Koinonia Farm Part 1 (as written on October 5, 2008)

My Experience at Koinonia Farm
Volume 1
By Dan Truesdale
September 11 – October 5, 2008

I left my parent’s house on Thursday, September 11, 2008 at 10:00 am.  My red Ford Focus hatchback was loaded with my clothes, shoes, boots, books, backpacks, towels, toiletries, laptop, my Mom, my Mom’s small suitcase and my bike, and I still had room enough to see out my rearview mirror (good job, Ford, its all about the hatchback).  The first leg of my journey took me to my State Farm Insurance agent’s office to pick up a free road atlas so that we could plan our route the old fashioned way (take that, mapquest).  The plan, if it really could be called a plan, was drive to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and spend the night there so that we could see some of the beauty of nature the next day and continue the drive to Atlanta to stay at Jordan’s parent’s house (Jordan is one of my really good friends from back in Wheaton and her gracious parents live near Atlanta).  We busted out the road atlas and were on our way.

According to the map, it was only a couple of inches to Kentucky, but it took a lot longer than that to get there.  My Mom and I enjoyed good conversation about a lot of things, most of which I don’t remember at this point, but if you know me well at all that won’t come as a surprise, I’m pretty forgetful.  As we started getting close to Mammoth Cave, we stopped at a rest area to see if the cave area was open at night because at some point during our drive I remembered that we had to make it to Jordan’s parent’s house by 4:30 p.m. on Friday if we wanted to stay there because her brother, Mason, was the only one there and for some reason they didn’t feel like having two people arrive at the house with nobody home.  I would have been perfectly fine with that, but thats just me.  It was another coupe of inches to Georgia at this point, so we figured for the sake of time that we would drive to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and stay the night there, do some hiking in the morning, then set out for Atlanta to drive the last inch or so to be able to make it there by 4:30.  We arrived in Clinton, Tennessee, just outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park sometime around 11:00 p.m. I’ll let you do the math, but we had been driving for a long time and were pretty tired.  My little red Ford Focus was also a bit thirsty for some gas too, so we stopped at a gas station and found out from the gas station chick that a couple of other stations in the area had gas prices at up around $5 a gallon.  Apparently we picked the right station, because it was only $3.85 a gallon.  I’m not quite sure what the deal was because I don’t read the news or watch TV or listen to the radio much, but there was some sort of gas shortage in the area that was increasing gas prices.  In an effort to use less gas and to pollute our precious air less, I drove 55 mph when the speed limit was 55, and I drove 60 mph when the speed limit was any higher than that.  A couple people honked at me when the speed limit was 70, so I smiled and waved back.  They were probably angry that I was going “too slow” even though I was going above the posted minimum speed.  If they only knew that driving 75 verses 55 uses roughly 50% more gas, they might reconsider their decision to speed.  Saving money and saving the earth might be enough to motivate people to drive slower, because apparently the fact that it is illegal isn’t enough.  However, that’s another topic that I’ll leave to you to look into or discuss with others if you feel so inclined.

We woke up after a good nights sleep at the Hampton Inn and walked downstairs to partake of the ever so popular continental breakfast.  All they had was styrofoam plates/bowls and plastic ware, so I just made a waffle and ate it by hand and grabbed an apple for the road so that I wouldn’t have to throw anything away.  I got a couple of weird looks from other people that were also eating breakfast because I wasn’t using any of the disposable utensils that they were, but oh well, the landfill will be a plate and a plastic fork less full because of it.

After the excellent breakfast, we set out for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  We stopped in the park and decided to go hiking for a while.  We talked to a guy that worked in the park (he was really funny and very informative) and he recommended a trail that took us to a beautiful waterfall.  We hiked for a couple of hours and enjoyed the sound of the wind and birds in the trees and the incredible smell of the fresh mountain air.  I always feel a little closer to home when I am in nature.  On the way back from the waterfall, we stopped for a second to look around and realized that we were in a place that was completely silent except for the wind in the trees.  Its really too bad that we have to go so far these days to get to a place where no sound from cars or trucks or air conditioners can be heard.  It is in the silence and beauty of nature that I am most able to experience God.  That silence was the disturbed after a couple of seconds by a copperhead snake that slithered across the trail not 10 feet behind us.  If we hadn’t stopped to enjoy the moment, we wouldn’t have had the pleasure of seeing one of the more poisonous snakes of the area.  We paid extra attention to where we were stepping the rest of the way down the trail.  After the hike and time that I was able to experience God, I felt refreshed, at peace, and reenergized after having spent so much time driving.

Now that we were refreshed and reenergized, my mom and I got back in the car to continue the next leg of the journey to Atlanta.  When we got back in the car, we realized that we had spent more time hiking than we had expected and wouldn’t be able to make it to Jordan’s parent’s house by 4:30 so I called her brother, Mason, or tried to call him because it was difficult to find cell phone service in the middle of the park.  I eventually got ahold of him and we were able to work it out so that we could get to Atlanta at around 11 p.m. and stay because Mason only had to work for about an hour that night.  We arrived at our generous host’s house and Mason made us some pasta, we talked for a while and then went to sleep.  Of course, we didn’t get too far into conversation before My mom and I started making polite suggestions of ways that Mason and his family could use less energy in their house.  We suggested that he turn off the lights in rooms when he wasn’t in them or didn’t need them, turn the air conditioning up a couple of degrees, turn off his computer when he wasn’t using it, use less water when washing dishes by turning it off between things that he was washing instead of leaving it on the whole time, etc.  We also thought about mentioning that a lot of energy could have been saved if they didn’t live in such a huge house, but I figured we had captured that in my comments like “wow, this house is ridiculously huge.”  Anyway, Mason was a pleasure to talk to and my Mom and I greatly appreciated the hospitality.  It really is true about southern hospitality being so good.

Another inch or so later and we arrived at our destination:  Koinonia Farm.  Woooooo, Yaaaay!!!  We walked into the welcome center at about 3 in the afternoon and immediately were being introduced to lots of people.  We got our welcome packets and were shown to where we would be staying.  Right off the bat, it was clear that there is something different about this place.  There is a peace, a joy, a sense of belonging, and a love here that I have not experienced anywhere else.

Koinonia has been an experiment ever since its beginning in 1942 and continues to be to this day.  It was founded by a man named Clarence Jordan, and after hearing and reading about the history of Koinonia and its influence on so many people’s lives and on the deeply rooted racism of the south, I don’t yet fully understand why this man and this place is not more prominent in history.  Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois in the 1980’s and 90’s, I was mostly unaware of the horrible history of racism in the United States.  I learned a little bit about it in school, saw movies about it, and talked about it with people, but being in a place that was in the thick of it leading up to, during and after the civil rights movement has really rocked my world.  As a part of the internship here at the farm, I have had the opportunity so far to watch several documentaries, read and see some of the history in the Koinonia museum, read the first several chapters of The Cotton Patch Evidence: The Story of Clarence Jordan and the Koinonia Farm Experiment (1942-1970), and talk with some people that have been a part of the history of this place and this community.  I didn’t expect to be so effected by the history of this place, but I have welcomed every bit of history that I can take in, because it is so rich in evidence of the power of God and grace and mercy of Jesus the Christ.

“The word koinonia was used repeatedly in Greek New Testament manuscripts and depending on the context, was translated “communion” or “collection” or “fellowship”.  The word was used in the Book of Acts, for example, to describe the fellowship that developed among the early Christian followers when they pooled their possessions, shared their lives, and distributed their common resources to each as he had need.  It was a word meant to communicate the fellowship of those who continued to participate in the life of Christ by seeking to carry on his ministry of reconciliation.”   – Dallas Lee, The Cotton Patch Evidence

Koinonia Farm was founded as an intentional Christian community and as an experiment in living out the calling of the Christian life as highlighted in the New Testament and in particular the book of Acts.  Living according to the teachings of Jesus and his disciples was not easy and was definitely not safe for the early founders of Koinonia especially in the days of the Ku Klux Klan and the violent racism of the deep south during that time, but I have no doubt that it was satisfying and rewarding.  I have greatly enjoyed my first two weeks here and have learned so much and expect to continue to learn even more through my internship experience.

Week 1:

The first week was an action packed, informational, challenging, and rewarding introduction to Koinonia Farm.  Every weekday begins with morning meditation and prayer and is followed by morning chapel, where someone shares a lesson from the Bible, a personal story, a challenging excerpt from a book, or something else to help prepare the community for a day of prayer, work, study, service and fellowship.  Then its off to work until lunch, with a short break at around 10:30 for reflection/prayer/fellowship.  Lunch during the week is eaten in community.  The meals are prepared either buy our cooks or by someone else that volunteers when the cooks aren’t around.  Lunch is an hour long and includes 15 to 30 minutes of another thing to think about or focus on about God, work, service, community or something energizing similar to the morning chapel gathering.  After lunch, its back to work until 5:00 with another short break like in the morning.  Shortly after 5, the community gathers in the chapel for a time of prayer and a time of worship through singing songs to God.  At night, people do whatever it is they choose to do: work with others in the community to help repair things, hang around and talk to people, study the Bible, continue working, watch TV, have bon-fires, read, sleep, etc.  Thus is the usual routine of the simple life at Koinonia Farm.

Monday consisted on a tour of Koinonia, an explanation of the nuts and bolts details of logistics and information about living at Koinonia as an intern and an introduction to some of the service and outreach ministries of Koinonia.  Some of the service and outreach ministries are the Heat to Heart home repair ministry and the Circle of Friends ministry for older folk.

Tuesday morning consisted on an introduction to community maintenance and some good work on converting an old shed into a greenhouse.  Tuesday afternoon was an introduction and explanation of community life and hospitality and housekeeping.

Wednesday was an introduction to the garden and the farm.  The garden is organic and is currently a fenced in area about 100 feet by 40 feet, a fruit tree orchard of about the same size, two greenhouses, and an acre or so of row cropped okra, veggies and greens.  The farm is about 150 acres of conventionally farmed pecan orchards and about 5 acres of organic grapes and blueberries.  The farm also has about 10 goats, 20 geese, 4 ducks, 40 chickens, two pigs, 5 cats, a young bull, and a cow is on the way soon.  The garden is expanding in an effort to provide all of the food for the community, and Koinonia is moving toward a sustainable future through applying the concepts of permaculture.

Thursday was an introduction to the administrative side of the farm.  The administration includes the store where bakery and other products are sold, accounting, marketing, and lots of other things.

Friday was an introduction to Koinonia’s products and shipping and the bakery.  The morning was spent helping to prepare the product preparation and shipping areas for the product season.  Products are sold all year long, but the majority are harvested, processed and shipped in October, November, and much of December.  The pecan orchards are harvested in October and are then processed quickly so that customers get the freshest, best tasting pecans and other products.  The pecans that are not shipped during product season are stored for use later in the year in a refrigerated storage area.  Friday afternoon, we were in the bakery.  It smelled sooooooooooooooooo gooooooooooood in the bakery.  Chocolate, nuts, date bread, oh wow, so good.  I think it might have been a big problem if I decided to work in the bakery for my internship, because I probably would have tried to eat everything that I made.

Weekends are generally not part of the work week, but during product season, half days are worked in order to help spread out the work so that Monday thru Friday isn’t so busy.  This leaves free time to do whatever people want to do.  Generally people relax, do laundry, clean house a bit, help neighbors fix things, hang out, have bon-fires at night, read, go to church in town, plan for the next week, and lots of other good stuff.  Every sunday, there’s a potluck dinner in the dining hall, where people that live in the community, friends, visitors, and neighbors get together for dinner and to spend time together.

Week 2:

The second week was my first week in my work assignment.  Interns get to request where they would like to work during their internship and generally, their requests are granted, unless there is a big need in another area and then compromises are worked out.  I get to work in the garden, and I’m really excited to learn more about the lost art of growing your own food.

On Monday, I got to do a little bit of almost everything.  I did some hoeing to prepare some raised beds for planting new stuff, planted some stuff, harvested okra, pulled up weeds, fed the pigs, chickens, geese, and ducks, played with the goats a little bit and watched my work coordinator, Brendan, take care of the bull.

On Tuesday, I got to use my engineering and machining experience to help manufacture a pig tractor.  A pig tractor is basically a moveable pen with pigs in it.  Pigs need food and they like grass and other plants, and there are areas where we want to get rid of the grass and other plants in order to plant things that we want, so its a great trade.  We move the pigs around in the pig tractor, they eat and till up the stuff we don’t want, and they fertilize the soil with manure.  The pigs do the same thing a tractor would do, but they don’t require diesel fuel, they don’t pollute, they make good friends for a while, and we get to eat them eventually.  How awesome is that?  We made the pig tractor out of steel fence material and fabricated a system so that we can manually raise and lower the wheels, put the pigs in there, and now we have happy pigs, yay.

On Wednesday, I did some more work in the garden hoeing, planting, and weeding, then helped cut down some trees to use for fence posts.

Thursday, the interns spent the day helping to get a mass mailing ready to send out.  Koinonia is going through a fund raising campaign so that a new environmentally friendly building can be built, repairs can be made to some existing buildings, some of the local service ministries can be funded, and more modifications can be made to the farm to be more sustainable.

Friday, I worked on modifying the lawn mower so that grass clippings can be collected for use as mulch and compost for the garden.  After work on Friday, I went to the Taste of Sumter County in downtown Americus to help set up and work Koinonia’s table.  We were selling some of our pecan, chocolate, and peanut products and we also handed out a lot of newsletters and other information to people that came to the Taste of Sumter.  A picture of Koinonia’s table was on the front page of the Sumter County newspaper the next day, and there I was after two weeks of being at Koinonia on the front page of the newspaper.

Saturday, I slept in and had a day of rest to recover from the hard week of work and then went to Plains, Georgia for the Peanut Festival, an annual event where people from all over come for the peanuts and a parade and other fun stuff.  One of the other interns, Jan, wanted to see someone go in one of the rides.  It was the one where you get strapped into the seat and you are inside 3 concentric rings and they spin you around really fast.  She asked me if I would go on the ride, and I said, “if you pay, sure, I’ll try it.”  I’ll try almost anything at least once.  That was the once for that thing.  I was in it for 30 seconds and the guy spinning me told me he was gonna give me “no mercy” and he definitely didn’t.  Pretty much all the blood in my body rushed to my head and when I stepped off the ride, I was a little off balance, and my vision was really blurry.  It took about 5 minutes to get back to mostly normal, and I didn’t feel fully normal until I got something to eat later.  I spent most of the rest of the day reading and reflecting on life and my time here so far.  I went to bed early, because I was waking up early on Sunday morning for a fun and lucrative adventure.

I woke up at 5:45 a.m. on Sunday morning, got dressed and went down to the kitchen to meet 3 other people and we got into one of the trucks and drove into town to Winn Dixie, a grocery store in downtown Americus, to go dumpster diving.  I know this sounds a little gross and maybe a little wrong to some people, but for some of us, it sounds even more disgusting and wrong to throw away food that is still good when there are thousands of people dying every day all over the world because they don’t have enough to eat.  Anyway, we spent about 30 minutes digging through the dumpsters and pretty well filled up the back of the Ford Ranger pick-up truck with some great food that was only a couple of days past the expiration date.  We even found some organic mushrooms.  Later that day, we got together and made an excellent fruit salad and a really good soup out of the plunders from the dumpster and some veggies and spices from the garden to share at the potluck dinner.

Week 3:

This week was full of more work in and around the garden.  I did weeding, hoeing, harvesting, mulching, planting, made fence posts from trees from the forest, trained the bull a little bit, fixed the fence on one of the chicken paddocks.  Some other work that I did was moving some furniture around at one of the houses just off campus and I started putting in a new basketball hoop on campus.

Some of the kids in the home school program are entering a lego robot competition and they asked me if I would be willing to help them out, and I told them that I would definitely be interested.  How could I say no, kids asking for help with learning about cool stuff, and I get to work with legos?  I’m in.  I helped them out for a couple of hours after work on Friday.  We had a good time, and they learned a couple of things to.

A group of people from Koinonia’s sister community, Jubilee Partners, came to visit us this weekend and I spent a lot of time hanging out with them and showing them around.  They also brought a bunch of food with them and cooked some really good meals that were really good.

Saturday, I went to a sustainable meat production workshop in Bluffton, GA, which is about an hour and a half south west of Americus.  The workshop was at White Oak Pastures, a certified organic, grass fed beef producer.  The operation was by no means sustainable, but it is definitely a whole lot better than conventional beef operations.  They had about 600 head of cattle that are raised completely on grass and hay (which is dried grass for those of you who didn’t know).  They also had a meat processing plant that is certified humane.  It was a very interesting workshop and it was great to learn about this farm’s journey from using chemical fertilizers, growth hormones, antibiotics, inhumane treatment of animals and all of the other horrible things that are used to grow most of the beef that Americans and a lot of other countries eat.  Of course, grass fed, organic beef is more expensive than the standard stuff you find in grocery stores, but it is a lot more healthy, and a lot better for the environment.

I chose not to go to a church in town this morning, so I spent a couple of hours praying, reading the bible and journaling today and I thought I’d share a little bit of what I learned.  A verse that struck me was Matthew 5:48, which says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Jesus was speaking to his disciples when he said this and I am trying to live according to the teachings of Jesus, so I am also a disciple of Jesus so he was also speaking to me.  I don’t think that Jesus would tell anyone to do something if it were impossible, so it must be possible to be perfect.  I know that I can’t be perfect on my own as I have tried and tried for so long to do the right thing, but I always come up short.  Only by the power of the Holy Spirit can I be perfect.  It won’t be me that is doing the work of becoming perfect, it will be God, so if I fail along the way, I know that it is me who is failing because I’m trying to do the work.  If I let God do his work through me, then there can be no failure because God is good and perfect.  God can and will make me perfect if I let him.  As I imagine what this might mean for my life and for the lives of others, I’m filled with hope, because if people would rely on God to do what only he can do, this world could become a completely different place.

Well, that brings us pretty much up to date with my experience at Koinonia Farm so far.  This has been a very challenging, rewarding and fun three weeks and I expect nothing less out of the next three months.  I have had a lot of time to commune with God, have met a lot of nice people, have gotten to know a couple of those people pretty well, have had a good amount of deep philosophical conversations, have learned much and have enjoyed experiencing a simpler life in a community fueled by the Holy Spirit.  I don’t know what God has in store for me in the future, but I’m open to wherever he wants to take me and to whatever he wants me to do.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing it.  Thank you for being a part of me processing my experiences here and thank you for encouraging me to keep all of you up to date on this adventure.

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