Wendell Berry once penned: "Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you." That theme was woven throughout a recent gathering, "Walking the Watershed Way: Going Deeper into Creation Care," held Sept. 27-29 in Alamosa, Colorado.
I was grateful to be part of a Mountain States Conference planning team* that helped to shape the high-energy gathering of 40-some Mennonites and other diverse community allies. Together, we explored ways to build capacity to respond locally and globally to the climate crisis. The Anabaptist Fellowship of Alamosa hosted the weekend of presentations, activities, practical tools, and commitments to action. Mennonite Creation Care Network provided a small grant to help with expenses.
It was heartening to see a wide range of participants – people in their early 20s up to their 80s – engage with each other and the material. For me, it held one vision of what "church" might be moving forward in this region. Hands-on portions of the weekend, a "Taste of Place," pivoted around local field experiences and presentations, exposing out-of-town visitors to innovations in the Alamosa area related to equitable land and local foods access and environmental restoration efforts.
For example, Liza Marron, executive director of the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition, shared information about the organization's varied initiatives. Tours followed, led by various project managers such as Jesse Marchildon, of the Rio Grande Farm Park. Abe Rosenberg prepared a Local Foods/Local Places picnic shaped by foods from the Valley Roots Food Hub. Zoila Gomez gave a tour of the Alamosa Farmers' Market, highlighting her program's focus on nutritious cooking for lower-income families. Emma Reesor, executive director of the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project, took the group to a bend in the Rio Grande restored through efforts by that project, where a history of indigenous presence was shared and prayers were offered.
The next day, Reesor and Patrick O'Neill shared about ongoing collaborative efforts in our Valley to preserve and restore important water and soil resources. O'Neill also spoke of his long-time partnership with the Guatemala family farmers at what is now the Rio Grande Farm Park.
Todd Wynward and Daniel Herrera, leaders of a Watershed Way group in Taos, New Mexico, challenged the audience with what Walking the Watershed Way requires, from overall life commitments to specific daily practices. They highlighted five practices that inspire the Taos group:
- Fall in love with your place.
- Protect your place and practice abundance.
- Celebrate and surrender to each season.
- Practice communion through common projects with diverse groups.
- Treat your place as your teacher/rabbi.
Interwoven throughout the weekend was space for individual and small-group networking. Every break included the buzz of conversation. Folks swapped contact information along with advice on worms, seeds, and garden produce. They also shared recipes, music, poetry, book recommendations, and connections for accessing desired foods and other regional supplies. Opportunities to explore "next steps" for action by individuals, local community groups, and the larger regional network also helped to drive the event. Towars the close, Wynward repeated his ongoing challenge for individuals and groups to move beyond ideas to action. He urged them to draw upon learnings they gained from projects they had visited and connections they had made during the gathering.
As coordinator of a Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) program in this area for many years, it was gratifying to visit local projects that MVS volunteers and Fellowship members have helped to initiate and/or keep vibrant over the years. Reesor, who began two years of MVS in Alamosa in 2013, now directs the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project. Connor Born is a current volunteer at that project, preceded by Andrea Bachman and Reesor's predecessor, Jeremy Yoh. Hannah Thiel currently volunteers with the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition, preceded there in recent years by Chris Lehman, Bryce Hostetler, Curtis Martin, and Peter Wise.
These important opportunities for community engagement resonate with our Anabaptist understandings and with the local service model of MVS in Alamosa. These and others have greatly enriched our lives and the life of our broader community in this rural setting.
*The planning team members were Anita Amstutz, Barry Bartel, Ken Gingerich, Alice Price, and Todd Wynward.