Driving Wedges, Creating Sacred Spaces and Planting Seeds of Possibility

UrbanMission Community Partners SOPO cohort learning farming practices.UrbanMission Community Partners SOPO cohort learning farming practices.

September 2019 marked a milestone in our work here at UrbanMission and UrbanMission Community Partners. The cornerstone of UMCP’s Community Wellness Initiative—our Open Table Gathering (a weekly Sabbath dinner)—celebrated five years. That’s 260 consecutive Sundays, 20,800+ dinners, and thousands of pounds of clothing and groceries distributed.

As I sat for dinner one recent Sunday, I found myself in conversation with two young women who are from a local university participating as semester interns with us. They, among other interns, will spend the semester learning our farming practices at South Pomona (SOPO) Farm – formerly known as the SOPO Community Garden—another wellness initiative of UrbanMission Community Partners.

We discussed systems of oppression that exist for the benefit of some, at the cost of others. Here in south Pomona, we journey with a cross-section of our community who suffer at the hands of these systems, systems that create poverty, mass incarceration, food insecurity, and a lack of educational resources. One young intern asked, “So, what is it that you do about this, what can you do about all of this?”

My response was simple: “We do what we can, with what we have, to find a crack in the oppression…and drive a wedge until we create a gap.”

What we are doing much of the time is creating this gap, a space within the chaos, where we can plant and grow, even if it is only the seed of possibility.

A portion of the garden land on UMCP's campus. A portion of the garden land on UMCP’s campus.

One seed of possibility that we have recently sown is Down to Earth, a 10-week certificate program in “Restorative Gardening” for a cohort of formerly incarcerated men and women currently on parole. This program is the first of its kind, as far as we know. It seeks to use our farming practices in the SOPO Farm to teach basic farming skills, introduce basic horticulture, and explore restorative practices such as mindfulness and self-reflection. This certificate program will conclude with a presentation on careers in the industries of landscaping, landscape design, horticulture, and garden maintenance.

A second seed of possibility was sown this summer in conjunction with Cal Poly Pomona. Joined with about 50 of the institution’s faculty and staff, we brainstormed service-learning opportunities for students at the California university. The group came to lunch at UrbanMission and saw UMCP’s SOPO Farm – a vision that is resonating in different ways, as Cal Poly seeks to interact more extensively and creatively with the community of Pomona and, in particular, with us.

Part of the SOPO cohort learning farming practices. Part of the SOPO cohort learning farming practices.

Another seed of possibility being planted in UMCP’s community comes in the form of relationship with world-renowned process theologian Prof. John Cobb and those in the Claremont Institute of Process Studies who support and carry out his vision of collaboration and Earth Care. With Prof. Cobb’s support, and with the help, leadership and planning of the Institute, our UrbanMission/UMCP/SOPO Farm collective will be a focus of the second Farmers & Philosophers Conference being planned for January 2020. Located in a city having recently defined itself as a “City of Compassion,” we will explore best practices in urban agriculture and related issues of community development, health and well-being.

We are guided by the question: “What would it look like if a city of compassion decided to feed itself?”

From this possibility comes a growing vision among us around reorienting our relationship with food.  Knowing that mechanisms of our current food systems do not afford equal access to all, we seek to create processes in our community that encourage the growing of good food locally, education on the benefits of introducing this food into healthy eating practices, and the effort of developing a cooperative system that allows everyone more affordable and plentiful access.

Brainstorming from Cal Poly and UMCP Service Learning days. Brainstorming from Cal Poly and UMCP Service Learning days.

As UrbanMission Community Partners, we know we do not plant these seeds alone. In our commitment to “radical collaboration,” we are working together with local farmers, non-profits, faith-based groups, agencies, and academic institutions to form a community driven by a single purpose: Community wellness. Together we are questioning corrupt, broken systems. And together we are finding the cracks, driving wedges, and creating holy spaces where the seeds of possibility can be sown.

For more information about UrbanMission Community Partners’ SOPO Farm program, visit:
Facebook: UrbanMission Community Partners
Contact Rev. Stephen Yorba Patten: stephen@theurbanmission.org.

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As the health and social services general ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the National Benevolent Association partners with congregations, regions, general ministries, and a variety of Disciples-related health and social service providers to create communities of compassion and care. Founded in 1887 by six women responding to the needs of the day and on their doorsteps, for more than 130 years the NBA has continued to serve “the least of these.” Learn more at www.nbacares.org.