For the second CRAFT United Piedmont tour of the 2014 season, 13 folks braved thunderstorms and rain showers to meet at Anathoth Community Garden & Farm in Cedar Grove. There we all explored a progressive pathway of connection between sustainable market farming and equitable food access. The two do not often go hand in hand, but at Anathoth, community leaders are trying to disrupt this pattern—to cultivate peace as well as great produce. After a tragic murder just down the road from the garden in 2005, two community members envisioned the healing potential of growing food sustainably on this site. Director Chas Edens calls this a “hopeful act,” and highlights the potential for people of the church to practice and enact their faith more deeply through growing food for their neighbors.
The leaders of Anathoth bring together theological practice, sustainable farming techniques, and education to create a place of growth—in the broadest sense of the word. Interns come from Duke Divinity School, local high schools, and universities across the country to learn how to stitch together successful farming with equitable access and community healing. Internships at Anathoth include farm work in the mornings, study time in the afternoons (spanning theology and agriculture), and lots of time for relationship building through community events and shared housing, as well as a monthly stipend.
The quality of food production at Anathoth does not fall secondary to the intellectual and spiritual goals of the space--increasing food access is primary focus. Food production at Anathoth is led by Chas, a knowledgeable and capable grower, as well as experienced, young farmer Julia Sendor who manages the farm and CSA program. The two work alongside interns and community volunteers to manage the garden and farm sites, as well as distribute a CSA to over 80 families weekly. The CSA can be purchased in half or full shares, and participants and non-participants alike are encouraged to buy a share on behalf of a family in need. An incredible variety of produce goes into the weekly boxes that are delivered to various pickup sites and, when necessary, delivered right to people’s doorsteps. Surplus produce is utilized for things like community pickling parties and spontaneous gifts of fresh blueberries.
The farmers at Anathoth practice careful crop rotation and take an attentive approach to soil care, with the belief that working for the wholeness of the soil is a parallel pursuit to working for the wholeness of self and community. Beyond annual crop production, they also have a perennial food forest and native garden with swales carefully built by youth volunteers—this piece of the farm will be expanded upon over the years, as the canopy grows and understory and forest floor crops can be cultivated underneath. The farm’s location in Cedar Grove means Chas and Julia have an abundance of local organic farmers to consult with, borrow tools from, and build community alongside, which makes Anathoth’s work simpler and less isolated.
Anathoth’s work is deeply agricultural, but transcends the work of many farms. From baking bread in an outdoor brick oven built by a friend, farmer and mason and including it in their CSA’s, to empowering youth to step up and lead other volunteers, to creating new pathways to provide sustainably-grown food to their neighbors who can’t access it otherwise, Anathoth is a place of progressive vision. Their dedication to the bigger picture of food and community, notably, would not be possible without the support of the broader community. The collaboration and service we observed at Anathoth on last Sunday’s tour highlights an important truth of our food system—that food can be a vehicle for the reconciliation of our differences if we work together to make sure it is available to all.
By Hannah Ross, IFFS Regional Farmer Training Programs Coordinator. Contact: Hannah@FoodShuttle.org