Bogert Fund Application and Report

1) Dear Bogert Fund Secretaries and Distribution Committee,

I am applying for a grant of $1,000 to study the relationship between permaculture and Christian mysticism. Permaculture is a system of ecological agriculture, founded on ethical principles, that aims to sustainably balance human communities within nature. I would utilize the grant to acquire hands-on training through an intensive Permaculture Design Course, and then develop my personal permaculture skills in service to a community and its landbase. Although numerous permaculture courses are presented each year in virtually all bioregions of the United States, few of them emphasize permaculture as a spiritual practice. One that does integrate spirituality is the "Earth Activist Training" taught by Starhawk and Erik Ohlsen. They describe this 80-hour, two-week-long residential training as "a healthy, rigorous mix of classroom theory, hands-on practice, personal growth, community creation, and spiritual connection" which stresses "inclusive and non-dogmatic…nature-based spirituality that connects heart and soul to one's work." This training, next offered this August in Missouri, is one that I feel would be especially beneficial to me, in part because I am acquainted with Starhawk through past spiritually-rooted peace events and a "non-violence training" that she led and I participated in. The cost of it, on a sliding scale, is $1100 to $1600. Upon completion, participants receive their "Permaculture Design Certificate," which is the official "license" that one needs to publicly practice and further teach permaculture.

I am drawn to permaculture because I envision it as a primary way to "rewild" ( i.e. to replenish wild ecosystems) the earth, heal the alienation of human culture from natural life, and restore our original and sacred, God-given inhabitation of the "Garden of Eden." In the biblical creation story of Genesis, God punishes the first humans by expelling them from their Garden paradise of natural abundance and compelling them to adopt arduous, labor-intensive forms of agriculture. Gradually during the millennia since that early mythologized shift of human existence from hunting and gathering to domestication of plants and animals, our agriculture has become increasingly unsustainable, disconnected from natural rhythms, and devoid of spiritual care. Today, scientists can literally "play God" by using biotechnology to create immensely profitable but inherently dangerous new species in laboratories for industrial agribusiness. Countless acres of American cropland have been denuded of biodiversity, planted with millions of identical replicas of a single genetically engineered corn or soybean genotype, and showered in petrochemical pesticides to kill all other species. This disregards and annihilates the basic biblical (and also permacultural, albeit stripped of the religious dressing) principles that humans, "made in the image of the Divine" and acting in accord with God's covenants, must be responsible caretakers of the earth (Genesis 1:28 and 2:15) and protectors of all species (Genesis 9.9).

The story of Christ's resurrection provides a metaphor that helps inspire my confidence in the ecological corollary that even the most barren, wasted, pillaged and polluted landscapes can similarly rise again to vitality. Nor is human separation from the Garden necessarily a permanent condition. Indeed, Genesis states that the Garden of Eden continued to exist long after humans were banished from it. Maimonides, a medieval Jewish mystic, wrote that the Garden of Eden is still present within our world: "The Garden of Eden is a fertile and rich place…God will reveal it to humankind in the future and will also show them the way to reach it." I believe that permaculture, along with related disciplines like the science of ecological restoration and Rudolf Steiner's "biodynamic agriculture," can be seen as no less than God's revelation of the way forward to resurrect our Garden "ecotopias" ( i.e. ecological utopias). By learning directly from nature how to live with it in harmony, as permaculture explicitly does by striving to work with rather than against natural processes, we celebrate and are educated by God's magnificently interdependent creation. In practical terms, this means designing food cultivation and land use systems that eliminate waste and improve soil health through steps like compost, minimize repetitive human labor while maximizing use of biological processes that are self-sustaining (like trees that provide annual yields of fruit), harness renewable energies, and share surplus production throughout the natural community. In creative and spiritual terms, this is more like "playing with God"—with respect, humility, and a degree of harmless, small-scale, hit-or-miss experimentation—than gaming Her to monopolize, abuse, and use up the earth's fertility.

My definition of mysticism (to reframe yours slightly) includes but reaches beyond "direct and personal experience of all creation through which one comes to know the immediacy and intimacy of one's relationship with the Divine." In addition to experiencing the Divine as a dynamic force in nature, my mysticism encompasses "activism" to defend, nurture and restore ecological creation (which expresses and epitomizes the Divine) and preserve it as an ever-evolving force that I and other beings, including non-human species, can continue to experience. One significant Christian dimension of such activism is a lesson I take to heart from the ministry and martyrdom of Christ —that in order to embody and enact my spiritual and environmental purpose to the fullest possible degree, I may be (and have been) called to risk or sacrifice material comfort and wealth, personal security and stability, and even my own life.

This lesson first struck me about four years ago in Northern California, where I had joined the local Earth First! group as a volunteer to help defend old-growth redwood forests from corporate clear-cutting. Braving the wind, rain, and vertigo, we would ascend ropes hundreds of feet into the canopies of giant redwood trees, and stay there for weeks or months to permanently occupy "tree-sit" platforms that we constructed. This non-violent action powerfully demonstrated our willingness to die with the tree—and it kept loggers at bay, because they generally valued human over natural life, and would not cut trees they knew we inhabited. But accidents sometimes happened, and some loggers were renegades. On the same mountain where I was tree-sitting, another young male activist had been killed a few years earlier by a falling tree. He was standing on the earth, enaged in an action of documentary witnessing called "ground-truthing," and a logger felled the redwood, many believe deliberately, upon him. Despite my knowledge of that incident, awareness of my own mortality didn't hit me until one morning after I'd left the forest to focus on raising funds and acquiring supplies in town that we needed to sustain the tree-sits, where other volunteers remained. Returning to town one morning in the rear of a pick-up truck after a night spent sleeping on the Pacific Ocean beach, the hatch suddenly opened and I started to slide out onto the high-traffic highway. Acting with rapidness and instinctive unselfishness, a friend reached out to grab and rescue me from injury or death, while his own backpack hurtled into the road. Minutes later, while struggling to regain my calm through meditation, I felt swept by a spontaneous and overwhelming sensation of physical identification with the spirit of Christ nailed to the Cross. A profound feeling of Love, and of personal communion in a timeless, cosmic pattern of human self-sacrifice for the dignity and enrichment of all creation, imbued the experience. Because my youth had been steeped in Judaism, and my affinity for trees is rooted in appreciation of the sanctuary they provided to my grandfather when he hid from Nazis for 2 years in the forests of Eastern Europe during the Holocaust, this mystical experience was a surprising one for me to have. I understood it then as transcendental affirmation of the deep spiritual sense and yearning which motivated my "tree-hugging" adventurism but also as a sharp rebuke to never take for granted the sanctity and fragility of (my own as much as that of any tree or animal) life. After that, reading "The Coming of the Cosmic Christ" by Matthew Fox illuminated my path toward "creation spirituality" and "panentheism" ( i.e. the view that God both emanates within and transcends all creation)—and with his advocacy of "deep ecumenism," Fox reassured me that I need not abandon other traditions (i.e. Judaism and nature-based spirituality) that remained meaningful to me, in order to drink from the well of authentic Christian mysticism.

As for environmental activism, I now feel called, more than ever, to move my beyond mere opposition against the powerful human institutional structures that are destroying biodiversity and damaging the integrity of ecosystems. I also feel called to move beyond mere analysis of the positive solutions that we need—which is what I have been preoccupied with recently. In 2005, I invested much of my time working as a lead organizer of two major eco-activist conferences that both took place at the Friends Center in Philadelphia . One, called BioDemocracy 2005, centered on discussion of sustainable alternatives to biotechnology and genetic engineering, and included a session on spiritual perspectives with local interfaith leaders. The other, named Philly Beyond Oil, was an interfaith-led initiative about local solutions to our oil dependence. In recent months, I also expanded this analysis into writing. During this past winter, I wrote two essays about the implications of civilization's rapid depletion of non-renewable fossil fuels, an issue popularly known as "peak oil," that are being published this spring; in both, I describe the importance of permaculture. In " Peak Oil and Community Food Sustainability," for Communities: Journal of Cooperative Living, I define permaculture as "a holistic philosophy of ecological design and set of ethics that seeks to sustainably integrate food production systems into human habitat," through the " harmonious interplay of human dwellings and labor, fruit- and nut-bearing trees, annual and perennial plants, insects and animals, microclimate, soil and water in stable, mutually supportive communities." And in "Peak Opportunity ! Earth Activism and the Oil Endgame," for Earth First! Journal, I praise " enthusiasts of the ecological design philosophy known as permaculture," who are "advocating boldly optimistic visions of graceful 'energy descent' down the oil depletion slope" and "hold hope that geologically imposed limits to wasteful, reckless over-consumption will not spell economic doom but rather spur societies to choose eco-friendly, life-affirming alternatives. " These kinds of analysis and communication are important—but now should be a time when I move beyond them to become a leader at co-creating actual permacultural solutions.

In doing this, in part because my experiences tend to push me in unexpected directions, I hesitate to speculate about where the relationship between permaculture activism and Christian mysticism will ultimately lead me. At some point (but perhaps not within the next year) I strongly desire to return to Israel and Palestine, for the first time since the year (1999-2000) during college that I spent studying there at the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies, in order to employ permaculture cross-nationally as a vehicle for sustainable peace and ecological regeneration which breaks down walls of separation and cycles of violence. This would invoke Christian traditions ranging from liberation theology to the centuries-old stream of American missionaries (I sometimes enjoy thinking of myself as an "enviroangelist") who have journeyed to "The Holy Land"—and who I studied in 2004 for my senior research thesis on the history of the Middle East. However, in the short term, during the months immediately after the Permaculture Design Course, I am sure that I would want to apprentice with an established permaculture-based or -friendly ecovillage, community garden, restoration project, or organic farm, in order to hone my practical skills and knowledge. My most common way of communicating my experiences and ideas is through published writing. For example, I can envision writing an essay about permaculture and (including but not focused on Christian) spirituality for a magazine like Permaculture Activist, or an article centered on permaculture and Christian mysticism for one like Soujourners. I would also like to communicate what I learn by speaking to audiences. Other topics that I have spoken about frequently in public, and have led workshops on, include genetic engineering, peak oil and oil dependence, and environmental justice in Israel/Palestine; I would love to speak about the relationship of permaculture to all of these, as well as its spiritual meaning to me.

Sincerely,
Ethan Genauer

After the application was accepted…

2) September 2007 — Report to the Bogert Fund Committee

Dear Vinton Deming and the Bogert Fund Committee,

I must sincerely apologize for my delay in responding to your April 22nd request for a report on my use of the Bogert Fund's grant to me to study the relationship between Christian mysticism and sustainable agriculture. From the beginning of March until the end of July this year, I was learning and working as an apprentice with a biodynamic "community supported agriculture" (CSA) farm in Albuquerque, New Mexico named Erda Gardens and Learning Center. The intense pace and long days of farmwork, combined with absence of Internet on the farm, where I was living, meant that I was unable to keep up with emails, including my commitment to the Bogert Fund Committee. However, the Bogert Fund's support was truly indispensable in enabling me to achieve this apprenticeship position, as well as a much deeper spiritual practice & vision, with strong roots in the magic of both agricultural growth and Christian faith.

In September 2006, I used approximately half of the grant funds to attend a two-week permaculture design course, called the "Earth Activist Training," taught by author and activist Starhawk at an eco-feminist center in rural Missouri. Permaculture is a theory and art of ecological design that aims to meet human needs sustainably while preserving or healing the balance of natural systems. In this course, the curriculum integrated instruction in both the philosophy and hands-on practice of permaculture with a focus on Earth-based spirituality and activism for progressive social change. So in addition to learning about composting with worms, architecture with cob (a mixture of clay, sand, straw and water) and building greywater recycling systems, we also explored tactics and strategies for change through slideshows and films about recent activist mobilizations in which Starhawk had participated, group discussions and "role playing" games that challenged us to define the parameters of our personal willingness to risk direct action, and workshop sessions that outlined many of the key components of contemporary activism such as consensus decision-making, non-violence in theory and practice, utilizing the media, and designing an effective campaign. The spiritual emphasis of the course was not directed toward any particular religious tradition, but did draw substantially from the Earth-based "Reclaiming" branch of modern paganism, of which Starhawk was a founder. For example, participatory group rituals in the morning before the start of class usually involved light meditation and invoked the four directions and elements (earth, water, fire, air), and on our final night together, a full moon, the class gathered around a small fire in the forest for a ceremony filled with singing and dancing.

As a final project, students were required to collaboratively research and present a group project that integrated the permaculture principles and practices that we had learned. The group project that I joined was assigned the task of designing a permaculture-based emergency preparedness response to a natural disaster situation. The flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was the scenario that we adopted; a few of our ideas were energy-efficient "permaculture boats" to rescue victims and rebuild sustainable infrastructure, advance planning and training to deploy skilled bio-remediation teams to clean up toxic spills and pollution, and creation of low-tech, resilient communication systems that would enable local information flows to continue after ordinary high-tech communication systems failed. Throughout the course, we learned to see permaculture as not merely a guide to personal sustainability in our own individual lives, but also as a key to designing sustainable solutions to large-scale social, economic, environmental and health problems. Spiritually, for me, this course confirmed both the importance of spiritual practice as an element of environmental activism and the essential value of Earth-based spirituality as a complement to mono-theistic faith. Rather than representing a deviation from Christian mysticism, Earth-based spirituality calls us back to and strengthens our sacred obligation to protect and preserve God's creation. When our spiritual communities are in actual living and loving communion with the plants, animals, and elements of nature in our ecosystem, then we will be ready to begin transforming our "fallen," polluting and exploitative human civilization into re-constituted harmony with planet Earth. In other words, knowledge of permaculture and similar "good" systems of technical ecological practice, as opposed to the "evil" of gluttonous consumption and waste, alone is insufficient to un-do our collective expulsion from (or willful abandonment of?) "the Garden" – we also need serious, deep-rooted spiritual intent and discipline. In this endeavor, learning from the surviving Earth-based traditions of pagan and indigenous spirituality can help us enormously.

After the permaculture course, I immediately traveled south below the U.S. border for the first time, to Mexico City, to help an international climate action network organize the grassroots "Alternative Climate Justice Dialogue and Convergence," an event that countered a major meeting of international government ministers happening simultaneously in Mexico on the economics of climate change. Then in October 2006 I attended the Border Social Forum in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico (sister city to El Paso). From mid-October until early January 2007, I lived in sunny Tucson, Arizona and volunteered with several local activist groups, until a sudden death in my family compelled me to return to the East Coast. In February 2007, I responded to a "Call to Action" issued by a southern Appalachian environmental group United Mountain Defense, by going to Florida and taking the lead in organizing two days of public protest against an international convention of coal industry kingpins in Miami. I used a few hundred dollars from the Bogert Fund grant to help finance this protest, and we succeeded in getting excellent front-page coverage in one weekly Miami newspaper, which hit the streets while the whole world was watching (or coming to) Miami – as our protest took place a few days before the Super Bowl was played there! We were also successful at impacting the coal convention from the inside, by distributing our own literature to delegates demanding that they stop destroying the environment, including Appalachian mountains where communities live and are dying as corporations "remove" entire mountain-tops, using millions of tons of explosives to literally blow them up, in order to extract thin seams of coal. In the spring of 2006, while I spent several months volunteering with mountain defense activists in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, I had become acquainted with the "Christians for the Mountains" environmental group, and learned that the local food security of many Appalachian residents is being severely disrupted by ubiquitous coal mining. This is why I felt that my demonstration of solidarity, by organizing this protest in Miami, was a valid use of the Bogert Fund grant to explore the intersection between Christian mysticism and permaculture.

From Florida, I traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico for my internship with the biodynamic CSA Erda Gardens, and used the remainder of the Bogert Fund grant to pay for the Greyhound bus fare. Erda Gardens was initiated in 1997 and led by Franciscan nun and peace activist Marie Nord, until she died tragically in a car accident in 2001. One year before my arrival, Erda Gardens had moved its location to a pre-dominantly Hispanic and traditionally agricultural section of Albuquerque called the South Valley. We were now farming five sites scattered around the South Valley, and irrigating our fields mostly with water from acequias, which are narrow side channels flowing from the Rio Grande that early Hispanic settlers dug by hand centuries ago. I soon learned that Catholic faith remains especially strong in the South Valley, and one of the favorite local holidays, in early May, celebrates the memory of the patron saint of agriculture, San Ysidro. At one San Ysidro festival, we walked from a church to a nearby acequia, and threw flower petals into and blessed the water. Then we gathered for ceremonies on adjacent land where Erda Gardens and other local farmers had recently resumed agriculture following several decades of non-use. At this festival, I also met a member of the local radical Catholic Worker group, who are deeply engaged with anti-nuclear activism throughout the Southwest and support for homeless people in Albuquerque. Since then, I have become an active participant in the local Catholic Worker community, joining vigils for nuclear abolition at the federal government nuclear research center in Los Alamos, and helping to cook weekly vegetarian "Food Not Bombs" meals that we share with homeless people in downtown Albuquerque.

Meanwhile, working with Erda Gardens was a great learning experience. Biodynamic agriculture is a system of sustainable farming, founded by Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s, that aims to merge science with spirituality. One of the unique features of biodynamic agriculture is its attentiveness to the impacts of cosmic rhythms (such as the movements of planets, stars, the moon, and the sun) upon soil fertility and plant growth. Another is the homeopathic application of special "preparations," which are refined plant essences containing high levels of vital mineral nutrients, to the farm soil and compost. In Steiner's lectures introducing biodynamic agriculture, he taught that conventional farming techniques utilizing mineral fertilizers and chemical pesticides were producing food (and soil) that lacked vitality and liveliness. Thus, the spiritual growth of humans was being inhibited due to poor nutrition, and crop output was declining as the result of depleted soil. The ultimate purpose of biodynamic agriculture is to support the healthy spiritual development of humans, as well as the continued evolution of biological communities, by growing superior food with all-natural methods that cultivate the primal harmony among humans, plants, animals, soil and the cosmos.

The apprenticeship with Erda Gardens thus provided a missing link in my understanding of the connection between food and social justice. If the vast majority of Americans, and especially the urban poor, are surviving on diets of cheap fast food and processed food filled with artificial and industrially-grown ingredients, how will they ever possess the spiritual vigor and nutritional energy that's necessary to stand up for justice and fight for better lives? In this way, the nutritional emptiness of industrial food, subsidized every year by massive government handouts to conventional farmers, is revealed as just one more mechanism to keep citizens tamed and subservient. And consequently, sustainable farming emerges as one of the most important means available to us to revitalize and reclaim our personal and collective abilities to actively strive for social, political and ecological empowerment.

Although I left Erda Gardens at the end of July, during the past few months I have visited and volunteered on a number of other organic farms throughout New Mexico. Currently, I am attending an excellent weekly class in medicinal herbalism, taught in Albuquerque by a woman who graduated from Starhawk's Earth Activist Training several years before me. Last week I met a local AFSC leader, Don Bustos, who is one of New Mexico's leading organic farmers. He operates a four-season farm 40 miles north of Santa Fe, featuring solar-powered greenhouses, where I may live and work this winter. With the crucial help of the Bogert Fund grant, I feel that during the past year I have attained a solid foundation of knowledge and experience with sustainable agriculture, while simultaneously deepening my spiritual understanding about why practicing this is so imperative, for me and the world. I am looking forward to expanding my knowledge and experience with sustainable agriculture and herbalism, during the coming years. Thank you for your support which has enabled this!

Sincerely,
Ethan Genauer

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