Kirkus Review [starred review]:
A soul-searching memoir and travelogue about finding God in the food produced by community agriculture.
Bahnson (co-author: Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation, 2012) was the founder and director of Anathoth, a rich, verdant acre of land owned by his church and used to grow food for its North Carolina community. After several years there, the author was exhausted from defending the project to church members who failed to understand that “Anathoth was not just a hunger relief ministry. It was a whole new way to be a church.” So the author, his wife and their children left the farm for their own piece of land; but once there, Bahnson still felt something was missing from his life. “What does it mean to follow God?” he asked. “How should I live my life? And what does all this have to do with the soil, the literal ground of my existence?” To answer these questions, Bahnson immersed himself in the connections between Judeo-Christian faiths and the burgeoning food movement, while also reflecting upon his life in God. Along the way, he visited a Trappist abbey and Pentecostal organic farmers and celebrated Sukkot on a Jewish farm. Whether he is describing making compost (“I became a priest dispensing the elements to a microbial congregation”) or a “devious, childlike” nonagenarian who doled out “the worst titty-twister [he’d] had since fourth grade,” Bahnson’s lively prose is spiritual without ever being preachy or heavy-handed, and the overall effect is akin to reading a Wendell Berry essay, if Berry also had a sense of humor. Bahnson’s story and its message is constantly, deeply thought-provoking, claiming that working the land with others “reveals the joyful messiness of human life where we find others who need us, and whom we need in return. How we hunger is who we are.” A profound, moving treatise on finding God in gardening.
Bahnson (Making Peace with the Land) is outstanding in his field. Now director of the Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, Bahnson has spent a lot of time in a lot of fields. He developed his field studies into essays of depth and inspiration, humility and, yes, frustration, for he is dealing with the earth and the fullness—or dratted emptiness—thereof. More specifically, he deals with soil (not dirt), a living organism that “both craves life and wants to produce more life, even a hundredfold.” With Christians, he plants in Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina at Advent, plows the Lord’s Acre in North Carolina at Eastertide, and fertilizes Tierra Nueva in Washington State at Pentecost; with Jews, he harvests during Sukkot at Adamah Farm in Connecticut. Like Anne Lamott’s spiritual writing, Bahnson’s essays introduce people of deep faith, imprisoned pasts, ticklish humor, and hope-filled vision, farmer/priests being church by feeding the hungry and praying in the dirt.