Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pecan Harvest - Gathering!!

Once the pecans have been swept into windrows they must be separated from the leaves and trash and collected into wagons. This work is done by the harvester - which performs much the same function as a combine in a traditional grain operation. Except in the pecan business the harvester is pulled behind the tractor and a wagon is pulled behind the harvester. If you think it looks difficult to maneuver, you are absolutely right. Not only is it long and awkward, it is also designed so the front wheels of the harvester must be lifted up from the ground when the tractor is turned around. Otherwise the front rims can collapse.

Fortunately the man operating the harvester in the photo is an expert. Bud ran the farm at Koinonia for over 30 years, and now he provides us with consulting advice. He had no problem moving the tractor with its entire train through the orchard rows. Only major problem was that he expected me to take over and run it for the rest of the day. Miraculously I was able to pick up (pun again) where Bud left off and continue harvesting the lower orchard. Surprizingly, it was not much more difficult that running a baler! Good thing we had that hay farm for the past few years...

For the most part, harvesting pecans is alot like harvesting grain - or even similar to harvesting hay. In each case you gather the crop into windrows. In the case of hay, you use a hay rake. For grain you use a swather and for pecans you have the sweeper. Then you gather up the crop into something so you can pick it up off the field and take it to market. For hay you have balers and bale wagons. Grain farmers use combines to separate the grain from the straw and chaff and store the grain in hoppers. When the hoppers are full, the grain is dumped onto trucks which take it to the storage bins. Pecan farmers use a harvester which picks up the windrow, uses a blower to remove leaves and trash, and a conveyor belt to move the heavier nuts, sticks and sometimes snakes (not joking here) into the trailing wagon.

Now you are probably thinking there is one major difference - and you are right. For hay and grain you have to cut or mow the crop before you start gathering it into windrows. For pecans, you take advantage of the rain, the wind and gravity. Except - these natural processes only bring a fraction of the of pecans to the ground and this happens over the course of weeks or even months.

Pecan farmers have recognized this problem and once again technology provided a solution. The TREE SHAKER!! This little machine moves along the ground, clamps its’ jaw on the tree trunk and literally shakes the nuts down. We don’t bring it out until we first harvest the naturally-fallen nuts because the shaker will run over the pecans and crack them.

While I have agreed to run the harvester, and even the sweeper, I think I will leave the shaker to Bud. Somehow I don’t think he will argue too strongly. The last two times they let someone other than Bud run the machine they forgot to release the jaw after shaking and managed to snap off the tree trunks as they drove away!

Pecan Harvest - Sweeping!!

OK - Norris was right. Harvest time is upon us and everyone is going nuts (pun intended).

So, how do you get those pecan nuts out of those 60 foot tall trees?

Well, thankfully you don't need a 60 foot tall step ladder - and if you thought that was the answer, don't feel bad. We thought the same thing when we first got here.

Harvesting Pecans? First thing to remember is that gravity is your friend. Norris was right about the rain, within a couple of days the nuts started falling to the ground. Now you just need to gather them up. This can be achieved in a few different ways, like the traditional method of walking along and bending down to pick them up. This is the way it was done in Clarence Jordan's time and this is still the preferred method for people who own small orchards.

Now if you are lucky enough to have well over a thousand pecan trees, like we have at Koinonia, then the bending down and picking up can take a massive amount of time. This is where technology enters the scene with a dazzling array of custom harvest machines.

First you have the sweeper, as demonstrated in the photo by Brendan, Koinonia's permaculture supervisor. The sweeper moves along the orchard rows and literally sweeps the nuts, branches, leaves and everything else into neatly organized wind rows. This prepares the way for the harvester to come along and harvest the nuts.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pecan Harvest?

Now the days are turning colder here, and Koinonia has seen the first of the Fall rains. Norris Harris, our chaplain and resident pecan expert, led us in a Harvest song at chapel yesterday morning and he left us with the prediction that the pecans would fall with the rain. Pecans are still the life blood of Koinonia - and we are still shipping the nuts out of Georgia - repeating a cycle begun by Clarence more than 50 years ago. The bakery operation is in full swing, the pecan processing plant is almost clean, and the machinery is serviced and ready to go. Tomorrow we may be rushing headlong into the business of the harvesting, sorting, cracking, cleaning, baking, smoking, selling and shipping pecans. Tomorrow the whole cycle could begin anew.

But for today, we simply enjoy the beauty of the pecan orchards and experience the peace of that same Spirit that led Clarence Jordan to invest his life in this place.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Of Peace and Pecans

Pearl Harbor had been attacked and America was rushing off to fight the Enemy overseas. Somehow, in the shadow of this historic military escalation, the Jordans and Englands decided it was more important to fight the Evils of racism, militarism, and economic exploitation in their own backyard. Instead of guns and bombs, they were armed with a radical faith in the teachings of Jesus as described in the Sermon on the Mount. This faith led them to create a “Demonstration plot of the Kingdom of God” in South Georgia, which they named Koinonia Farm (Koinonia is the Greek word for community as used in Acts 2:42) in November 1942.

From the beginning, Koinonia was challenged by their neighbors for their views on racial equality and pacifism. Initially, thanks to Clarence Jordan’s quick wit and successful agricultural innovations, Koinonians were largely dismissed as crazy but harmless. This amused tolerance quickly exploded into violent hatred when the federal government outlawed the system of racial segregation that permeated Southern life. From 1955 to the early 1960s the Koinonia was the victim of bombings, drive-by shootings, beatings and vandalism. When the attacks proved ineffective, an economic boycott was imposed against Koinonia in 1956. This boycott was enforced by the KKK and they demonstrated their seriousness by bombing a local store that had sold to Koinonia.

Where the threats and violence had failed, the economic boycotts nearly succeeded in ending the Koinonia experiment. In this dark time, Clarence was inspired to create a mail order business - with the slogan “Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia” -that sold pecans to friends of Koinionia in the Northern states. This mail order business, based on pecans and related products, became the economic lifeblood that sustained Koinonia until the violence subsided and the boycott ended shortly after the passage of the civil rights act in 1964. While Koinonia had survived, the violence and boycotts had taken their toll. By the late 1960s, only the Jordan and Whittkamper families remained on the farm, Clarence had grown tired and restless, feeling that God could better use his talents elsewhere. Serious plans were made to sell the farm and move to Atlanta.

Once again, fate - or God - intervened and the Millard and Linda Fuller family made an unexpected visit to Koinonia. The Fullers had realized the American dream by becoming millionaires in their early 30s. Realizing that their material success had resulted in empty lives and a failing marriage, they had recently sold everything and given the money away in a radical commitment to Christ. By 1968, the collaboration of the Jordan and Fuller families led to the start of a new project at Koinonia called the “Fund for Humanity” - later named “Habitat for Humanity”.

Clarence Jordan died suddenly in October 1969, at the age of 57. After Clarence’s death, Millard recalled a recent Christmas dinner at Koinonia. Clarence had unexpectedly disappeared from the festivities in the middle of a cold and rainy day. Millard and one of the visitors went outside and found him planting pecan trees in the orchard. The visitor asked Clarence what he was doing - after all, he would never live to see those trees bear fruit.

Clarence replied that he was planting the trees for those who would come after him.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I was in Prison...

Lumpkin Georgia is a quiet little town of about 1400 people. As its' claim to fame, Lumpkin is the seat of Stewart county, which lies in SouthWest Georgia - right up against the Alabama border.

Interestingly, the population numbers for the town of Lumpkin do not include the 1900+ Latino men that are detained in the CCA (Correction Corporation of America) private prison that is located less than a mile out of town. These men were arrested by ICE agents in the anti-immigrant sweeps that have been cleansing the Southern USA from “illegals” for the past 3 years or so. For those of you who are not yet fluent in Newspeak, ICE stands for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which used to be the INS - or Immigration and Naturalization Service - before the GW Bush era of fear and xenophobia.

What were we doing out in Lumpkin? Well, it turns out that Koinonia is associated with Alterna, which is a faith-based organization that gives assistance to Hispanic immigrants and their families. Alterna has been monitoring this facility since it’s grand opening and trying to assist the people caught in this terrible trap. To learn more about Alterna and the Lumpkin detention center, you can click on this link:

From a more personal perspective, Jan and I went along with Sanders and Kurt from Koinonia to join a vigil at the detention center. It had come to the attention of Alterna that many of the men inside the facility were being denied access to counsel and due process of the immigration hearing process. Most of these men were swept up in workplace raids, or stopped for minor traffic violations. Without any delay, they were sent from all over the SE USA to fill the beds of this brand-new for-profit prison. Once they are safely in the Lumpkin facility, the men are offered a choice. Those with a claim to US residency or citizenship - through family, marriage, etc. are given the opportunity to live inside the Lumpkin facility for several months, or perhaps years, until their immigration hearing date arrives. For those who wish to stay elsewhere, they are promised if they sign a “no-contest” deportation order that they will find themselves free and outside of US territory within 8 days. Problem is that many of these men are still in the Lumpkin prison up to 6 months after they have signed the “no-contest” deportation agreement.

The inmates are allowed one visitor per week - with a maximum stay of 1 hour. There is no physical contact, as a soundproof plate glass window separates inmates and “guests”. We had the opportunity of visiting with Jose, who was arrested a few states away. Jose has family there, but they can’t afford to travel to Georgia to visit him. Jose signed the deportation order as soon as he arrived in Lumpkin. When we spoke with him, he had been inside almost 2 months - and he was very concerned about getting his car, which is being held at a impound lot up north - and it will soon be sold at public auction.

I guess these folks have committed a crime by coming to America to look for work. Obviously they are taking jobs from hard-working Americans and that can’t be right. The good folks at CCA are doing a fine service for the American tax payer too - as their signs on the reception area walls attest. While the US taxpayer spends an average of about $88/day to keep a person in prison (from, these generous folks are doing the same work for only $ 56.69/prisoner/day (from CCA June 2008 annual report). As a further lesson in private sector efficiency, the kind people at CCA are employing the detainees to do the janitorial and food service work inside the prison. Their wages range from $1 to $3 /day. This innovation helps CCA keep their costs down to $39.46/prisoner/day (an operating margin of 30.4%) so they can provide a good return for their share holders. CCA's Net income was $37.5 M for the 2nd quarter of 2008 - not bad for these troubled economic times!

On the other hand, the jobs that were promised to the citizens of Lumpkin have not yet materialized.

Sorry for the rant. Perhaps I am just being self righteous because I was trying to follow the teachings of Jesus. Didn't He say, “I has in prison and you visited me”.

Perhaps CCA are simply fellow Christians. After all, didn’t Jesus also say, “I was a stranger and you took me in”?

(Matt. 25:35-36)


Well - we thought we were on the road for the drive home - until about 1 hour out of Independence - our truck suddenly lost power steering, power brakes, and began overheating. Fortunately we were only about one mile from an exit on the Interstate, so we limped the truck to a Stuckies. Turns out a pulley tensioner chose this moment to spin off the mount and this sent the fan belt to explore the inner regions of the engine compartment. Good thing we bought the extended warranty!

Well, the rest of the Koinonia crew - including Kailee and Krista - were able to fit into the van and continue on. Except for Billy who had relatives in Marshall Missouri - where the nearest Dodge dealer was located. We had to stay overnight in Marshall and wait for most of the next day for parts. Once the parts arrived, it took only 30 minutes to get the truck on the road again. We arrived back at Koinonia a day and a half later than expected - on Tuesday night (Oct 7).

Then again - Jan and I had a full day and 2 full nights alone together. Every cloud has a silver lining!

Koinonia or bust - the trip back home

The Peace Colloquy was a wonderful experience. Thanks to our good friend - and Western Canada Mission President, Darrell Belrose, Koinonia folk were even able to tour the Children’s Peace Pavillion, which is normally closed on Sunday. I also had the opportunity to re-connect with Billy, my friend from the Pine Ridge reservation who coincidentally needed a ride to St. Louis. Nevertheless, once this was completed, we faced the reality of a 16 hr. drive back to SW Georgia.

Goodbyes said, pictures taken and we bid farewell to the folks in Missiouri. Van and truck were loaded and we were on the road again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Oct 3 - 5: Peace Awards and Signal Communities

Almost three weeks after the event, writing this blog entry still causes me to struggle deeply. On one hand, the Community of Christ’s fifteenth annual Peace Colloquy could not have been better. The theme of the conference was “Signal Communities: Hope of Zion”. According to Steve Veazey, president of the Community of Christ; “Signal communities ... reveal a way of living that is a glimpse, demonstration, foothold, or foretaste of the peaceable reign of God on earth. Such communities provide a shining witness that the hope of the gospel is not wishful idealism. Conditions in creation can become better, more harmonious, and peaceful when we give tangible expression to the vision of Christ.”.

The program was outstanding, the speakers were inspiring, the audience was engaged and motivated. There was even a wonderful live performance of the Cotton Patch Gospel musical. In fact, you can visit this link and read or listen to the keynote speeches and judge for yourself:

Some of the sights are also recorded in the photos shown at this link:

As we approach the environmental, economic and political challenges of the 21st century, what could be more important than finding ways to live together in a global community of peace and justice?

Koinonia was recognized as an outstanding Signal Community and the winner of the 2008 Community of Christ International Peace Award. The award ceremony could not have gone better. There was a large crowd in the auditorium and the Koinonia introductions were very warm and insightful. Norris Harris (Koinonia’s Chaplain) and Bren Dubay (Director) gave truly inspired speeches detailing Koinonia’s history, current directions and future plans. Then there was the amazing musical performance, a day full of incredible workshops and a Spirit-filled final worship.

So - Why the struggle?

How can I hope for World Peace when my 15-year-old daughter won’t even speak to me?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Missouri or bust

Early on Thursday morning (Oct. 2) we loaded our luggage and then we piled almost half our community into a 15 person van and a 6 passenger truck. Finally the day had arrived. With prayers, thanksgiving and no small amount of disbelief, we headed off on a 16 hour drive to Missouri to receive a major international Peace Award.

The whole experience seemed a little unreal. Koinonia was started in 1942 as a radical experiment in Christian discipleship which boldly confronted the racial segregation, economic exploitation and militarism of its day. Today we are still seeking to follow the teachings of Jesus as an alternative to racism, materialism, environmental exploitation and militarism - and it is wonderful that Koinonia is recognized for these efforts. Nevertheless, it had been a very stressful week of preparations for this trip.

Problem is that for any group of people, there is always a wide range of opinion. For some of us, our commitment to a simple life means sleeping in the van or on the street. For others, it is a budget motel - and this type of disagreement and misunderstanding goes on for every decision on a trip like this. To add to the confusion and complications, our trip organizer came down with serious health problems just a few days before the trip, and everything had to be rescheduled. Fortunately, Kurt - who is only 21 yrs. old - stepped up and took responsibility for arranging the final details. His open and compassionate leadership helped to bring peace to an otherwise turbulent situation.

Thanks also to our good friends in the Community of Christ in Marion Illinois. On very short notice they opened their church to us and we were able to arrange for our group to sleep there on Thursday night. They even made us a lovely breakfast in the morning so we could continue onwards to the Kansas City area in comfort.

Ten hours to Marion - Six hours to Independence - and we were finally at the temple - with almost 3 hours to spare before the award presentation!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Koinonia travels to Missouri for Peace Award

The preparations have been made, and tomorrow morning we will travel, along with 8 other Koinonians, in a 2 vehicle caravan from South Georgia to Independence, Jackson County, Missouri. This completes an amazing cycle for us. We decided to act on our feelings to explore Christian life in Community at the 2007 World Conference of the Community of Christ, which was held in Independence. Then we learned of Koinonia for the first time at last October's Peace Colloquy, also held at the temple in Independence. Now we are travelling to Missouri in the company of our Koinonia brothers and sisters to watch them receive the Community of Christ Peace award. If you would like to watch this event (maybe even see us in the background), you can tune in via the internet by going to this link:

If you would like more information about the event, check out the following:

We never could have imagined that this happy coincidence could occur. While Community of Christ has made a significant annual Peace Award for the past 15 years, it has always been given to individuals.

This year they made a major exception and recognized a Community. I'm certain that Clarence Jordan would approve!