The church we now attend is small and unpretentious. Children stay in the service, and families are on the large side, so even with six or seven families there are forty to fifty people at the average service. None of the families are affluent; many of them live a life that is influenced by the strong Amish and Mennonite presence in the area. They’ve all been very welcoming, but never imposing. The church is essentially program-free, although I’m not sure if that is due to convictions or just to a shortage of people that could participate.
The pattern of the service is Anglican, taken from the Book of Common Prayer. The preaching is solid and biblical, and refreshingly free of personal anecdotes. The music is a mixture of contemporary praise songs and the sort of folk hymns that became so popular in Roman Catholic churches in the 1960s. Singing is usually accompanied by an acoustic guitar.
The song leader is Jerome Lang, who is just a few years older than I am. Jerome is wiry and grizzled, in the best way. Jerome has operated an organic farm in the area for more than twenty years, but he arrived there after a long and varied journey. He was raised initially on a farm in Nebraska, then as a teen moved with his family to Seattle. After high school he tried to make a go of it as a local folk singer, but that proved too hard a row to hoe, so he and his wife moved to the wilds of east Washington state and joined a homesteading community there. His first child was born in a tent, in the wintertime, in a place that was only accessible on horseback. A long series of adventures, only a few of which I’ve heard so far, eventually led him to establish a farm just south of Liberty, Kentucky.
Jerome took a liking to us right away, and I’m not entirely certain why. Part of it, I’m sure, is that Chris and I play music professionally. Early on he invited himself over to our house for an evening of music, then came back another time with his banjo-playing friend Bill. Jerome plays for various local events, and has invited us to be there for some of them—the church Christmas pageant, a presentation at another local church, an informal performance at a nearby retreat center. He likes it that we are able to pick up songs quickly and so fill out the sound without extensive practice. Jerome has written a number of his own songs, some of them delightful, all of them informed by his agrarian way of life.
Whatever it was that drew Jerome to us, he has been a special blessing to us so far, and I’m sure that will only increase in the future. We don’t come at our own farming project with much more than a willingness to learn and the humility to ask people to teach us. Jerome knows an awful lot of what we need to learn, and has been quite willing to take the time to teach us. Part of the reason, I’m sure, is that organic farming is a fringe activity, looked at askance even by many of the plain people who farm for a living in this area, and so he is eager for the chance to share what he’s learned with someone who will appreciate the value of it.
A few weeks ago Jerome offered to take me and Chris on a guided tour of the immediate area. He drove over around 9am and we climbed into his ancient Nissan pickup. He told us it was his favorite vehicle because of the great gas mileage, and I was impressed to see that the odometer was closing in on 300.000 miles. I was also impressed to see that it was the only gauge in the dashboard that still worked. He took us to meet a nearby mechanic that he thought was reliable, showed us where one of our fellow parishioners lived, drove through Liberty pointing out the town dump and the building supplies store, pointed out a great bargain shoe store that had unfortunately just closed, drove us past the quarry that he said had the only limestone in the area worth putting on your land, and then stopped in to see another parishioner at her stained glass workshop, where we spent a half hour or so visiting and admiring her work.
The next part of the journey was a slow and detailed tour of the area just around Jerome’s farm, which is thickly settled by Mennonites. We drove by Zimmerman’s Farmstead Cheeses (the one place Chris and I had already been), stopped in at Nolt’s Bulk Foods to marvel at their extremely low prices, drove up the hill to the Mennonite church building, circled the grounds of the Gallilean Children’s Home, and stopped in at Lavern’s Surplus Foods, where you could get things like sixty Lenders Bagels for $3, twenty-four cans of pinto beans for $5, thick woolen boot socks for $1.25 a pair, twenty-four cans of Starbucks Double Shot Espressos for $5, and so on.
We also stopped in to see some Mennonite friends of Jerome’s. One was a young blind man who buys and shells black walnuts; we visited briefly with him and his wife and new baby. Another was a fellow who is known as the guy to go to when you need your starter or alternator worked on, and also sells a wide range of irrigation equipment. He wasn’t home, but his son came out to meet us and chat as Jerome searched for a few pieces he needed to buy. A third was good friend of Jerome’s, a fellow organic farmer for whom he will often sell produce at various upscale outlets in Lexington. It was wash day, and over the noise of the gasoline-powered washer Jerome arranged to pick up carrots and cabbages the next day to take into town.
That made for a long trip, so we headed back to our house in mid-afternoon, where there were still enough soup beans and cornbread from lunch to feed the three of us. It was cold and starting to snow, but as we told Jerome about our garden plans he insisted on grabbing a shovel and helping us survey the property for the best place to put the garden. He also recommended that we have lime put on the land, an unusually high amount (15 tons to the acre). I don’t know much about farming yet, but I do know to trust a knowledgeable friend, so I told him I’d get it done as soon as possible.
Our Christmas present from Jerome was a copy of “An Agricultural Testament” by Sir Albert Howard, the fellow who practically invented organic farming back in the early part of the 20th century. I haven’t read it yet, partly because Chris grabbed it and began to devour it. After some thought, we gave Jerome a copy of John Taylor Gatto’s “An Underground History of American Education”, since education is an interest of his and his countercultural background has made him very open to alternative views of history.
Chris’s main school assignment for the past couple of weeks has been to make an initial plan for this year’s garden, figuring out how much of each kind of food we need to feed ourselves. Once that is done, Jerome has offered to come over and review it in detail. That will be helpful not only because he knows what to grow and not to grow, but also because he is realistic about what can and can’t be managed, particularly by novice farmers; I’m sure he will help us scale down our plans to a level that we can hope to handle.