They’ll Beat Their Lightsabers into Plowshares
By: Matt Hubbard, Caretaker Emeritus, St. Louis MO
In the movie The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker goes to the planet Dagoba to learn the ways of the Jedi from Master Yoda. I don’t feel like I should have to explain this to you but most of my Middle School students have never seen this movie. That horrifies me. Anyway, Luke learns how to be a Jedi so he can go back and join the Rebellion against the Evil Empire.
When I interviewed for my current teaching position at St. Ann Catholic School, I told this exact story about Luke Skywalker to describe my time as a Caretaker at Bethlehem Farm. I always knew that St. Louis was my home. I grew up here and I want to be a part of the struggle in my home. I graduated college with no actual skills except for a working knowledge of procrastination. Bethlehem Farm taught me how to be a Jedi.
In the 7 years since leaving the Farm I have spent time working in urban farms in St. Louis as well as two years working in a homeless shelter. For the past 4 years I have been teaching Middle School Social Studies, Religion and Social Justice at St. Ann. St. Ann School is where I went to school (K-8) and St. Ann Parish is where I was Baptized, had my first Communion and where my wife and I were married. When I was hired the pastor and principal charged me with creating a Catholic Social Teaching curriculum for the Middle School. I now have a 3 year curriculum where 6th grade explores the Dignity of the Human Person, 7th grade expands to the Community and Work and 8th grade looks at Global issues and Climate Justice. I teach Catholic Social Teaching in my Social Studies class as well. What better way to teach Dignity of Work and Rights of Workers than through the struggles of the worker and the life of Eugene Debs in the Industrial Age? What better way to teach Peace and Disarmament than through the story of Fr. George Zabelka in WWII?
When I arrived at St. Ann they had a garden with 5 garden beds. In 4 years we have expanded it to 25 garden beds, 8 fruit trees, automated irrigation and we partner with 40 chickens for our composting and egg needs. We have a garden market in the summer in which my neighborhood gets a source of fresh food and my school gets some modest monetary returns. We are trying to build a larger network of nearby community gardens to build a larger food market as a new food system in our community. We want to fill our neighborhoods with fresh food. Local agriculture is the domino that I believe could tip against climate change. Not only would it eliminate some of the use of fossil fuels used to transport our food across great distances. It also can lessen the demand for deforesting new factory farmed land and the brutal land grab that has driven humanity ever since the beginning of the Neolithic Age which has led to the genocides of entire human, animal and plant groups as their lands are coveted and conquered. Lastly, it builds community. And community is the ultimate solution. (For my full vision of the end of climate change check out my free book Victory Gardens: An Unfortunately Fictional Account of an Apocalypse at https://growingvictory.wordpress.com/)
So to that end my school garden has been partnering with families in the school who want to begin backyard gardens to make that dream a reality. We can’t fund the materials but we provide free knowledge and labor to design a garden that fits the families’ needs. We will provide seedlings from under my grow lights and knowledge throughout the season. If they grow an abundance they can share with their neighbors or bring it up to the school’s garden market and make a few dollars selling it with me.
We have had many setbacks over the four years. But we just keep pushing forward with our goal fixed in our mind and creativity always leading us on.
Somedays it feels too slow. Somedays it feels like not enough. Deforestation, pollution and carbon emissions are back on the rise after their 2020 dip. Some days I can delude myself into thinking, “The problem is too big and I’m just one person.” What an arrogant and ignorant thought that is. I didn’t build the St. Ann Garden by myself. I am a part of a committed and passionate team. And you, the person reading this, would not be here if you weren’t also with me in the struggle in your own community.
No. I will keep the faith, work the land, pursue the goal, and do my part in my community. My effort alone will not be enough but I am not alone.
It may seem to me to be too slow and futile but as Yoda, on Dagoba, responds when Luke asks if the Dark Side is stronger than the Light, “No. No. No. Quicker, easier, more seductive.” So maybe I need to learn patience. Luke goes on to ask how he can tell the Dark Side from the Light. “You will know…when you are calm, at peace.”
So I’ll try that: to be calm, to be at peace, to listen to the wind. Just like I learned at the Farm.