Imagine children on a field trip to a nearby farm, all excited to learn about gardening. Instead, they’re shocked to learn the same food their parents buy in the store, comes from a garden like the one they’re standing in. Well, that’s what happened to one middle school boy on a visit to Jubilee Farm, just west of Springfield, Ill.
“He was totally grossed out to discover his food came out of the ground!” said Sister Sharon Zayac, OP.
Sister Sharon estimates that several thousand people visit Jubilee Farm each year, whether it’s through adult or school group tours, retreats or just from people stopping by. The Springfield Dominican Sisters – three live at the farm – try to educate those passing through on sustainable gardening and organic food.
“We try to provide a model that is counter to the whole agribusiness complex,” Sister Sharon said.
The farm is a little over 111 acres, most of which is natural habitat, but contains walking trails, an orchard, 60 hens, berries and about a two-acre vegetable garden. While the garden isn’t certified organic, the farm follows organic standards, the sister said. A few years ago the farm started a CSA, which is capped at 30 shares. Due to unseasonably warm weather, the sisters already started planting back in March, which Sister Sharon admits is “a little scary.”
Some of the popular offerings from the farm are various programs or workshops, such as how to make bread or how to make chocolate truffles. In everything, the sisters try to teach about the “deeper issues,” Sister Sharon said. For example, in the truffles class, participants learn about how cacao is sustainably grown and about Fair Trade products.
“With our bread baking classes and some of the others, we’re trying to teach nutrition and the spirituality of food and eating,” she added.
The farm and programs are a practical way for people to make the connections between “healthy eating, healthy bodies, healthy planet and healthy spirituality,” Sister Sharon said. Plus, teaching others about ethical eating and sustainable living is “the right thing to do.”
“It’s absolutely necessary,” she said. “For the most part, people still don’t have a clue about what’s going on with the food supply.”
Adults who visit Jubilee Farm are most surprised to learn about genetically modified organisms, which Sister Sharon said is even more surprising given that the area is surrounded by them.
“Another surprise is about how good food tastes when it’s locally grown and grown without a lot of chemical inputs,” she said.
Sister Sharon hopes that through the education of youth at Jubilee Farm, one day people will be more aware of ethical eating and sustainable living.
“I truly believe that if you teach the children and they grow up with a different understanding, then changes will be made,” she said. “But I also believe now that the urgency is that the adults also have to learn. We can’t wait for the children to grow up to change some of the things that are happening.”