Transitioning from a busy summer to new winter projects

Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma

The world is changing all the time, but we all felt that change acutely this year, from the national political stage to a simple trip to the grocery store. As we near the end of 2020, much remains uncertain. But like a stray wildflower working its way toward the light and producing seed amid the concrete detritus of our human notion of civilization, life goes on and our work continues. We’re searching out what we need to keep growing.

Like many organizations this past spring, we scrambled to adapt our daily practices and seasonal priorities, feeling like we were driving at night with sunglasses on. With the support of our donors and market customers, COVID-related grants and loans, and a community of wisdom and discernment, our typically busy season was a success, even though it looked very different as we pivoted away from community gatherings and toward more food production. Here’s an overview of our warm-weather accomplishments:

  • Safe transitions with community members: In the midst of spring’s worst weeks for the pandemic, we said goodbye to two of our community members (Ale and Annelie), and welcomed two on-site caretakers (Dan and Margaret), three AmeriCorps VISTAs (Brad, Melody, and Shaina), and three AmeriCorps Summer Associates (Jaz, Tiffany, and Nikki). With limitations on social gatherings, the adapted rhythms of *cino community anchored us in human connection, mutual support, and accountability.
  • Huss Project Farm: Farm work proved to be a safe and rewarding way to work together this summer. We grew over 7,000 pounds of fresh vegetables that we were able to sell, distribute through agency partners, and give away to neighbors. Stepping back from events this summer meant we had the capacity to take on farm infrastructure projects such as upgrading our irrigation system, building soil through increased composting and mulching, putting up a greenhouse, and working on a better weed management system. We also added 24 laying hens to our farm team this summer, several of whom just started laying eggs!
  • Farmers market: Starting a farmers market at Huss was a pre-COVID plan that became both more complicated and more needed as we came into this growing season. We made a lot of COVID adjustments to keep customers and staff safe, which included building a weekly online store so that customers could pre-order items for curbside pickup and adapting in-person shopping to minimize unnecessary contact. We sold food from nine different local vendors—including our own farm—and had a very successful season of sales and building community around fresh food.
  • Summer lunches: This year, we again partnered with the Three Rivers Community Schools as a distribution site for their free summer lunch program. Typically, students stay on site to eat their lunch, but due to pandemic precautions, lunches and breakfasts were distributed in a drive-by fashion. We were sad to not have more time to connect with the students this year, but we still enjoyed the small bits of connection we were able to make through car doors and windows. Over the ten weeks of the program, we distributed over 5,700 meals to children in the community.
  • Fresh food distribution: Due to necessary COVID changes with some of the agencies where we typically distribute produce, we began distributing produce during the summer lunch program at Huss. Families would pick up lunches and also choose fresh vegetables from our outdoor distribution tables. We distributed 4,500 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to our neighbors this way and were delighted to connect with folks over a shared appreciation for the delights of fresh, seasonal food. We also adapted our distribution system with United Community Assistance Program, offering free Fresh Food Cards that their clients could use to shop at our weekly farmers market.
  • Infrastructure: This summer, we spent significant time on infrastructure projects at the Huss Project. We poured a concrete floor under the new Front Porch Pavilion and added ramps to the two entry doors on the north end of the building, making the entire area fully accessible. We added an additional concrete patio behind the Imaginarium and a walkway to the back doors where the new farm headquarters will soon be located, providing easy access for farmers market produce and supplies. Since taking on stewardship of the Caretaker House property and additional lot south of the Huss property, we have been taking time to observe the land and pay attention to life patterns that exist there in order to make decisions about creating connections between the properties. We cleared up the tree line along the fence between properties, opened up a few access points in the fence and put in a driveway connecting the farm to the new greenhouse. We also created a perimeter trail through the woods in the back half of the properties.  Work is also being done at the Community House at 208 N. Main St. to fix up some issues with windows and siding to prepare for repainting the house in the spring.
  • Weekly Witness for Peace: In a time of both anxiety and isolation, this five-week series featuring a half hour of silence on the Huss Project property was an experiment in bringing our community together for healing and learning around peacemaking and justice. It was grounding to be together on the land, and we look forward to seeing if any seeds planted during this time will germinate in our community.

As we put the farm to bed for the year, the focus for our full-time folks is transitioning to winter projects. We’re adapting not only to seasonal changes this year, but to ongoing considerations around safety and community needs as the pandemic continues to sweep through our neighborhoods and our nation.

  • Food access partnership: For some time, the need to diversify access points for affordable, healthy food in our community has been clear. This winter brings the opportunity to partner with World Fare in downtown Three Rivers to help expand the store’s fair trade and earth-friendly offerings into an array of grocery items, with an emphasis on local, organic, and bulk options.
  • Anti-racism and food justice training: Our full community will participate in two trainings in December, continuing to build the knowledge and skill we need to be a more equitable, just organization not just in theory, but in practice, which requires lifelong individual and collective commitment.
  • Community structure: Our fall community retreat focused on the relationship between the organizational work of the Huss Project and the *cino intentional community, which is comprised of multiple households with many variations. We’ll continue conversations into the winter as we discern the way forward.
  • Imaginarium finishing touches: After putting the Imaginarium finishing touches on hold this spring to focus on COVID responses, we’re finally completing the last details of our new gathering space. We do so in the hope that we’ll be able to use it for its intended purpose as soon as it is safe and responsible to do so.
  • Research: We’re also hoping to use these slower winter months to do some research on farming practices, history projects, building techniques, and more that we often don’t have time to get to during the growing season.

Thank you all, again, for your ongoing support of our work this year. This has been a difficult year for many, many of our neighbors and we’ll only be able to make it through if we support one another along the way. Our sincere hope is that we can find ways to contribute to the flourishing of all in our community through radical rootedness and boundless imagination.

Author:
Kirstin is a member of the *culture is not optional core community and is the Head Caretaker at GilChrist Retreat Center.