by Jake Lawlor, 2014 Gainesville Eco-Steward
It’s been close to a year now since I headed down to Gainesville, FL with the rest of the Eco-Stewards crew, but I’ve found myself thinking back to it more and more these days as the 2015 visioning trip is in the works. I joined Eco-Stewards because of a recommendation from my boss at the time at John Knox Ranch, a Central Texas summer camp where I was filling a brand new position as Environmental Stewardship Director for the summer (great place – check it out if you’re ever in the area).
The Eco-Stewards group was comprised of an amalgamation of people from various backgrounds united in the common interest of Presbyterian Earth Stewardship. This offered a pretty unique opportunity for us all to meet and share ideas with people with similar interests, but different areas of expertise. Over the week, we got to experience some pretty incredible things, ranging from working on some organic farms to speaking with community members who were active in food systems sustainability, to learning about Florida hydrogeological systems with the Florida Springs Institute.
We stayed in a local church (located at the corner of 22nd and 22nd – hilarious Gainesville design flaw in my opinion) full of nicely broken-in couches and lots of character. We helped cook and serve meals at the Gainesville Catholic Worker House, spent some time taking in the smells of freshly-grown sunflowers and strawberries at local farms, and enjoyed a week in the Florida sun. Not to mention the group’s close encounters with the alligators, giant tree snakes, and sea cows of the Florida swamplands, all the time serenaded by the omnipresent songs (snorts, really) of the Florida Pig Frog.
The week not only introduced me to some new ways of thinking about local food systems, but also familiarized me with the whole world of Presbyterian Environmental Ministries. As a unofficial-Presbyterian who had been working at a Presbyterian summer camp for a few years, I wasn’t fully aware that things like the Eco-Stewards Program, Young Adult Volunteers, or Presbyterians for Earth Care even existed. This great group of people at Eco-Stewards opened a whole bunch of new doors for me to consider in the next few years and were a pleasure to share time and space with.
In summary, this program both introduced me to loads of new people, experiences, and opportunities, and also helped me more fully conceptualize the true connection of food and faith. Furthermore, the broader connection of people and place. Connections like these will become increasingly important in coming years considering obstacles like urbanization, water shortages, and climate change. This one week spent analyzing food systems in Northern Florida won’t save it all, but it’s certainly a place to start.