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Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Rinsema-Sybenga’

“Grand Rapids doesn’t have anything like this; Holland doesn’t have anything like this, so for little old Muskegon to pop up and kinda be the pioneers in a way is kind of a cool thing.”

I traipse across the Urban Ag site, as the smart people are calling it these days, to where Terry waits for me with soil-black hands.  “This is going to be a working interview.”  I kneel down and help mound dirt around some new transplants.  This is going to be a cool interview.

Like everyone involved in this project, she gets excited as she talks.

Teri and her daughter Aurora

Teri and her daughter Aurora

Teri grew up in Muskegon and lived in the area ever since.  She went to Michigan State in 2007 to learn how to do this.  It was the very first year of the program; only eleven people participated.  She tells me she likes to work outdoors, likes physical labor.  This job combines all the things she loves.

“I get paid to play in the dirt all day.”

The farm is located behind Goodwill, who generously allows the farm to use their land and water.  It employs a handful of high school-aged workers – Teri’s crew – for the summer, and I want to come back and meet them.  Planting began on June 8th.

“My crew was saying, ‘Can you believe that a few weeks ago, this was just a field?’ It recreates that relationship with ‘where does our food come from?’  Well, I know my farmer; I know who grew it.  It’s a different way of doing food,” Teri says.

Plant

We’re interrupted by a neighbor inquiring about tomatoes.  The relationship with the community goes back before this site was ever around.  It’s been a tradition since the community gardens were planted around the neighborhood, from which this micro enterprise was born.  “It started out with me and Mike Jackson,” Sarah Rinsema-Sybenga once told me, “on the lot which is right across from Bethany, which is now the Gentle Garden, with a rototiller, one day, tears streaming down my face, cause I’m like, ‘Where are the neighbors?  This is not how it’s supposed to be.’  And Mike getting behind this beast of a rototiller and tilling up the soil.  Neighbors eventually got onboard with the vision, too.  So it moved from one community garden to six or seven community gardens or pocket parks.”

Terry picks a handful of basil for me to take home, and tells me a recipe to use it in, which I immediately forget, having worked third shift the night before.  That’s why I have the digital recorder.

Then I pop by the Community EnCompass offices to get a little more background information from Carlos.  Sarah pops her head out of her office.  “Is that basil I smell?  You know what you should do with it?”  She gives another recipe which dissolves in the water of my sleep-deprived mind.

A local healthy good advocate named Chris Bedford came to Community EnCompass and gave them the idea of expanding the community gardening program into a micro enterprise, in part to serve as an economic engine in the neighborhood.  An entrepreneur with the Community Foundation liked the idea and provided funds for the next two and a half years, to get it off the ground.

G & L has already bought all the tomatoes the farm can grow this year, and talks are underway with Mia & Grace and the Baker Culinary Arts Institute.

I make it home to my apartment, handful of basil held before me, amputated bits of plants sticking through my fingers.  Shadow* gasps in horror and faints at the sight.

McLaughlin Urban Ag Logo

*Shadow is the name of a plant, and is my memorial to my residents who have died.  Also, to finish the basil story, I eventually put it with some ground turkey, onion, olive oil, rice, and then ate it.

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Micah Rinsema sits under the dining room table, an infant in a diaper, spinning an empty beer bottle.  I venture under and ask him how long he’s been there.

“Under the table?” he asks.

“In this house, how about.”

“I’ve been here seven months now.  Just had my baptism.  You should have been there; there were a diverse bunch of people there – just all over the place.  That’s life

 in this town.”

He keeps fidgeting with the beer bottle, straight-faced and sober, with that unflinching stare that infants have yet to surrender to the world.

“What is it like here?” I ask.

“Under the table?” he asks.

“In this house, how about.”

Dan and Sarah

“Well, day to day it’s a house.  We do the normal stuff.  But the current that flows through here…  It’s like this – My parents spent four years in Japan teaching English before they came to Muskegon.  That shaped how they saw the world, and how they wanted to live in it.  You realize you matter this much.”  He indicates his full height.  “Which, in their case, is a metaphor.”

“Tell me about them,” I say.

“He’s Canadian; she’s from New York or Iowa or something.  They met in college.”  He states these facts and dismisses them with his hand.  “They’re on these different, parallel paths.  Paths to make things better.  He works with one group of people through Muskegon Area First, and she works with Community EnCompass.  I mean, the paths aren’t always smooth.  Sometimes their work is at odds.  But ultimately, they want the same things.”

“And what about your path?  What do you think your chances are?” I asked.

“How do you mean?”

“Because you’re black.  Because your parents are white.  And the world is persistently hard on those who don’t run away.”

“I’m the beginning of a journey, if you’ll give me a moment’s license to be poetic.  I’ll have to go places light and dark; there are no illusions about that.  I hope that I will have many fathers and many mothers, because I am many things.”

“Tell me of hope.”

Home“Hope is the great human choice.  We control so little; we’re born not knowing who we are.  We’re searching for love, holding desperately to life.  There’s nothing we have that can’t be taken from us.  But there’s always hope.”

“Where is this hope? I want to see it.”

“It’s here in this neighborhood.  It’s too easy to see the cracks in the sidewalk, the bullet hole in the window, the porches that are ready to fall down, but if you look inside the people who live here, there are these beautiful hopes and dreams.  There’s a vision for this place – that God’s finger will touch the earth here, and it will be a preview of heaven.  And it’s already begun.  Step out and look around.”

“From under the table?” I ask.

“From this house.”

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            I was sitting on top of a sand dune in an oversized sweatshirt I’d woven from the fabric of my soul.  My friend Lori looked out on the morning mists obscuring the edge of the water.  “It’s like an abyss,” she said.  Then she turned to me asked, “Would you go?”

            I don’t even hesitate.  I’m always one for hypothetical adventure.  But that’s not the truth of my life.  The truth is that I’d live at the edge of the abyss and spend all my time thinking about it.

            Surrounding that morning’s walk with Lori was a slow process of securing an apartment in Muskegon, playing phone tag with Jesse at Bethany Housing Services, sometimes from two states away.Pile

            My involvement in the McLaughlin neighborhood isn’t easy to figure; I like hiking, backpacking, and I’m terrified of groups of people.  And it started long before I moved into this apartment just outside the neighborhood.

            It started late on Thursday nights, talking with Corey LeCureux over a bottle of Winking Owl.  When I dropped out of college and my life sort of fell apart, my friendship with Corey was the first piece that was rebuilt.  Those late night talks started me dreaming about something called the Kingdom of God and gave me a reason to live – to search for that mythical place where everything was different.BB

            I thought back to those nights as I was looking around the apartment.  I looked at the hole in my window where someone had taken a potshot with a BB gun.  “I’m getting closer.”

            It was Jerry DePoy Jr. who suggested I talk with Sarah Rinsema-Sybenga at Sacred Suds.  I ended up teaching a computer class for a while, which also isn’t easy to figure, since I’ve never been able to explain things in a straight line.

            My father helped me move my stuff in on Wednesday.  We struggled up the stairs with the massive orange sofa, and everything I do is to make him proud of me.  With all the furniture in, it looked so empty, and I thought how much the city was shrinking for me.

            When I was teaching the computer class at Sacred, I was working under Carlos Avrard.  That’s how I got involved with Mosaic Way, a missional community in McLaughlin.  That was over a year ago.  It was because of Mosaic Way I first started thinking about moving to McLaughlin.

            I wanted to get all my stuff settled before the weekend because I had to work.  Friday, as I was bringing in the last of my things, there was a stranger working on my door.  “We’re changing all the locks,” he told me as I handed him my old keys.  When I had all my stuff arranged, I looked around in amazement at my apartment.  “I can’t believe this is mine.  I’m the richest man in the world.”

            If my friendship with Corey gave me my soul back, then my job at the North Ottawa Care Center returned my heart.  I know what my purpose in life is.  I can’t describe to you the pain of being so close to death, but it you buy me a drink I’ll try.

            Saturday morning, after work, I stumbled home in my scrubs, ready to crash in my new place.  My key hit the front lock with a thud and would go no further.  And that’s the story of how I almost got an apartment in McLaughlin…

SM Split View

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