By Susan Van Haitsma
Imagine that you are sitting on a lawn chair atop a straw stack bordering a beautiful organic garden in the heart of Iowa. You are watching a golden harvest moon rise above the rows of corn that stretch out in front of you rustling like a sea of applause. The straw stack is a mulch supply for the beautiful garden which is named Growing Harmony Farm. You are seven miles east of Ames and seven miles west of the small town of Nevada, and the lights from these two communities glow slightly on either horizon. In between are fields of corn and soybeans, modest farm houses and the stretch of roadway where Twister was filmed. Your heart is full of gratitude for the lovely heavens and earth, and particularly for this small plot of heaven, tended with so much integrity by your moon-viewing companions, Nancy and Gary T. Guthrie.
The T. Guthries are among several war tax resisters whose stories are included in the NWTRCC pamphlet, Low Income/Simple Living as War Tax Resistance. At the time of that writing, Gary and Nancy were living in Des Moines, doing job sharing as co-coordinators of the Iowa Peace Network. Plans for moving to Gary’s parents’ farm and boyhood home were already in the works, and their story in the pamphlet concluded: “We feel that we are in the process of discovering what these changes will mean for our lives.” What hasn’t changed is their desire to continue living below the taxable level and the solidarity they feel with campesinos with whom they lived and worked as Mennonite volunteers in Bolivia and El Salvador in their younger days.
Growing Harmony Farm lives up to its name in every way. From approximately one acre of cultivated earth enough produce is grown to deliver weekly to twenty families, sell at two farmers’ markets per week and feed the T. Guthries well into the winter. Growing Harmony is a venture in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a concept that is gaining support across the country. Gary estimates 1,000 CSAs exist nation-wide, with some 24 in Iowa. CSAs bring growers and consumers together to share the risks and rewards of small-scale farming. Growing Harmony’s 20 subscribers pay approximately $50 per month during the half-year growing season for weekly deliveries of 5–10 pounds of fresh, mostly organic produce. Imagine that you look out your front window and see Gary, smiling, coming up the walk with a box stocked with freshly harvested carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, green beans, peppers, lettuce and a fragrant bunch of basil. You eat the green beans raw because you just can’t help it.
Nancy and Gary demonstrate that it is possible to cultivate wisely and respectfully not only their measure of land, but also their spiritual lives, their relationships with extended family, friends and neighbors, and daily family life with their 10-year old son, Eric, and Gary’s parents, who live just across the driveway. Nancy works ¾ time as Program Assistant with the Office of International Students and Scholars at Iowa State University in Ames. Gary does most of the farming, cooking and housework. He also participates in a Spiritual Direction class that involves taking time for reflection, reading and writing. Parenting is shared equally and generously. The T.Guthries’ decision to move to the farm was a thoughtful process that included family meetings with Gary’s 4 siblings and parents, who supported the move and shifted the property into a family trust.
If you visit Growing Harmony Farm, you will be treated to one of Gary’s delicious signature pies (rhubarb and apple are favorites). If you happen to visit during one of the family’s field days, you will tour the gardens, learn about organic pest control, eat home made ice cream and meet the neighbors. If your visit falls on a work day, and you are weeding or pitching hay, you are likely to hear Gary and Nancy begin to sing together, recalling the music they learned in Bolivia and El Salvador. And if your visit occurs during a full moon, you may be inclined to set out your lawn chair, feel the peacefulness gathering around the place, and listen for the harmony that grows from word and deed, and from every small seed.
February 2007 update by Nancy and Gary Guthrie
In the [earlier profile], our son was 8 years old. He is now 18 and will be graduating from high school in 2007. Although we can no longer claim him for Earned Income Credit, the college tax credit will come into play as a strategy for keeping our income below the federal taxable level for the next few years. His college will be funded by a combination of merit-based scholarships, work, and savings. Eric is fortunate that his grandparents gave us a sizeable gift when he was young that has now grown into savings he can use for his education.
We just finished our tenth season of operating Growing Harmony Farm CSA (community supported agriculture). Being self-employed provides flexibility in our total income. We can expand markets or contract them as we need to increase or decrease our income. Nancy works half-time at Iowa State University, so our health benefits are covered.
Of course growing vegetables lowers our food expense considerably. We also contribute the maximum amount into an IRA account and can contribute extra into Nancy’s retirement benefits to lower our income if necessary. Living on Gary’s parents farm, we do not pay rent or need to buy a home as the family has set up a trust for the farm property. We have the security of living here as long as we are able.
We enjoy the challenge of living joyfully maladjusted and relating to members of our CSAcommunity. We come from a Christian-based community perspective after living and working in El Salvador for three years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Our CSA community allows us to supply good food to folks who need it and live in the U.S. culture even as we question how to live here with integrity.
From the December 1998 and February 2007 issues of More Than a Paycheck.