Urban Farming: Creating An All Saints Day Memorial Garden

A pansy and a rock are now part of our garden at Pilgrims.
A pansy and a rock are now part of our garden at Pilgrims.

All Saints Day is the Sunday in the Christian calendar to remember, celebrate, and  honor those saints who have gone before us, who create the great "cloud of witnesses."

Saints are not the model of Christian and human perfection.

Saints are those flawed, broken people (everyone) who God used to do holy things (all the things).

All Saints is the liturgical reminder that nothing, neither life nor death, can separate us from each other and from God.

Church of the Pilgrims has an All Saint's Day service that includes the lighting of candles and sharing the names of those who have died, particularly in the last year.

This year at Pilgrims we set the invitation to invite folks to come forward and light a candle, possibly saying the same and something about the person they are lighting the candle for. This happens in replace of a sermon.

At the end of the service this year, we created a memorial garden in our urban garden. This was inspired by many things, including a ritual that took place outside of worship a few weeks prior for a woman whose lost a baby from a miscarriage. As part of the ritual, we planted an azalea in the garden as an act of remembrance.

Creating this memorial garden was surprising simple. I asked several folks who had experienced loss in the past year to help out----buying pansies (which thrive in the cold), rocks and helping with the liturgy. Andy, our young adult volunteer, prepped the garden by loosening up the soil.

After communion, as we were gathered around the table, these words were spoken:

We have remembered the communion of saints through song and prayer, Word and sacrament. Now we remember by creating beauty in our garden.


 Together, following the sound of Rachel’s drumming, we will gather up these pretty pansies, the rocks, and walk to the garden. There we will create a memorial garden for our cloud of witnesses by planting the flowers and writing on the rocks names of those who have died.


 In the planting and in the writing of names we will create a space where love and relationships and memories are planted. It will be a place where we can visit and remember.


 The plants and rocks won’t last forever. But neither do we. Hopefully those we remember with the rocks and the plants, in this creation of a memorial garden, will feel a bit closer to us.


 As Rachel starts to drum, follow her. Rachel’s drum will sound like heartbeat, reminding us those who have died are still close to us.


For those who need a shorter distance to walk with no steps to climb, follow Andy.

Help take the flowers and rocks and markers out to the garden.


Let us go, plant, and remember.

Then we walked back to the garden with the beat of a drum.

Once we gathered in the garden, these words were spoken:

From ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and soil to soil. As we plant our flowers and write names on the rocks, we honor the lives of the dead. We honor they are now our ancestors, our communion of saints, a community of deep time.


As we plant and name, their spirits become imprinted upon our garden and linked to this land and Church of the Pilgrims.


While the mystery of death remains hidden from us, the living, we can be aware of death in our lives and how death can drive the beauty of this garden. 


We can still be guided and cared for by our invisible community of the dead, made visible in these flowers and rocks.  It is they who can remind us of the sacred responsibility we have as the living to protect and care for all of Creation—the home of the living and the dead. We can remember, as we plant the flowers in the soil and place the rocks, that life doesn’t disappear; it just changes shape and form.


If you don’t have a plant to plant for someone or the name of anyone to write on a rock, help someone else plant their plant. Help them place the rock gently on the soil after they’ve written a name.


 Let us show each other we aren’t alone in our remembering.

Let us plant and name. Let us remember.  

Rocks and Pansies
Rocks and Pansies

And with those words, we planted and wrote names on rocks. It took about 10 minutes. Some were silent. Some talked. Some hugged. Some helped others plant. Some just witnessed.

You don't need an outdoor garden to create a memorial garden. You don't need an architect or a master design plan.

You could plant in pots or various containers. Plants could be for indoor or outdoors. You could just use rocks.

To create a memorial garden you will need: Your body. Your tenderness. Your intentionality. Your body as memory maker. Your love. The living. The dead.

Urban Farming: Garbage, Jesus, and Good Friday.

A Nicaraguan boy carries a large bag of trash for recycling while fighting with flying vultures in the garbage dump La Chureca, Managua, Nicaragua, 10 November 2004. La Chureca is the biggest garbage dump in Central America. Hundreds of trash recollectors search in tons of smouldering garbage mainly metals (copper, aluminium), others concentrate on glass which is cheap, but in bigger amount. The majority of the recyclers are families with children for whom recycling is a regular job. The children very often eat the food they find on the dump, none of them goes to school, they suffer from skin diseases, they have high levels of lead and DDT in blood. Photo by Jan Socher
A Nicaraguan boy carries a large bag of trash for recycling while fighting with flying vultures in the garbage dump La Chureca, Managua, Nicaragua, 10 November 2004. La Chureca is the biggest garbage dump in Central America. Hundreds of trash recollectors search in tons of smouldering garbage mainly metals (copper, aluminium), others concentrate on glass which is cheap, but in bigger amount. The majority of the recyclers are families with children for whom recycling is a regular job. The children very often eat the food they find on the dump, none of them goes to school, they suffer from skin diseases, they have high levels of lead and DDT in blood. Photo by Jan Socher

(This blog post appeared on Good Friday, April 3rd, 2015, as part of a Holy Week series for Presbyterians for Earth Care).

In 2012, the world generated 2.6 trillion pounds of garbage with over half of that amount going into landfills around the planet.

Those landfills are home to 1% of the global population. Children and their families who are the poorest of the poor live on the outskirts of landfills. Many use these landfills as a place of work—trading garbage for cash or consuming salvageable waste in order to survive. What was food for the dogs and flies becomes food for a family.

  • La Chureca is the largest garbage dump in Central America, located on the edge of Managua. One thousand people live and work on the “City of Trash” every day. There is even an elementary school located on the dump with six classrooms.
  • More than 2,000 families live on the Bantar Gebang landfill that lies outside Jakarta, Indonesia.
  • Thousands of families call the Tultitlan garbage dump in Mexico City home while spending 12 hours a day, in scorching hot sun, looking for recyclable materials to sell and make less than a dollar a day.
  • The Veolia landfill 100 miles south of Atlanta, Georgia, known to locals as “Trash Mountain,” received toxic coal ash from a massive spill that occurred in December 2008 at a Kingston, TN power plant. Taylor County, where Veolia landfill is located, is 41% African-American and more than 24% of its residents live in poverty.

In the time of Jesus, Gehenna was the landfill located just south of Jerusalem. This was the city dump of Jesus’ time. When Jesus would speak of hell, it is thought he was speaking of Gehenna which was filled with the household trash, Empire’s leftovers, and bodies of the dead. With no sanitation or plumbing systems in Jerusalem, people would toss their urine and feces into the streets. Imagine this: the streets of Jerusalem steaming with human shit and pee as Jesus was taken to the Imperial cross of execution. The Roman Empire closed in on Jesus and his followers, and Jesus’ final footsteps on the planet were pressing upon the garbage ridden streets of Jerusalem.

As a small child in La Chureca landfill picks through garbage, as birds and dogs and flies hover over the “what is left,” there, too, is Jesus’ body, naked, broken resting upon the planet’s garbage. It is with the poorest of the poor, the poor who make a home and eat dinner in garbage dumps, where Jesus rests his body each and every day, pushing us to see garbage as sacred.

It’s all sacred. All of it. The plastic water bottles. The rotting meat. The Styrofoam. Ripped Clothing. Banana peels. Broken bicycles. Flies. Rats. Dogs. The poop of the rats and dogs. Seagulls. Children of the garbage dumps. Their school. Every bit of the “what’s left” is sacred and holy.

There is no division of the sacred and the profane. In fact there is no profane. On this Good Friday, we sit at the foot of the cross, an Imperial cross that might have been possibly littered with trash and human feces from Gehenna and Jerusalem, a cross soaked with blood and dripping flesh. Without mercy, Jesus was nailed to a cross with those viewed as human garbage hanging next to him. It is in the nailing that Jesus nails us to each other.

From my garbage in Arlington, VA, to the sanitation workers of Arlington County who pick it up, to the garbage ridden waters of the Anacostia River which borders Washington D.C., to the the poor living near the Veolia landfill to the families of Bantar Gebang; to Gehenna and the human waste of Jerusalem, the nails on the cross today pierce together what is seen and treated as the waste of the planet.

Ecofeminism stretches us to embrace it all as sacred, to see how each and every bit of what’s treated as garbage, the human and the material, are nailed together.

On this Good Friday, we sit and wait. Together. Nailed together as the planet continues to be pierced, broken, torn, and rendered. As your hands and arms stretch out today to toss away a piece of garbage, as your hands and arms extend to pick-up garbage, we remember the ones who live, eat, live, learn and are family on a garbage dump. Today we remember Jesus and his outstretched arms, executed in a city that looked and smelled and was a garbage dump.

Prayer: Holy One. Holy One of garbage and landfills. We are nailed together. Garbage and all. May we never, ever forget it.

Urban Farming: I've Got a Garden Coach!

After 5  years of urban farming at Church of the Pilgrims and at my own homestead, I realized I had hit the limits of my knowledge with urban farming, particularly with soil science, companion planting, and pesticides. Most of my knowledge on farming has come from swapping stories with other garden folks and doing some reading. But it's hard for me to retain what I read on farming unless I am putting it into practice right in that very moment.

During the summer, my Facebook newsfeed led me to this organization: Love and Carrots.

Love and Carrots was started by Meredith Shepherd and believes this:

We at Love & Carrots believe the local food movement is a critical catalyst in environmental activism. In the United States the potential for impact by way of everyday choices is immense, yet after decades of consumerism-as-champion, our culture does not easily lend itself widespread change through daily choices. We believe food is a good start. Choosing what to eat is one of the easiest ways to be a proactive environmental steward, and eating locally is the simplest solution with the most impact so far. Urban Agriculture is the local food movement at its best and tackles a multifaceted problem. It is food production right at the site of high level consumption, it is greening spaces, it is education, its zero food miles, and its the healthy alternative.

Love and Carrots offers a coaching program---a Love and Carrots farmer comes out twice a month to your garden for garden maintenance + educate you on life in the garden.


Emailed. Met. Set-up a schedule.

Morgan, on the right, and Emily, our intern, in Pilgrims Sacred Greens garden.
Morgan, on the right, and Emily, our intern, in Pilgrims Sacred Greens garden.

I now have a garden coach---Morgan.

Twice a month, Morgan comes to Pilgrims  and we farm together. Plus I get to ask Morgan a bazillion questions about soil, pesticides, harvesting....whatever.....

Pilgrims garden was ready to be taken to the next level---not as in put in 5 more raised beds---but just in the intricacies of farming with what, when, and how to plant. There is so much to farming that my mind had been swirling with information, not sure how to get organized with a plan on such amazing details like what to do with tomato blight, what veggies can be planted next to each other, and what the hell to do with the stupid insects that come and terrorize the plants?

Morgan has taught me (plus Emily, Pilgrims intern) to mix-up what's planted in one raised bed. For example: planting bok choy, mustard greens, and spinach together. These veggies are from the same family and the variety of plants in the bed confuses bugs that can annihilate the greens. This type of growing is practical and creative---I have to think through the strategy of how to create growth. It also creates beauty with the various textures and colors of the veggie leaves.  Mono-planting just isn't effective. Diversity in planting increases potential for robust growth and beauty.  Having Morgan as a coach has pushed me to get out of my already-within-5-years systems of farming. Morgan has pushed open my ways and patterns to create a more beautiful Eden.

Pilgrims garden ready for the next level, and so I am with urban farming.

I love the feeling of hitting my threshold of knowledge and experience, pulling in whatever resources needed to take me to the next level. A garden is an ever expanding, dynamic, life-giving place. I love watching lettuce grow and be shared with hungry people. I also love that the energy of the garden works within my own interior self---that I, too, need to go to the next level in order to work with the natural processes of life that are there for the taking.

Urban Farming: EPA Testimony on Carbon Regulations

This past week the EPA held public hearings in Pittsburgh, Denver, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. on the proposed regulations to reduce carbon pollution by 30% from new and existing power plants by 2030.

You can read about the EPA's proposed regulations here.

In D.C., religious leaders were organized to testify at the hearings by Sojourners, Creation Justice Ministries, and Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light. 

These hearings are an impressive process. A name is called, each person has 5 minutes as 3 EPA staffers listen intently and take notes. You are timed with a cute little green/yellow/red timer. The hearings last all....day....long.  I can't imagine being an EPA staffer and listening all day long. Hopefully they take yoga breaks.

When I think about what's going on in Gaza and the Ukraine, this is an incredibly well-organized, non-violent democratic process to garner feedback from the public.

I was asked by Joelle Novey of GWIPL to give a testimony. I had the 10:20 slot on July 30th.

Giving EPA testimony. Picture by Joelle Novey.
Giving EPA testimony. Picture by Joelle Novey.

Here is my testimony, lengthened by 2 minutes from a testimony I gave earlier this year when the EPA was gathering initial feedback prior to the now proposed regulations.

Environmental Protection Agency

Testimony July 30th, 2014

My name is Ashley Goff and I’m a pastor at Church of the Pilgrims, a congregation in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A in Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.

60,000 honeybees call the backyard of Church of the Pilgrims home. Four honeybee hives are part of our urban garden called Sacred Greens. Our honeybees pollinate the vegetables and fruits of our garden, the forest oasis right next to us, Rock Creek Park, and the flowers, fruits and trees of our Dupont neighbors.

If you are within 3 miles of Church of the Pilgrims, there is a good chance our honeybees have transformed the flowers of your tomato plants to a tomato fruit.

The eggplants, green peppers, basil, beans, butternut squash, and carrots we grow for Sacred Greens, our urban garden, goes to create meals for Open Table, our lunch every Sunday afternoon for 30 or so hungry neighbors.

Our newly planted apple and pear trees, and fruit bushes, or permaculture, will soon offer a free healthy snack for anyone walking past our garden.

On Sundays our garden is poignantly alive—honeybees buzzing around seeking pollen and nectar and hungry neighbors sharing in casseroles of fresh eggplant, tomato sauce, and basil. In that moment, our backyard is host and home to living beings our society thinks are disposable: honeybees and hungry, homeless folks.

Honeybees are the most vulnerable of insects threatened by colony collapse disorder—an ecological crisis created by human agency with pesticides and climate change. Hungry people are the most socially vulnerable of humanity, starving off the lack of access to affordable and healthy food.

Since 2006, commercial beekeepers have lost 30% of their hives each year. According to your friends over at the USDA, about one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination.

According to DC Hunger Solutions, in 2008-2012, 30.5 percent of households with children in the District of Columbia said they were unable to afford enough food. This is the second worst rate in the nation, exceeded only by Mississippi.

Climate change suffocates God’s planetary design.

We designed our backyard because of our trust in the Holy one and in a Christian Ethic with a moral vision: our garden symbolizes how we are to live as people of God’s Way and shows our intention for living. Psalm 104 states we are to renew the face of the planet.

And right now the planet is poor from climate pollution impacting humans and an insect like the honeybee.

Oikos is the Greek work for house or household. Oikos is also root for the words ecology and economics. For Christians of the ancient Church, Oikos was not limited to the private home but was referring to the planet itself as the World House, God’s home.

 Oikos sets Church of the Pilgirms intention in how to be a sacred neighbor; that we are a shared household where all who are born belong and all who live co-habitat; where humans and all of life live into each other’s life and die into each other’s death in a complex pattern of relationships that can nourish, or destroy, creatures like honeybees and vulnerable humans.

There is no way around our inter-connnectedness. We are of one household and tethered across inhabited landscapes. It’s the Way of God and Life.

Oikos, the household, also assumes limits. The well-being of the planet doesn’t come from a short-term vision of life with a never-ending inhaling of goods, services, and energy. Oikos demands limits on how we as humans live on the planet.

Oikos demands a long-term vision that incorporates what we can imagine to be of future generations, particularly the future generations of honeybees and folks who are starving. A long term vision of life calls for us to live as part of the web of life: prophetically reduce carbon production that exacerbates climate disruption that impacts the life of insects, food production, health, and the sheer beauty of nature.

The role of the EPA is to regulate the commons. At Church of the Pilgrims, we are doing just that—tending to our eco-location with intentionality to reflect our place in society and God’s home.  Church of the Pilgrims charges the EPA to care for the household, the World House, by requiring a 30% reduction in carbon pollution from power plants by 2030.

Urban Farming: Beekeeping Can Be Friggin' Annoying

Church of the Pilgrims started its apiary, or honeybee yard, about four years ago. We have a beekeeper, Jeff Miller, who started DC Honeybees, who helps keep our hives healthy and alive. I fell in love with the bees, beekeeping, the role they play in our ecosystem, and their liturgical symbolism in congregational life. I've written several articles about honeybees at Pilgrims: here, here and here. When we moved into a new house two years ago, I decided to get my own hive for our backyard. Goal: have Jeff as the beekeeper for my home hive and build the best backyard honeybee hive ever! Image: I'll have honey flowing all over the place and create Etsy like mason jars with cute "Nelson Street Garden and Apiary" labels. Piece of cake!

Except that beekeeping can be friggin' annoying. I can write all I want about the sacred symbolism of honeybees and their vulnerability from human created colony collapse disorder. And, at many times, I can get downright greedy for honey.

The first year my queen flew the coop after a spring time swarm and that messed up the production of the hive.

This year my bees made it through the horrendous winter with the help of a couple of 1975 sleeping blankets my kids lovingly placed over the hive for warmth.

In March, I was convinced my hive was the last one standing on the East Coast. THIS WILL BE THE YEAR OF HONEY! My bees NAILED IT! Take THAT Colony Collapse Disorder!

I put two honey supers on top of the two big boxes so my backyard could turn into a river of honey. I keep clover growing in our backyard, I planted borage and the cover crop, buckwheat. All are loved by bees.

In this area, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, honey flow is in June and then again in September. So, a few weeks ago I check my hive and no honey in the supers.


I had a swarm in May. Did the queen again fly the coop? Did the queen die? A queen is essential for the health and growth of the hive.


I called Jeff, my beek, who is now Interim Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development for  D.C. (I like my beekeeper to roll in high places) and he came out this  morning to check. Still no honey.  I see the empty supers and want to process with Jeff---"But why? Why no honey? What happened to the queen? Why is my hive lame? Should I have checked the hive more? Given them more attention?"

I want answers.

Jeff hits the limit of knowledge with me and comes back with, "Not sure. I'll get you a new queen" as he gathers up his equipment. He knows the hive has a life of its own, humans can only do so much, and you just forge ahead.

Beekeeping can be friggin' annoying because I'm not in complete control of my hive. Romanticizing bees and a honey flow doesn't help either. I can be attentive to the hive, do the checks, put out water for them, and feed them sugar water in the early spring season for food. Ultimately I have to wait on the bees to do their work, and the waiting sucks.  I can feel unbeatable but, well, the hive isn't about me. The bees are in charge. I hit a setback and go forward. Humility arises in this sacred endeavor of beekeeping.

Urban Farming: Testimony at the EPA

A few months ago, I was asked by Marco Grimaldo, President of the Virginia Interfaith Center, to testify at the EPA during their public hearings to reduce carbon emissions in power plants. I had less than 3 minutes and the EPA would be hearing testimony by hundreds of folks, including clergy, throughout the day in order to craft initial legislation to regulate carbon emissions. It was a great exercise in crafting a story (I was told, "tell a story!" by those who had done this before) and I bought a clergy collar just for the moment. Focus of the story: the 60,000 honeybees that call Church of the Pilgrims home and are part of Sacred Greens, our urban garden, where we grow food to supplement meals for Open Table, our lunch for hungry neighbors each Sunday.

Best part of the experience: sitting down at the two-person desk, looking-up, and seeing a high school friend, Julia Miller, sitting at the table across from me as one of the EPA staffers hearing the day long testimonies. Julia is on the far left at the EPA table.

Urban Farming: Plants are Political

How gorgeous is this? Native plants creating texture, color, light, and shadows.
How gorgeous is this? Native plants creating texture, color, light, and shadows.

The day of the native ornamental is drawing near.  ---Douglas Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home

Historically, gardens were intentional, artificial, human creations loaded with exotic plants. Exotic introductions were (and still are) plants that are brought from outside the local landscape and imposed on the natural landscape.  The exotic species of plants had the aggressive ability to colonize, displace, and disrupt the original community of plants.

Meaning, the outsider/exotic plants would be plants then take over the original, native plants and disrupt the natural ecosystem of the land that the native plants were creating and sustaining.

Image: White Europeans coming to North America and dumping their exotics into Native American land and trashing their crop landscape with foreign plants. Native plants were seen, or constructed, as unwanted plants.

Colonization of land.

What's an exotic plant? A plant that did not occur naturally in that particular area (example: Chesapeake Bay Watershed) and was brought to and planted into the ground by human agency.

A native plant is defined by Douglas Tallamy, who wrote Bringing Nature Home, in this way:  "a plant can only function as a true native while it is interacting with the community that historically helped shape it."

Butterfly weed plant: Monarch can eat nectar, lay eggs. Life cycle on one plant.
Butterfly weed plant: Monarch can eat nectar, lay eggs. Life cycle on one plant.

For example, many garden plants are nectar supplies for bees and butterflies, few are able to be a breeding host ground for native insects, or beneficials. A butterfly weed is an example of a plant where the monarch butterfly can get food and lay eggs--using this plant as host for its complete life cycle.

A native plant is essential to a garden's eco-system, and it can be of great value when the plant has a connection with the geographical area where it was planted. Biodiversity depends on native plants for food, shelter and living space for birds, insects and animals, All depend on indigenous plants.

In my garden at home and at Church of the Pilgrims, native plants dominate the landscape.  Native plants have gone into the ground as food for our honeybees.  Native plants invite the beneficial insects that chomp away on the insects that can create chaos in the garden.

Garden can look like, and be, individual endeavors. I have my garden in my house. Pilgrims has its garden on its land. My favorite farm, Red Wiggler Farm, uses native plants as part of its organic agricultural ways. On the surface they appear as separate from each other.

But our gardens and farms are connected and political in nature---building a community of healthy bugs in the soil, creating homes for insects and animal life, retaining water through bioretention or controlling natural water run off through plantings.

Mexican Feather Grass--one of my favorite native plants.
Mexican Feather Grass--one of my favorite native plants.

Plants are political. Gardens are a communal endeavor, even if separated by neighborhood and a river. Gardens are more than creating a Martha Stewart, well manicured beauty-for-the-eye only experience. Plants are part of our ecosystem and, like humans, can disrupt, destroy, and dominate an already existing cycle of life.

Native plants extend the story of creation---they are an invitation to see the web of political life, the human and the non-human. And create beauty that persists.

Urban Farming: Bokashi Fermenting System

The Interconnected Way of Life in the Soil.
The Interconnected Way of Life in the Soil.

I learned of the Bokashi fermenting system last year on sabbatical while visiting the Edible Churchyard at Union Seminary (where all wonderful and dysfunctional things happen). Bokashi is a practice developed centuries ago by Japanese farmers. The farmers would cover food with nutrient rich, local soil full of microorganisms that would ferment the food waste. Bokashi is a ramped-up, high-speed composting type method. What's the difference between this and regular composting?  Think of the difference between wine and grape juice, and you've got it.

What does Bokashi create?


Mircoorganisms are vital for healthy soil. Healthy soil is vital for growing yummy veggies and beautiful plants. It's also crucial for the well-being of the planet. TRUTH.  These sometimes visible, sometimes microscopic organisms are part of the soil food web underneath our feet. These critters are needed to create soil structure, fertility, and eat the bad stuff that comes along.

With a diversity of organisms in the soil, there is a reduction in soil erosion, water runoff, sedimentation, soil compaction ( a condition that creates conditions for weeds), weed growth, and a rise in water quality, organic matter, carbon sequestration (capturing carbon from the air), and plant fertility.

Bokashi puts these microorganisms into your soil to do all the wonderful things above.

How does it work?

Typical composting needs oxygen as part of the process of breaking down veggies and brown stuff to create soil. Bokashi uses microbes that come to live without oxygen (anaerobic). This is the basic type of process that gives us pickles, wine, and kimchi.

Pink Peeps in Bokashi bucket.
Pink Peeps in Bokashi bucket.

Bokashi works really quickly--weeks instead of months (or a year, ahem) like compost. Bokashi is great for urban areas since you just need a bucket that's kept indoors rather than a compost bin that needs to be outside.

With Bokashi, ALL food waste goes into the bucket. With compost, I only put in veggies, fruits, tea bags, coffee grounds, etc. No meat, dairy, cooked food, etc.  By all food waste I mean everything, including pink Peeps leftover from Easter.

How to create Bokashi:

I bought a Bokashi "kit" online. It comes with a the Bokashi bucket and the Bokashi mix. The mix contains wheat bran, molasses, and EM1, the efficient organisms that drive the fermentation process.

Dump leftover food in the bucket--cereal with milk, meat, bread, scrambled eggs, peeps, veggies....you name it. After 1-2 inches of food in the bucket, sprinkle with the mix. Have another meal, take leftovers, dump in bucket, and add mix. Rinse. Repeat.

When the bucket is full, you close up the air-tight lid and let it sit for two weeks.

As the food wastes ferment, the microbes create a diverse array of beneficial substances: enzymes, vitamins, amino acids, trace minerals, and organic acids. The fermenting process controls pathogens and damages seeds (no more volunteer plants!)  in the container.

After two weeks, you dump the bucket of pickled food into a 1 foot deep trench in your garden or area with crap-ass soil. Dump food, cover with soil. Wait two weeks before planting. Worms, insects, and other beneficial microbes finish the process of digestion by gobbling up the pickled food waste in the soil.  The result---over a couple of weeks is increased microbe populations and bio-available nutrients supplied to the soil and plants.

From soil we have come, to soil we shall return says the Book of Genesis or New Beginnings. Bokashi is one way of tending to the soil in my eco-location.

Blessing of the Plants in Worship

plant communion
plant communion

Four years ago, Church of the Pilgrims started an urban garden with one raised bed. Now we have four raised beds, a root veggie garden, herb garden, large perennial bed, four beehives, and several composts. The produce grown from the garden goes to creating meals for Open Table, our Sunday lunch for hungry neighbors.

We've done a lot of work in these past four years in incorporating the garden into life at Pilgrims, particularly our liturgical life.

Several weeks ago, we had our spring planting day after worship. Before we plunked everything into the soil, we blessed and honored the plants in worship. How to bless the plants came out of a brainstorming session with Jess Fisher and Dana Olson, our two interns.

I preached on the Emmaus Road, focusing on "recognition" and how breaking of bread (the non-human) and community (human) push us to recognize the Holy One. I'd give this sermon a B, mostly because I was focused on communion that followed.

As part of the invitation to the table, I had people share their hopes and dreams for what they want to recognize in this Eastertide season. I stood next to the font which was in front of our table---everything surrounded by the plants we would soon plant.

Plants growing out of font and table.
Plants growing out of font and table.

We had a lime tree, olive tree, creeping thyme, tomatoes, eggplants, sunflowers, basil, cabbage, peppers, and native plants. These plants were grown by non-Monsanto seeds by Pilgrims or purchased at a farmers market from a local farm.

During Pilgrims baptismal liturgy, we share hopes and dreams for the person being baptized. Someone shares a hope and dream, then they take the pitcher and pour water into the font.

We did something similar with our "recognitions."

I had planned to have people call out what they hope to recognize/pay attention to within themselves, Pilgrims and the planet in their pews with me pouring into the font.  Jeanne Mayer, a long time member at Pilgrims, was the first one to share. She came up, grabbed the pitcher out of my hand, shared in front of  everyone. This is the pattern in our baptism. Not sure what I was thinking...me holding the pitcher for everyone. Thankfully Jeanne pushed me out of the way.

Our intern, Jess Fisher, arranges the scene.
Our intern, Jess Fisher, arranges the scene.

One-by-one 10+ people shared. The recognitions focused on growth, perspective, expansiveness, and community.

People were then invited to come forward to our open table, singing "Come to the table of Grace", and take a little communion cup, dip it into the font with the water full of hopes, and water the plants.

As we gathered around the table, we prayed, shared our hopes and dreams for the plants, and continued with an improv Prayer of Great Thanksgiving.

After worship, 15 of us went to our garden and planted our hopes and dreams.

Farming: Tending to the Roots

Shooting Star Flower
Shooting Star Flower

Life is slowly starting to lift itself out of the soil of my home garden, reaching itself above the threshold of a cold-ass winter. Every morning I go out to my garden and check on the progress of growth. How many more leaves came up over night on my coneflowers? How expansive has my oregano become? What has broken through the soil that I had forgotten about over the long winter?

I've been paying particular attention to one of my Shooting Star plants.

One of mine looks great and is on the verge of blooming. The second one is tiny, too tiny. I took a closer look the other day and noticed its roots are exposed, resting on top of the soil. Garden 101: roots need to be BELOW the soil.

I've gone back to this Shooting Star each day since, looking at the exposed roots, picturing the hard winter snow, wind, and cold slowing moving the soil off this plant, leaving it vulnerable to the chilly spring and die with roots exposed.

Exposed roots of my Shooting Star
Exposed roots of my Shooting Star

Then I caught myself this morning: Why do I just keep looking at this plant? Why don't I dig it up, transplant it and give it a chance at growth? Why am I just sitting here staring at it? Why am I acting all powerless with this plant?

I dug up the plant, created a hole in the soil, placed it down, covered the roots with soil, and watered.

Agency. Power.

Exposed roots leave plants vulnerable. Too vulnerable. The same with me.

Being a pastor is a public act. I work in community. Every Sunday I get up in front of 80 people and share interpretations of life and Biblical stories. I share parts of me, take risks in sharing parts of me in order to feel connected to the liturgical space and people of Pilgrims, and to also give others permission for others to express their own vulnerability.

Shooting Star with roots underneath the soil.
Shooting Star with roots underneath the soil.

There is a dance with sharing. If I share "this" will I be over-exposed? Will I share too much of my roots? What happens if I release too much of my essence? Can I get that back?

Soil contains plants. It covers up the roots in order for a plant to grow, flourish, give back to the planet, and release its beauty. The roots need to be covered up. If exposed I can be that plants agent, act on its behalf, and cover it up.

There is always a risk in transplanting. But there is a bigger risk in doing nothing at all.

My morning ritual is this: I get up, do legs up the wall for 5 minutes and count my inhales and exhales. I picture honeybees flowing gently in and out of my hive. I drink a homemade tea of lemon, honey, and raw apple cider vinegar.

This is my soil. This is what contains me each day. This ritual takes my roots and grounds them within me. I feel held. Contained. When I skip this ritual, especially several days in a row, I feel all ziggy-zaggy. As if my roots are exposed like the Shooting Star. Soil is a boundary against the elements. My morning ritual creates boundaries and builds boundary awareness--knowing when my roots are over exposed, when they are grounded within, and that each day I have the power to know the difference.

Powerful People: Bethel Lee and Yoga Chapel

Bethel Lee
Bethel Lee

This is an occasional column on powerful people doing powerful things. The Church of the 1950′s is done and dead. People talk about how the Church needs to change. This column highlights people living that change now through creative thoughts, methods, and endeavors. In sharing stories of power people,  I hope that radical change and the dismantling of domination is seen as having unlimited possibilities.

Bethel Lee is chaplain to Yoga Chapel, a ministry that weaves together the art of Christian reflection with the wisdom of the physical yoga practice, and ordained into the United Church of Canada. I've said this before---Bethel creating a yoga chapel pretty much makes her the most interesting person in the world to me.

Below is a reflection Bethel wrote for Yoga Chapel and the yoga practice she's offering during Lent that focuses on the garden. It's so beautiful. Bethel created a yoga practice that is woven into this reflection, in between the opening and closing meditations. This Maundy Thursday, our plan at Pilgrims is to end our service in our own garden, using some of Bethel's words.

Opening Meditation: Genesis 2:4-9

The author of Genesis describes the beginning of Creation in this way: God waters the face of the earth, just as we might water a bed of flowers. And then, with this now fertile ground, God plants a garden in this new world. And this garden is where humanity begins.

It would’ve been quite a different story if the author had placed our origins say in the desert, or a valley, or a swamp. But sometimes this is how we perceive ourselves. When we’re not doing so well or when we’re really struggling with something, it can be tempting to believe that the place we come from, that the stuff we’re made of is no good. Swampy. Bleak. Brittle.

Lent is traditionally a solemn time, a difficult time. And during Lent we are called to remember that “from dust we came and to dust we shall return.” In the season of Lent we are called to remember how fragile life is, how fragile we are – our bodies, our thoughts and all our big plans– we are humbled that in the large scheme of things, they are but dust.

But as the writer of Genesis insists, this dust that we come from and this dust to which we return isn’t passive or meaningless – indeed it is rich and fertile, and when watered by God it always bears the capacity to give birth to new life. No matter what might fall apart in your life – whatever may be going on in your body, your thoughts or plans, the message is that there is always hope.

If you were to hold the same view of Creation as the writer of Genesis does, how might that change how you see yourself? How might you understand and treat yourself? How might you understand and treat others, if you too carried the vision that the source of your being, the place from which you come, is a garden – a place flourishing with energy, a place where things grow with wild abandon, a place of beauty and a place of new life.

Closing Meditation: Mark 14:32-36

Toward the end of his ministry, toward the end of his life, we find Jesus in a garden. In a garden called Gethsemane, he pours his heart out to God as he battles unbearable grief. This garden scene seems worlds away from that idyllic garden in Genesis – that hopeful beginning, that place of bubbling life. This garden, at night, where Jesus has thrown himself onto the ground seems like such a dark and desperate place.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder if in Jesus’ darkest hour, it was this sanctuary of a garden – surrounded by this green growth and organic beauty that he could see and touch and smell… I wonder if it was this garden that reminded him of who he is and what he’s made of. As Jesus waters the garden with his sweat and his tears, I wonder if he remembered in this moment that there is always hope for new life when God is the Gardener.

In the words of May Sarton, may God, “Help us to be ever faithful gardeners of the spirit, who know that without darkness nothing comes to birth, and without light nothing flowers.”

Urban Farming: On the Threshold....

winter garden

This one of my favorite quotes about a garden:

A garden in the winter, especially in places like D.C. where it snows, is quiet. It's gentle. It looks like it's at rest, as if nothing is happening.

But the roots are down there. Life underneath the soil is down there. The worms, centipedes and mico-life are hard at work keeping our soil alive and ready for the next planting. The winter makes me appreciate the subtleties of the garden.

I appreciate:

  • Watching a lone bird eat from one of our feeders.
  • Seeing ice on our little ceramic bowl that's out as a water source for birds and bees in the summer.
  • Dead lettuce still in the soil. The leaves may be dead but the roots underneath the soil are still providing structure--letting air and microbes find space to move and do their work.
  • How the light of winter creates shadows with the architecture of anything, but especially the trees.
  • Our fig trees covered with a blanket and wrapped tight to keep it from freezing. One of our members did this--took the time to wrap a tree to keep it alive.

A garden in the winter is a tender place with a neutral color palate that makes you want to keep on walking by, maybe claim "that looks kind of boring."

In some ways, a winter garden is kind of boring. It isn't a place of over-stimulation like a summer garden literally buzzing with life above the soil. In the summer the beauty is more apparent---lush greens, red tomatoes, and beautiful native plants fill the garden with color.

In the winter, a garden is a place you wait, your quiet, and your trusting that the soil is doing the work that needs to be done for what is to come next. It's a place where I can be bored and still and slow it way down.


Second hoop bed with mizuna and kale. Front bed with radishes and garlic.
Second hoop bed with mizuna and kale. Front bed with radishes and garlic.

We are on the threshold of spring and Pilgrims garden is covered with snow after our 5 inches on Monday. Sunday after church 5-6 Pilgrims (two of those being new-to-us folks! Woot!) planted seeds for a spring harvest: spinach, kale, arugula, and radish.

We planted garlic in November and it's still at work underneath the soil to be ready in July for a harvest. Folks were turning our winter soil. Dropping down seeds while calling out one of my favorite comments, "I don't really know what I'm doing and I'm doing it anyway!" I checked on the bees--all three hives are dead. Crap. That sucks.

Front bed with spinach, first hoop bed with arugula.
Front bed with spinach, first hoop bed with arugula.

By the end of the farming time, this is what folks had created:

We created community--humans, soil, wood, seeds, and bugs.

Powerful People: Abby Mohaupt

This is an occasional column on powerful people doing powerful things. The Church of the 1950's is done and dead. People talk about how the Church needs to change. This column highlights people living that change now through creative thoughts, methods, and endeavors.   First up is Abby Mohaupt. Abby is an artist and Pastoral Resident at First Presbyterian Church, Palo Alto. I met Abby through Sara Miles who thought we would like each other. And we do! Abby Here Abby write about compost and yoga--two of her loves.

Every Sunday, two to four Tupperware containers appear (like magic) under my desk in my office. These containers are filled with rinds and coffee grounds and banana peels and apple cores.

Two members of my congregation used to sheepishly try to sneak this garbage into my office in paper bags and leftover lettuce bags, until I presented them with their very own reusable containers, and said for the millionth time that compost is wonderful.

I take these containers home to my compost pile, letting their contents join the weeds and worms, stems and stalks, pits and peels from meals ago.

This is real resurrection.

Turning the new earth and the earth-to-be—mixing past and present and future—soil invades my fingers nails.

The scent of earth fills my nostrils.

The heat of decomposition warms my skin.

O God, this earth is so good.

I could eat it.

These peels and rinds and pits—they are reminders of death and what has been.

They transform in the ground, resurrecting into dark earth—full of new life to give to the meal that has not yet been planted.


Every Monday, I rise before the sun and walk a block to the yoga studio to breathe deeply and let my body transform into new shapes.

Joining my class, we sit on our mats and set intentions for our practice. I always try to focus on how strong and wonderful this body of mine is.

Breathing in, I remember the breath of God.

Breathing out, I give thanks for the Spirit.

My fingers—still muddied from that new earth—spread across the mat and I push my hips up and back, my toes curling under. I give thanks for these muscles and this skin, stretching and moving.

And rising into mountain pose, I give thanks for the ground beneath me. That beautiful, eatable ground.

These are moments of God—of grace—incarnate.

I didn’t believe my body could be transformed into crow or warrior or eagle.


Home again.

I wrap my hands around my mug filled with coffee. My mug from one of my budding composters.

Not grounds.

Not compost.

Just coffee.

Breathing in, I can smell the delicious earth.