communities, farmers, churches, and even corporations have pursued as options to our industrialized food system. The book also provides information for readers who want to become part of a network for change.

Although Call of the Land makes for somewhat dry reading, its advocacy for an “agrarian ethos” that seeks an “environmentally sound, economically viable, and socially fair” way of life is inspiring. What this means is that we must be in right relationship with the land and organic farming is key. Its methods, even though they are labor-intensive and time-consuming, will result in wholesale social and economic reform that needs to take place in order to “heal the land.”

People are “healing the land” to make “sustainable oases” in their neighborhoods and communities because they are stepping up to provide their own leadership, gifts and talents rather than rely on government or some outside body to give them answers to our future.

“The best and possibly the only way to ensure a healthy, sustainable future is to create it,” says McFadden.

He also contends that if we choose agrarianism, we can “encircle the Earth with a sustainable culture of integrity, beauty and natural prosperity.”

Lofty words and visions but they could be indeed a means toward a more sustainable future and a closer, more authentic relationship with the land, Nature and each other.