Jul. 5, 2011
Kyle T. Kramer’s journey started in 1996 in a tiny garden near Emory University’s Candler School of Theology when he was a leader at the school’s Youth Theological Initiative (YTI) Summer Academy.
As he introduced the young YTI scholars to community gardening and ecological stewardship at Turner Village Community Garden, a garden Kramer himself had begun as an expression of his emerging call, he began to sense the powerful lure of creation.
“I drew hope from the enthusiasm of the kids for the work and I began to see how a garden can bring people together,” he says.
Now the owner of Genesis Organic Farm, a 27-acre working farm in rural Indiana, Kramer tells the rest of the story in his debut book, A Time to Plant: Life Lessons in Work, Prayer, and Dirt (Sorin, 2010). It is a story of Kramer’s coming to know God and himself by rejecting popular consumerist ideals, starting an organic farm, raising his family in a solar- and wind-powered home he designed and built himself, and learning to embody the Benedictine traditions of physical labor, prayer and hospitality.
A 1998 graduate of Candler, Kramer says he chose a life of organic farming for its utterly real and non-abstract quality. The life “removes the layers between cause and effect that so often separate us from the consequences of our actions,” he says.
Weary of standard religious and environmental approaches to ecological issues, he decided to write a book far removed from the “strident and moralistic calls from both camps.”
“It’s easy to take things too seriously. But some changes we need to make are so serious that they must be held lightly,” he says.
Indeed, Kramer describes his life as full of both hard work and humor. Humor is essential, he says, in a life where change is slow. “Farming is not a type-A kind of occupation; one thinks in terms of years, or decades, or even generations.”
Changes occur in concentric circles, centered on the farm, he says. Within the inner circle are himself, his wife and their three children, learning the lessons of patience and gentleness taught by the land, being slowed down by it, paying attention to it.
Customers, visitors to the farm, and readers of his book comprise the next circle. They are invited to consider a way of life that is “countercultural without being weird, radical but not separate,” Kramer says.
Laughing at the notion of calling everyone back to their rural roots, Kramer hopes to change the perspectives of a few “by preserving skills and a quality of life that the culture needs, even if it doesn’t know it.”
The largest circle is the earth itself. Here Kramer immediately brings things back to the local, saying that his own vocation is “leave one small patch of creation better than I found it.” Yet his thoughts are global. A Time to Plant is about change through invitation, he says. “I feel like Noah in that I am called to help save a remnant of creation; but if my farm is an ark, it’s an ark with open doors.”