See the abandoned warehouse that transformed into a job-creating organic farm in Detroit's Brightmoor
"Resilience" is a word that comes up a lot at VEJ.
It's easy enough to talk about it, but how do you do it? Where do you go to see an example of it?
One of the most amazing examples of resilience (and resourcefulness) you will find anywhere just happens to be in a plain industrial building in Detroit's Brightmoor neighborhood.
That building, once a blighted and crumbling warehouse, is now home to Artesian Farms, one of the country's fastest-growing hydroponic organic food businesses. Artesian Farms leafy greens make it into grocery stores and onto plates at restaurants all over southeast Michigan and beyond. And while leafy greens are growing at Artesian Farms, so are career and job opportunities for the people of the Brightmoor neighborhood.
Read more about Artesian Farms here:
"The story of Artesian Farms hits all the right notes," said VEJ executive director BT Irwin. "It shows that you don't have to choose between economic opportunity and environmental stewardship. They can go hand in hand, even in a neighborhood that has to overcome a lot of negative inertia and real barriers to growth."
That's why VEJ is pleased to be hosting its first-ever Eco-Eating Tour at Artesian Farms on Saturday, March 23. Artesian Farms founder Jeff Adams will lead this exclusive behind-the-scenes tour and tell the story of how he started the farm in an abandoned warehouse.
Tickets for this rare inside look at one of the country's most innovative food businesses are $20. Proceeds support VEJ's educational, outreach, and volunteer programs.
Click here to get your tickets.
Michigan Green Industries founder Rev. Faith Fowler to headline Voices for Earth Justice Breakfast on National Day of Prayer (May 2)
Rev. Faith Fowler, a pioneer in the crossover between environmental and social justice work, will headline the first annual Voices for Earth Justice National Day of Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, May 2, at the Congregational Church of Birmingham UCC in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
The gathering will also feature interfaith prayer and a halal and kosher breakfast made by Chef Annabel Cohen using locally-grown organic ingredients.
Early bird tickets will be $55 each and go on sale March 20. Special discounts will be available for clergy, lay ministry leaders, members of religious orders, and students. Proceeds will support VEJ's educational, outreach, and volunteer programs.
"This event, like all of VEJ's programs, is about helping people believe in what's possible," said VEJ executive director BT Irwin. "When you come eat Annabel Cohen's food, listen to Rev. Fowler's story, and meet people who are different from you and yet share your hope for a better world, you will leave with fresh energy, more focus, and new friends."
Rev. Fowler is pastor of Cass Community United Methodist Church in Detroit and founder of Cass Community Social Services, Inc. (CCSS), a "Detroit-based agency with a person-centered philosophy, dedicated to providing food, housing, health services, and job programs."
Read more about Rev. Fowler here:
Under Rev. Fowler's leadership, CCSS started Michigan Green Industries in 2007 to create jobs for Detroit's underemployed and unemployed. Michigan Green Industries makes and sells consumer items by recycling or repurposing materials that would otherwise end up at Detroit's incinerator or in landfills.
In 2016, Rev. Fowler began developing a neighborhood of 25 high-efficiency "tiny homes." This development is making national headlines for its unique approach to solving the housing crisis for Detroit's homeless, poor, and working poor.
More recently, Rev. Fowler worked with Ford Motor Company to develop a "mobile farm," a portable indoor farming concept that can move from neighborhood to neighborhood in the city of Detroit. Mobile farming will allow residents to grow their own food year-round in Michigan's harsh winters.
"It's easy to sit back and say: 'There's nothing I can do. The problem is too big. It's too hard. I don't have enough influence or money or whatever," said Irwin. "Rev. Fowler shows us what is possible when faith, hope, and love go to work in a community of people who refuse to stop believing."
Chef Annabel Cohen is one of the hottest names in metro Detroit food. In addition to her catering company, Annabel Cohen Cooks Detroit, Chef Cohen is a frequent guest on radio and TV and writes a food column for The Jewish News.
Watch for the early bird ticket announcement on March 20.
In a nutshell, VEJ is about "prayer, education, and action on behalf of Earth."
The order of those three things--prayer, education, and action--is not random.
VEJ co-founder Patty Gillis explained it to me once. I'll paraphrase it for you: Action grows out of education. Education grows out of prayer. Prayer grows out of grateful and humble hearts that open to receive the gifts that God gives through creation.
What happens when action comes before prayer and education?
Action without education is often wasted action. It is like scratching a mosquito bite until it bleeds and spreads infection.
Education without prayer often does a lot of good for the ego, but not much else. What good is it to be the smartest person in the world if nobody wants to be around you or listen to you? The opportunity is lost to be influential for good.
So, right action starts with education, but only if that education grows up out of a grateful, humble, simple heart.
And nothing cultivates that kind of heart like prayer.
These days, it feels like we need to act, act, ACT!
Every morning brings us news of crises that seem to get more urgent every day: Injustices against people and planet seem to be metastasizing all around us.
The human impulse is to do something...now.
That's not the wrong impulse.
But at VEJ, we believe the first thing to do in crisis is to pray. Prayer reminds us that we are not God nor should we try to be!
And then listen to understand. Education reminds us, not that we know a lot, but that we know very little.
And only after we pray and listen will we be formed by humility and grace and informed by empathy and knowledge. Then we act...in courageous compassion, cunning kindness, and love that is lethal to all that is not love in this world.
This year at VEJ, we are taking a time out from the fast-spinning cycle of action/reaction in the world to focus on prayer and education. We are looking to serve those who want to pray and listen for awhile so that they will be ready to act rightly when the time comes.
We are not withdrawing from the crises of our age; we are simply affirming that sometimes the best way to deal with a crisis is to "be still and know..."
If this is what you seek, please let us know how we can serve you.
Grace and peace,
BT Irwin, primus inter pares
Have you ever been to a "bad neighborhood?"
Over my 43 years, I've been to just two.
Facebook and Twitter.
On New Year's Day, I got out of one of those bad neighborhoods.
I closed my Twitter account.
Over the last year, the time I spend on Facebook dropped to almost zero.
And I feel so much cleaner, healthier, lighter...happier.
I don't know about you, but during and after the 2016 election I found myself on social media a lot. I'm embarrassed to say that I would find myself spending hours a day on Facebook and Twitter.
One day early in 2018, I woke up from my insanity.
What am I doing here? I thought.
Looking for an answer to that question led me to an ugly truth: I was hooked on anger.
On social media, I could get anger from two sources:
The first was posts from people with whom I disagreed. For example: If someone was for a policy or politician I found to be awful. All I had to do was just read whatever they posted and I would get a hit of "anger chemicals" in my brain. I found myself reading different points of view just so I could be angry at whoever was coming from those points.
The second was whenever I posted something and a lot of like-minded people agreed with me. Better yet, when like-minded people cheered me on or rushed to stand up for me whenever someone else disagreed. The "echo chamber" was where I could find the ultimate "righteous anger high."
So, as I said, one day I woke up and saw the truth: I was spending my days looking for bigger and bigger "hits" of anger.
Facebook and Twitter were my dealers.
What about you? Does any of this sound familiar to you?
What you find on social media these days seems to characterize our society. Every day, we get angrier and angrier. We spend our days on the prowl, looking for someone to blame for what "makes" us angry. We're on edge. Jittery. Off balance. Trigger happy.
The more time we spend in our echo chambers and on so-called "social" media, the more we become more like the disgruntled recluses we say we fear.
The bill for our anger, however, will eventually come due and the price will be too high for us to pay. We will pay for it in health, lost opportunities, quality of life, and relationships. We will pay for it in an even more broken, unfair, unjust, and violent society. We will pay for it in a world even more choked, depleted, and diseased.
The way to deal with an anger addiction is not more anger. That would be like trying to clear up air pollution by releasing more air pollution.
Over the last couple of years, I've come to believe that what people in our society need is a reprieve, a rest, a Sabbath. Not from civic duty, responsibility, or trying to find and act upon the truth. We need more of those things from people, not less.
But what if we rest from our anger? What if we could take a break from the things that stir up the anger chemicals in our brains? What if we could "fast" from outrage?
Are you having a hard time wanting this?
Then you may need to admit you have a problem!
Now, this is not to say that anger does not have a place in our lives. It's not to say that we shouldn't feel angry about things like injustice.
But do we control our anger or does our anger control us?
When we started thinking about what VEJ would do in 2019, someone at the table asked a question that went something like this: Is our anger and outrage really changing anyone's minds? It is really bringing about the kind of world we all want to see? Is it building bridges between us or building walls? Is our anger serving anyone other than ourselves?
That led to questions like: What should VEJ be doing? What could we give people that would be truly helpful? How can VEJ give people something that helps them choose a better way? A way that takes us where we all want to go?
As we prayed and talked through this, we kept coming back to making "space" in life. Space for curiosity and discovery, listening and understanding, quiet reflection, sharing food, simple service, and wonder. We discerned a desperate desire for places where people feel safe to explore, question, and be vulnerable. We discerned a desire for the self to be put back in right balance with all living things, the Divine, and with nature.
VEJ's mission, in shorthand, is: "Prayer, education, and action on behalf of Earth."
Action without prayer and education is immature and prideful, dangerous and unstable. It almost always runs on pure adrenaline. The emotions that manufacture the most adrenaline are anger and fear. So, action without prayer and education is almost always angry action. It is almost always reactive.
What people need, what our society needs, is more prayer and education.
And that is why VEJ is making those two things the focus of everything we do going forward. You see them in our events and programs for 2019. All year long, you will have many opportunities to break bread with friends and strangers. To pray and reflect among those who are different in many ways, but the same at heart. To let Earth teach you as you work the soil with your hands. To thrill in discovery. To wander in nature. To be quiet. To be still. To rest. To let Earth call your soul back home.
If this is what you need, you will find it here in 2019.
Grace and peace,
BT Irwin, primus inter pares
Voices for Earth Justice
If you're old enough to read this, you're old enough to recall what you might call "big years" in your life. That is, years when big changes changed your life forever.
Examples: The years you graduated, got married (or split up), moved to a new place, started a new job, or welcomed a new child. When my wife and I look back at our lives together, we think of 2008 (the year we got married) and 2012 (the year our son was born and we moved into our house) as "big ones."
If you're reading this, you are part of one of those "big years" for VEJ.
It's a "big year" when your co-founder retires after 15 years as leader (2017). It's an even bigger year when you find out how your mission and organization will do under an all new staff team and a board that is 60 percent new members (2018).
Thanks to you, we found out that the VEJ family and mission are resilient and strong. You were part of making 2018 more than just a "transition year"; you helped make it a year of goodness, growth, and real impact.
Please take a moment to read our one-page 2018 report and 2019 outlook (at the end of this blog post). You'll get see what you supported this year and what is coming next year.
Then, if you like what you see, please be part of ending 2018 on a high note and starting 2019 on a strong one: Make a year-end gift to VEJ before December 31.
Board members, executive directors, and founders come and go. At a good mission organization, what stays constant is people like you. Nobody is more important to the VEJ family and mission than you. Thank you for being part of this!
If you care enough to find and read this message, you're exactly the person for whom I'm writing it. Read on!
Do you know what makes doing a job like "executive director" so good? Do you know what makes leading a mission organization like Voices for Earth Justice (VEJ) so great?
What makes being the leader of VEJ feel so good is this:
You and I may not know each other personally. But if you're this deep into this blog post, it's likely that you're the kind of person whose light and warmth is finding its way even to people you haven't even met.
That's kind of what a mission organization like VEJ is all about. You may not even live in the state of Michigan. But, through your relationship with VEJ you are blessing hundreds or thousands of people here in metro Detroit. If we do our job well, you are able to do more good through us than you could ever do on your own.
I hope that feels good to you. Know that it feels amazing to us!
So know that this Thanksgiving, we will be giving thanks for you - even if we don't know you! You truly are the reason we get up and go to work with a smile every day. Whether you're a donor, a neighbor, a program participant, a volunteer, or just a friend who prays for us from afar, you are part of this. You are part of us.
I (and we) are so thankful to be in this with you.
So, here is a thanksgiving prayer by Mary Maude Daniels. It is our prayer for you:
To our friends, who have become family
and our family who have become friends:
May you be blessed with the same love and care you've given us.
Grace and peace,
BT Irwin, primus inter pares
Voices for Earth Justice
November 21, 2018
You can think of this blog post as your first dinner invitation of 2019.
That's because next year we are making food the focus for the VEJ community.
Why food? What does food have to do with "Earth justice?"
First, what we eat has the biggest impact on the health and sustainability of our planet. Global food production accounts for 83 percent of the human race's carbon footprint! It gets worse: We throw away one third of that food every year. Just global food waste alone is a bigger carbon footprint than all the nations on earth put together minus China and the U.S.
Second, what we eat has one of the biggest impacts on which communities struggle and which ones thrive. For example, our global food production system makes food chain workers the lowest paid of any sector. Many of the people who bring us our food struggle to afford food for themselves. And their food options are often the worst for their health, contributing to higher medical expenses and shorter life spans.
Finally, eating is at the center of almost every faith tradition in the world. As a mission organization that seeks to bring people of different faiths together for Earth justice, what could be more unifying than sharing our food?
Here's a bonus answer: Everyone eats. Every person makes dozens of food choices every day. That means every person can learn to make better choices that are better for their fellow human beings and better for the planet. We want VEJ to be part of helping people make those better choices.
So, in short, eating is Earth justice. In fact, eating may be the biggest part of Earth justice. It is certainly the biggest part of most people's lives.
That's why food is our focus at VEJ starting in 2019.
So, what will that look like?
Over the last few months, our team has been working hard to create a program that will help you learn how to "eat for Earth justice". You'll get more details about these programs in January 2019.
For now, here are the highlights for you:
Celebrations and community meals
Several times over the next year, VEJ and its partners will host celebrations and community meals to highlight Earth-friendly eating and interfaith fellowship. These gatherings will take place at both VEJ's Hope House & Gardens and perhaps in homes and houses of worship throughout southeast Michigan.
Classes and workshops
You'll learn the nitty-gritty of Earth-friendly food, from "seed to table to recycling."
Our first class series on winter wellness starts in December. Check it out here.
Metro Detroit is home to some of the most innovative Earth-friendly food businesses and organizations around. These behind-the-scenes tours will open your mind to new ways of thinking about food. Odds are, you'll get to eat some good food, too!
Sustainable Organic Gardening Club
Building on our neighborhood garden program, we are launching our first "garden club." Members will learn everything about sustainable organic gardening, from "seed to harvest to table to recycling." Four modules will take members through the four seasons of gardening: winter, spring, summer, and fall.
Volunteering for discovery and hands-on learning
Our volunteers come to VEJ to do more than just help; they come to deepen their understanding and to learn. We are planning to host hundreds of adult and youth volunteers at Hope House & Gardens in 2019. Those volunteers will learn about the impact food makes on people and the planet. They will also get to know Earth-friendly food practices by "getting their hands dirty."
This is the one VEJ program that doesn't make food its focus in 2019. We believe the greatest gift we can give anyone is the gift of wonder. Nothing changes hearts and minds and fills them with kindness and love like a sense of awe. Monthly Wonder Walks will take you to some of southeast Michigan's most amazing natural places--some of them are not even open to the public! Both a nature expert and a spiritual director will guide the tours, making them one part learning and one part meditation.
Our first Wonder Walk is coming up on December 1. Check it out here.
VEJ Youth Club is an after school and summer program that is one part environmental education, one part leadership and personal development, and one part tutoring. Elementary school age children from the neighborhood come to Hope House & Gardens once each week to participate in a hands-on lesson on how to "eat for Earth justice."
So, now what?
Now that we "whetted your appetite," please stay tuned for more details to come in the next few weeks. We really hope to see you at one (or many) of these programs in 2019.
Meanwhile, as 2018 is ending, we are in the most important few weeks for fundraising at VEJ. More than half of our annual operating funds come from year-end gifts.
So, as you're going about your year-end giving for 2018, please make a gift to VEJ. You're going to make these programs possible for everyone they "feed."
I suggest you give via our Facebook page on #GivingTuesday (Tuesday, November 27). Gifts that we receive via Facebook on #GivingTuesday may be matched dollar-for-dollar.
Or, you can give anytime at our online gift page. Through the end of the year, PayPal will be matching 1 percent of every donation we receive on our website.
If you prefer to send a check, please make it out to Voices for Earth Justice and send it to 15894 Greydale Street, Detroit, Michigan 48223.
Thank you for being part of the VEJ community. We so look forward to seeing you and serving you at our table in 2019.
Grace and peace,
BT Irwin, executive director
Voices for Earth Justice
Consider signing up for one of the workshops listed above! Fight those winter blues with self-care.
Scarves, hats, and mittens are not the only defenses against the winter blues. Voices for Earth Justice is hosting a series of winter wellness workshops on the topic of supporting mental, physical, and emotional health with plant-based practices.
“There are different plants that support mental well-being like chamomile for calming nerves, as well as plants that treat physical ailments like ginger for stomach aches,” states VEJ garden leader L’Oreal Hawkes-Williams providing a few examples of herbs that boost health.
In this statement, Hawkes-Williams suggests resilient tea-brewing practices can be intensified by crafting concoctions from certain plants. Additionally, plants can be grown for the specific purpose of growing tea. If this is outside your comfort zone, there are amazing websites that provide ethically sourced, organically grown bulk herbs.
L’Oreal Hawkes-Williams, VEJ Garden Coordinator, states, “Not only does tea warm our bodies on chilly days, but drinking tea is a great way to utilize the medicinal properties of certain plants.”
The three one-time workshops that Voices for Earth Justice will host include tincture-making & tea-brewing, winter stew-making, and aromatherapy. We are focusing on activities that can be infused into daily life to enrichen and bolster health.
Each workshop will focus on one of these methods of brightening the winter months in a just and sustainable fashion. With background, instruction, and discussion, these workshops will provide not only educational resources, but also a space for community members to share their winter-resiliency methods.
“Learning about plants and how they naturally help us is fascinating and a great benefit to your body!” exclaims Hawkes-Williams.
It is possible to sign up for one, two, or three of the workshops by filling out the form via this link.
Young people enjoy carving pumpkins donated by Meijer! They took their spooky gourds to deck out their front porch for fall.
Over 40 old and new friends of Voices for Earth Justice gathered at Hope House and Gardens for the First Annual Harvest Celebration on October 13. Attendees of all ages enjoyed some of the best parts of fall: with food, cider, doughnuts, and pumpkins!
Keeping with this year’s focus on food, VEJ invited Chef Anthony “TK” King and Rosalyn Flint, founder and owner of Urban Country Teahouse, to showcase their talents.
Using squash grown in VEJ’s garden, Chef TK, made two dishes over the campfire: a savory and a sweet. TK pulled the spaghetti squash into a noodle-like dish. Additionally, he turned butternut and delicata squash into a cast-iron, cinnamon-flavored, sweetly-inspired dish. Chef TK added a dash of humor to entertain his audience, and sent them home with his recipes so they could enjoy them again and again.
Chef TK wasn’t the only one cooking. Five local friends brought their best homemade soups to compete in VEJ’s “Souper Bowl.” Guests sampled all five soups and voted for their favorite. Rukaya Abdallah’s spicy lentil soup came out on top while the other four cooks said “Wait ‘til next year!”
Rosalyn Flint engaged attendees in an informative and flavorful presentation about tea. After providing some background on tea, she dived into how people can grow their own herbs for tea-making. Additionally, she prepped and provided warm, satisfying tea samples, which bolstered spirits on a chilly October afternoon.
Taste, however, was not the only sense satisfied. Musical performances by Rachel Connors and Michael Feld enchanted with their talents: Connors rocked the keyboard.. Feld dazzled with technologically-produced jams.
The crowd of young people enjoyed the music and cooking, but the pumpkin carving station inspired the biggest smiles. Scooping goop from the pumpkins’ centers, drawing their creative designs, and using tools to actualize those ideas provided space for the kids to be both messy and innovative. Meijer’s contribution of the pumpkins made this activity possible. (Thank you, Meijer, for your donation!)
Even though the fall-themed decorations are tucked away until next year, the memories of Harvest Celebration’s joy and excitement are still fresh. The laughter and high spirits will carry VEJ’s staff forward as we plan a fabulous Winter Wellness Series. Look for more information about this series in the upcoming weeks on our website and Facebook Page.