Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Some pictures from my time at ARI

Main building, the first thing you see as you enter ARI.
Baby cow!
An expedition into the mountains to find snow.
Driving to pick up kitchen garbage from local businesses and schools for ARI.
Cool, teenage pigs.
Baby pigs, only one week old!
YASCer's on new years day at Meji-Jingu Shrine.
Snow on the mountains from one of ARI's vegetable fields.
Graduation for the 2010 participants.
Contradancing at the Harvest Thanksgiving Celebration!
The rainy service on the morning of the Harvest Thanksgiving Celebration 2010.
One of the big creepy spiders that were everywhere at ARI this summer and fall.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The New Year

I have been at ARI for almost four months now. Parts of this time seem to have flown by, while other parts stand out in eerie detail. I remember the first time I felt the warmth of a chicken's blood pour over my numb hands during slaughtering, but the last time I wrote here seems like just a few weeks ago. I can relive the hours and hours spent on my knees transplanting onions with great care, as if each one was a child to be protected and nurtured, but when I saw some of my fellow YASCer's this weekend, it felt as if only a little time had passed since our orientation in Toronto. A good friend once told me that all memories aren't created equal. She said that our brain has a way of prioritizing new experiences while glossing over familiar ones. This rings true, and I have even come to appreciate this inevitable quality of life. It allows us to adapt to radically new places and experiences, that would otherwise be overwhelming. It allows me to feel at home at ARI.

I just got back from a wonderful new years in Tokyo with Christen, Andy, and Spencer, three other YASCer's from Nagoya, the Philippines, and Hong Kong respectively. My good friend Sophia also flew in to spend a couple of weeks with me in Tokyo and at ARI. I was incredible to hear about the experiences of my peers. I was surprised by how different each of our experiences have been, and continue to be. My mission is at a rural training center, but this weekend I heard from a YASCer about the challenges of living in a truly rural area. We commented that people come to ARI in order to improve their leadership and community's livelihood in places like his placement. I was truly impressed by the strength that I saw in each of my fellow YASCer's. I was proud to be counted among such a distinguished group and reenergized about the unexplored possibilities of my own placement.

Speaking of which, I love ARI. I feel comfortable in my role here as a farm volunteer and an active member of this intentional community. I currently spend my time sorting soybeans, taking care of onion and garlic seedlings, and feeding and seeing to a veritable arc of animals. Needless to say I am very happy and very busy! My new year's resolution, to be witnessed by my fellow YASCer's and the followers of this blog is simply this: to write more. I vow to respond to any letter that I recieve, journal often, and post on this blog regularly. I wish you all a wonderful new year, full of joy and laughter!

Steven Hart

Monday, October 4, 2010


I have been at ARI for almost exactly three weeks. In my short time here, I have found this humble place to be many things. My first impression was that I was in a place that was well used and lovingly worn around the edges. I find new responsibilities intimidating, while I welcome the growing number of familiarities. I have surprised myself with both my strength and endurance, while simultaneously discovering my very human inclination to misjudge people. I am not entirely culpable for this, however, as the apparently ramshackle assortment of community members here are all, in actuality, exceptional individuals and many are seasoned leaders. Even recognizing this I am still surprised each day when someone mentions some detail about them self that completely alters my point of view.

Here, people work together, sweat together, laugh together, and reap the benefits together. Whether it be weeding (for which my deacon Rose has apparently trained me exceptionally well), vegetable planting, rice harvesting, chicken feeding, cooking or lifting a van out of a ditch, all tasks are approached together. The term here is foodlife. It refers to the intimate connection between the work we do together to create food, and the life that same food sustains in ourselves and our neighbors. I have been, and continue to be, in awe of the amount of support this community offers its members. I see it each day it when people, who work harder than I even knew possible, stop to assist with someone else’s task while exhaustion shows through their own smile.

All of this I have been watching and struggling to understand and explain. I want to reconcile the somewhat worn appearance of everything here with the sheer amount of outside support and appreciation this institute gets. It wasn’t until tonight, when I overheard a conversation between an elder Japanese visitor and one of the staff members here at ARI, that I think I began to understand this outwardly simple, but inwardly exceptionally complex place. The staff member was relaying a speech he had given on an international conference on the millennium development goals that he recently attended. He described how policies that governments and large organizations made in order to combat poverty have not been having their intended effect. He went on to relay several stories of ARI graduates who are thriving and passing on their knowledge of sustainable agriculture and methods of food security to the next generation of their rural communities. This is what is going to accomplish the millennium development goals, and this is the point of ARI. It’s not about the facility, or the staff, or the country that ARI is in. It’s about the effect that this place has on the people that pass through its walls, fields and barns. The good work that ARI is doing is blatantly visible, and does not require statistics and government surveys to comprehend. Food security, the ability for a community to produce what it needs to survive, is what is going to combat world poverty from the grassroots level.

In my short time here I have already been a carpenter, a harvester, a janitor, a seed sower, a listener, an observer, a committee member, a workhorse, and a dance instructor and student. I look forward to the coming year with eager anticipation as I learn my role here and become more competent in my daily tasks. It is invigorating to be able to so easily see (and taste) the fruit of your labor! I look forward to sharing my thoughts and experiences with you, the readers of my blog.

Thank you and peace be with you,


Friday, June 18, 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

My name is Steven Hart. I am from Murray, Kentucky and have been a life-long member of Saint John’s Episcopal Church. Many of you may know me through my affiliation with All Saints Episcopal summer camp, where I have worked for the past two years as a counselor and plan to work this summer as well. The Episcopal Church has actively engaged me for as long as I can remember. From mission trips that shook my assumptions about the world, to community outreach projects that connected me with my local city, to some very unique Christmas pageants my church has guided me to a responsible and self-aware adulthood. This diocese has fostered in me a deep and thoughtful faith that permeates all aspects of my life. Through EFM, All Saints Episcopal Camp, and relationships with many diverse and supportive peers in my church community, I have grown up in an environment where engaging my faith isn’t a transitory event, but a realty almost taken for granted. It is this reality that called me to be engaged in a new and exciting ministry with the Episcopal Church. I have applied and been accepted to be a missionary for this diocese and the national Episcopal Church. I am writing to you to invite you to participate with me in this ministry.

The program is called the Young Adult Service Corps or YASC. YASC sends young adults from Episcopal dioceses to the far reaches of the world to participate in diverse ministries. If I have learned anything about the Episcopal Church, it’s that we have a place and a use for everyone’s talents. When the YASC coordinators learned of my passion for the beauty and intricacy of creation, they decided to send me as the Episcopal missionary to the Asian Rural Institute in Japan. This institute is a grassroots organization whose mission is to educate community leaders from the poorest and least politically stable regions of the world in the practices of sustainable agriculture. Their entire outreach is predicated on the idea that our food and how we produce it is intimately connected with our lives together. This institute’s goal is to teach, through hands on experience, methods that community leaders can utilize to sustainably produce food for their communities. While in the fields and classrooms participants at the ARI form an ecumenical community. Fostering this community is just as much the mission of the ARI as teaching sustainable farming. The guiding principle behind the ARI is that by working together as a community to provide for everyone’s needs, differences of gender, race, religion and ethnicity are celebrated as influences for enriching the community rather than dividing it. The ARI makes a conscious effort to have a 50/50 ratio of women to men, a task that can be difficult given the social structure in some regions. Our National Church has pledged to fight against hunger and promote empowerment of women and community leaders throughout the world. Is it any wonder, then, that we would dedicate one of the relatively few missionary positions to the support of an institute that builds its entire mission on these very tenets?

I am honored to have been selected for this missionary position. I am very passionate about the importance of sustainable practices as a key to mitigating the rampant hunger that plagues many regions of the world. I am happy to invite you to join me in my mission, in our mission, at the Asian Rural Institute. I invite you to support this mission in any way that you find appropriate or feel called, whether it be through prayer, spreading awareness, or financial contributions. All forms of support are welcome and necessary. However, this mission will not be possible without financial support. As a YASC member, I am responsible to raise a little under half of the cost that my one-year missionary placement will accrue. This amounts to a total of 10,000 USD. All of this money is used to support my mission at the Asian Rural Institute and, as such, is tax exempt through the Episcopal Church. This money covers things like my plane ticket to and from Japan, my living arrangements, my living stipend, and my medical insurance. I am inviting support from the entire diocese, and any amount that you feel called to contribute is appreciated. That said, I ask for your generosity in joining my mission. I am a representative of Saint Johns, of the Diocese of Kentucky, and of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America. I am your missionary; your declaration of support to the Asian Rural Institute. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45. I invite you to serve, through me, our greater world community. By joining my mission, whether through prayer, financial support, or community education you will allow us, as a Church, to have a presence at the Asian Rural Institute and a part in its mission to fight world hunger by educating and empowering the least of us.

I would love to answer any questions that you have about my mission, the Asian Rural Institute, YASC, or any other aspect of my soon to begin missionary life. As I will be working at All-Saints Episcopal Camp this summer, you may reach me through e-mail at sghart7@gmail.com. I ask that all financial support be contributed by cash or check made out to Saint John’s Episcopal Church with the words “Steven Hart – YASC” in the memo line.

I am very excited about my mission, and happy to invite you to join in support. I thank you for your time and generosity.


Steven Hart

804 Main Street

Murray, KY 42071

270 753-5549