MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And this week, our theme is friends and neighbors. And when we started working on this show, we put a request out on WAMU's Public Insight Network or PIN to see what you, our listeners, had to say about your neighbors. And we were surprised by the intensity of the responses. People told us they were better people for having their neighbors in their lives.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
That they, quote, "remind us of a culture where people care about who you are and not what you do." One respondent even said her neighbor Jane is the epitome of kindness and generosity.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Well after getting all these glowing reports about the people in your neighborhoods, it got us really fired up for today's show. So we hit the streets to bring you stories about all the different roles neighborliness plays in our lives, whether it's across the backyard fence, on a battlefield, even on the basketball court.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
First, though, last week we whisked you away to Clark County, VA, home of Holy Cross Abbey, a 62-year-old Trappist Monastery in the midst of some major changes. See, the Abbey's been losing money and men. While Holy Cross housed about 60 men in its heyday, now it's down to 13. And their average age is about 75. So the monastery has been taking steps to secure its financial and social future in more sustainable ways. It's hoping to rely less on its fruitcake bakery and beef-cattle operation, and more on one of Holy Cross's greatest natural resources...
MR. JOSEPH VANTU
1,200 acres of land to be precise. And this Holy Cross resident.
I am Joseph Vantu.
Or Brother Joseph.
I'm 75 years old. Originally, I'm from Vietnam.
Goes so far as to compare that land to gold.
Just like Middle East they have oil, that's gold for them.
But the key, he says, is using the Abbey's gold appropriately, which is why he's so excited about two brand new efforts here at Holy Cross. First, a green cemetery, which doesn't do embalming, or use non-biodegradable burial materials, and second, a fruit and vegetable farm, run by the Abbey's Loudoun County neighbors.
MS. KATE ZURSCHMEIDE
All right, so we're getting yellows, right?
Yeah, I've never had a yellow zucchini. Just across the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Look at this one.
Great Country Farms. Oh wow.
That one got a little bit, this one got a little bit over.
How big would you say that is?
I don't even know. It's probably...
It's pretty giant.
Isn't it crazy. That would definitely make a lot of zucchini bread.
Kate Zurschmeide co-owns Great Country Farms with her husband, Mark.
I'm part of the Zurshmeide family, and we have been farming in Loudoun for about 40 years. And we're starting here at the monastery in Clarke, and looking forward to a long relationship.
And as it happens, that relationship came about in a most serendipitous way.
One of our lifelong friends has been providing hospice care here to one of the older monks. And when she heard that the monks were looking to expand into growing crops and trying to have some sustainable use of their farm, said, hey, you need to talk to the Zurschmeide family. They're right across the river; they're 10 minutes away.
MR. ED LEONARD
Mark and Kate were about the fourth family we had spoke to about this idea.
Ed Leonard is the chief sustainability officer at Holy Cross Abbey.
We were looking in Maryland, we were looking in Pennsylvania, we were looking all over the place. And it was so incredible that Mark and Kate were in our backyard, and we didn't know it.
What's also incredible is that Mark and Kate had actually been seeking more land at the time. And what's more, Ed says.
They were compatible with all the values the monks had. They understand the value of treating this land gently.
Now while the fruits and vegetables grown here aren't certified organic, Kate says Great Country Farms does apply more sustainable practices here, like using fish-emulsion fertilizer.
Instead of, you know, chemical fertilizers.
Growing plants on plastic.
So we use a suppression technique rather than spraying an herbicide every week on all of the fields.
And using pesticides on an as-needed basis.
Rather than every Monday, you nuke the squash, and every Tuesday you nuke the orchard, and things like that.
While Holy Cross Abbey has been providing the land, Great Country Farms has been providing the labor and infrastructure. So things like putting up deer fencing, tilling the land, and doing all the planting and harvesting. But instead of Holy Cross getting a flat rental fee, it gets a percentage of Great County farms revenue. Though, as Ed Leonard points out, there is no annual contract.
And so we're doing cost-sharing with the Zurschmeides. For instance, these 2,000 apple trees that they planted on Good Friday, we're splitting the cost of that. We don't think they should have to financially bear the entire burden and risk. So with an annual contract, that was just too much to ask.
And though the partnership is no more than a few months old, Ed says it's looking more and more like the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Kate Zurschmeide agrees.
You know we would love to be in it for the long haul. And to me, if somebody says, 'Plant apple trees,' which have a, you know, 20-year harvest life span. That bodes well for a long-term relationship.
Great Country Farms started planting on this mile-and-a-half stretch beside the Shenandoah River in March. And because this land is so loamy and rich, while you usually wouldn't harvest something like squash until July...
We started the first week of June this year..
Which has been a pleasant, if profuse, surprise for Great Country Farms' 2,000-some CSA customers. These community-supported agriculture members order produce pre-season, and then get 20 deliveries between June and October.
We've been inundating people with squash this year because they're just producing like crazy and so one of our members has actually started 104 Days of Squash Challenge. He's like taken on a blog where he's going to post up a new squash recipe for 104 days, just to deal with the volume that's coming.
But the CSA folks aren't the only ones who get to partake in that volume. Do you see any plans of providing food to the Monastery?
Well right now we do a regular stop by at the Monastery for the monks themselves.
Who, by the way, are all vegetarian.
So last week we dropped off some apples and apricots and squash. And I think they're all enjoying have some fresh produce from their own land.
And in the case of Brother Joseph, anyway, Kate's definitely right. He's been enjoying a lot more produce since becoming a monk nine years ago. And now bonus, it will be local. So you are 75?
Oh, yes, I am.
You don't look like you're 75.
You know why? Because I eat beans. Beans is my favorite. Before I entered here I don't know that food well. It was just beef, steak or some other, McDonald's. I didn't have bean at all. But over here, I like it. Now I feel young.
Of course, the monastery and its monks aren't actually getting any younger. So Brother Joseph hopes the farm at Holy Cross will help his beloved home live on, both by raising revenue and by making the Abbey more appealing to a younger generation.
This is one problem we cannot solve by ourselves. In our house now we are old, so we had to need outside to come and help us to make an environment for newcomers to accept the life over here.
For now, Brother Joseph says he's praying for a positive future. One that's bright, one that's beautiful, and just like the land itself, one that brings forth a bounty of gold.
To learn more about Holy Cross Abbey and Great Country Farms including how you can become a member of their CSA, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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