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 CNS Story:

EARTHWORKS Jun-2-2009 (500 words) xxxn

Urban farm produces food but also lessons on Franciscan traditions

By Carmen Blanco
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Earthworks Urban Farm in Detroit, recently named one of the top 10 urban farms in the U.S. by Natural Home magazine, uses its organic garden to spread lessons on the Franciscan tradition of feeding and nourishing the body, soul and spirit.

Natural Home magazine regarded community service as its primary criteria in ranking the farms.

"These places provide public access to their crops and many afford invaluable services to low-income families and the homeless through various programs," Letitia Star, writer for Natural Home magazine, told Catholic News Service.

Established in 1997 by Rick Samyn, then a Capuchin Franciscan brother, Earthworks is more than just a community garden. It provides volunteers with a way to reconnect with nature on a more visceral level.

Samyn said he saw the disconnect between individuals, their neighbors and their community and used this as his catalyst to begin the garden on a small plot of land behind the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. "The world is mutually beneficial, not Darwinian," Samyn said in a telephone interview with CNS. "The idea of gardening from a Franciscan perspective is about relationships and love."

Apart from focusing on gardening fundamentals, Earthworks helps educate about food justice issues and how to use patience and love to convey a message.

Questioning the origin of food can lead to discussion of larger globalization issues such as migrant worker conditions and poverty, but Samyn cautioned, "As we pursue issues of justice and movements to heal, we have to do it with love. Temper justice with love."

Lisa Richter, outreach coordinator of Earthworks, helps bring about spiritual reflection within the gardens and believes that a community's interaction with nature allows for a better connection with spirituality and also acts as "a place to put one's own beliefs into action." This conveys the Franciscan vision of a brotherhood and sisterhood united with all of creation in an effort to reconnect with the natural world, she said.

"The garden is a more effective place for inspiring communities," Richter told CNS. "The garden seems like a place to bring ideas together. We can all relate to food."

Last year, the garden produced more than 6,000 pounds of produce which was used to feed the hungry by way of the soup kitchen and Women, Infants and Children, a federal grant program.

Earthworks, whose current manager is Patrick Couch, also hosts two weekly youth programs, Growing Healthy Kids and Youth Farm Stand, which educate children about the basics of gardening, nutrition and cultural awareness.

"I wanted the children to become more empowered about what they eat. They're not junk, so they shouldn't eat junk," said Samyn, who today is in pastoral ministry at St. Leo Parish in Tacoma, Wash.

"Interestingly, as we talked to them about cooking and farming, the children became more respectful not just in the garden but in general. They began to value themselves and other living things," he said.

END


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