What an amazing Heirloom Wheat Weekend! It was such a blessing to host the Rev. Elizabeth DeRuff and Vincent Felice from Honoré Farm and Mill, to welcome people to the farm to plant heirloom wheat, to see my church and farm ministry cross-pollinate, and to co-host the Farm to Altar Table workshop with longstanding partners Access of West Michigan and Dominican Center at Marywood.
I know there are people who wanted to be there and couldn’t attend – for you, and for posterity, here’s a quick recap.
The weekend really began when Vincent and Elizabeth arrived in Grand Rapids. On Friday, Vincent went to the farm to meet Michael and Bethany, see the site, and make final plans for wheat planting.
While they worked at the farm, Elizabeth and I went to pick up the wheat.
Through the grant received from the Episcopal Church’s Advisory Council for the Stewardship of Creation, Vincent and Elizabeth were committed to provide heirloom wheat to their second planting site. (Disclosure: I am a member of this body, but did not know our farm would be that second site when we approved the grant.)
Apparently heirloom wheat is hard to find in Michigan! After many calls they located Grand Traverse Culinary Oils/Grand Traverse Pasta Co. who had Turkey Red wheat they could provide us. We met to pick it up on the Friday before the planting. That’s when we learned that Bill Koucky, the owner, had received it directly from Frank Carollo, the managing partner of Zingerman’s Bakehouse. Grand Traverse Culinary Oils/Pasta Co. provides flour for Zingerman’s. Zingerman’s reputation for quality is unmatched. To receive wheat they had sourced was a distinct honor.
Once we had our wheat in hand, we stamped the bags that volunteers would use to hold the wheat as they put it in the ground.
As we gathered on Saturday morning, everyone was welcomed to the farm thanks to wonderful volunteers from Holy Spirit Episcopal Church who handled check-in! It was incredibly hot – far hotter than is usual in west Michigan at this time of year. The highlighted area on the graph below includes much of the time we were outdoors.
We gathered in the shade to hear an explanation of the wheat and our planting project, then headed out to the field.
Elizabeth shared with us that the roots of heirloom wheat go further down into the soil, literally taking carbon out of the atmosphere and returning it to the soil. With help from Honoré we will be monitoring carbon sequestration in our wheat field. One small 1/4 acre may not seem to make much difference, but as a demonstration plot of the kingdom of God, showing that people of faith care for Creation and value the facts that science offers, we hope to shine a light in the darkness.
At the field, we knelt to pray and asked a blessing for the soil.
O Creator God, Maker of all that is,
we praise you for this marvellous and intricate creation.
Help us to reverence and respect the humble soil
as your chosen means of feeding and providing for us.
Bless this soil and all the soil around us,
the soil in our fields and gardens,
the soil on the hills and in the woodlands,
so that the whole earth gives glory to you,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
(adapted from Seasonal Worship from the Countryside, SPCK 2003)
We prayed over our seeds too:
They have a past. They are the fruit of the past. They have a present. They are to be planted into your soil. They have a future. They are to bear fruit for the harvest. May the miracle of life within these seeds burst forth yielding a bountiful harvest. Bless these seeds and those who plant them.
Creating God, you have given seed for the sower and bread to the people. Nourish, protect, and bless the seeds which your people have sown in hope. By your loving and bountiful giving, may they bring forth their fruit in due season, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(adapted from Ruth and Dick Schaefer, Farm Advocacy Resource Ministries, Northeast Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)
Then we headed out to plant.
Some people raked the field smooth, some marked furrows, some planted in furrows as they were marked. Vincent ran around – yes, ran! in 90 degree heat – to make sure everything went smoothly.
While we planted we were serenaded by a quartet of fabulous folk musicians. Given that it was a hot day and hard work, their ministry was truly a blessing. They kept us going!
Once the planting was done we assembled for a group photo. Apologies to the people who had to leave early and weren’t included… your work will still bear fruit!
Our planting group included members from at least seven different churches of at least three different denominations: Episcopal, Lutheran, and United Methodist. (Those are the ones I know about – please let me know if I missed you.)
Right after this picture we broke bread together – literally. Elizabeth had brought some delicious sourdough. Each person shared what they were grateful for from the morning and we also enjoyed a feast that included food from the farm, prepared by The Smoking Pit catering company of Belmont.
The next morning Holy Spirit Episcopal Church (the church I serve) was honored to host Elizabeth to preach. She was kind enough to also provide our communion bread, made from Honoré wheat.
After a great meal at church and a short rest, we headed to the Dominican Center at Marywood for a Farm to Altar Table workshop. This experience really brought the whole weekend together as Elizabeth reflected on the place of wheat in Holy Scripture and the changes brought to wheat by modern agriculture. We got to thresh and winnow wheat (albeit on a small scale at our places) also.
Workshop attendees came from as close as Calvin College (three miles away) and as far as Flint (one hundred and ten miles away!). We were inspired, educated and encouraged.
And now… please pray for rain! We are irrigating the wheat but it needs to germinate and grow. Hard red winter wheat is meant to root well before snow comes, lie dormant during the winter, then spring up in the spring. (Get it? Spring up!)
We are so grateful to have been able to partner with Honoré Farm and Mill to begin the Growers Guild. It was an extraordinary weekend that enabled many people and congregations to be more rooted in this land and community. Seeds were planted both literally and metaphorically. May there be a fruitful harvest.
We are still working on our prices and programs related to the availability of wheat for communion bread. The wheat harvest will take place in June or July 2018. We will definitely share information here between now and then!