By Colleen Earp
I’ve had a few weeks to reflect on the time I spent in Gainesville, so I’m really excited to share some of our adventures! I don’t know where to begin.
We toured a beautiful organic farm, an incubator kitchen, talked with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers about fair labor conditions for farm workers, went to some really great coffee shops, and visited a ton of incredible places: Payne’s Prairie, a community garden where you pick and you pay what you can, a farm to school program, a farmer’s market, the Gainesville Catholic Worker, a microfarm, and a church yard community garden, biked 20 miles to the Alachua Conservation Trust to tour Forage Farm and talk about water issues with the Florida Springs Institute. We ate amazing local foods and learned about the connections between all of these places. There is some beautiful work going on in Gainesville, feeding the hungry and loving the earth. To top it all off, we hiked the Devil’s Millhopper and tubed the Ichetucknee. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few stops but it was a week of constantly amazing things.
And, of course, I would be remiss not to mention that tubing the Ichetucknee lead to swimming alongside manatees as they moved up the beautifully clear spring-fed river. Yep, I just dove in and swam beside these two incredibly beautiful creatures.
Keeping up with them is a lot harder than I would have guessed. They’re so big and slow and graceful, but also very strong. We floated so slowly down the river that I was surprised how hard it was to swim upstream. I was also just a little bit excited, so holding my breath long enough to be underwater, take pictures, and kick frantically without scaring the manatees was a challenge.
It was a really amazing week to come together with other people interested in the relationship between faith and environmental work. As we all reflected on how awesome the Eco-Stewards Program was, and how good it was to connect with this sort of building-less church that the program has created, it came up that these kinds of great experiences kind of carry us for a while. A week like this is fleeting, but so deeply moving. And in the face of the church being a complicated place for many young adults, it’s kind of important to find these beautiful things to sustain us while we sort out the tough stuff and figure it out for ourselves.
While deep in the throes of that conversation, Rev. Rob Mark, one of the trip leaders, piped in, “…like the manatees…” Yes, exactly like the manatees. So incredibly beautiful, and only with us for a very short time, but I think about it every day. Not just manatees. The whole week of connecting with the great things going on in Gainesville and the church.
Will that excitement wear off? Perhaps, just like the manatees kept swimming away up that clear, cool spring. But it leaves me with a sense of hope in what I am doing, and encourages me to keep seeking out the church in the world like this.