If this were an ordinary summer in Killington, tourists set on spending their vacations hiking, biking and fishing would be filling the hotels, restaurants and shops of the ski resort turned year-round tourism magnet in central Vermont.
Instead, as the coronavirus pandemic stretches on, tensions between Killington residents and visitors from cities hard hit by the virus have flared, and workers dependent on the tourism economy are contending with unemployment, food insecurity and an uncertain future.
This is not the setting in which the Rev. Lisa Ransom and the Rev. Rachel Field thought they would begin their ministry at Mission Farm, the 180-acre homestead given to the Diocese of Vermont in 1897 by Elizabeth Wood Clement. But as Field says, the pandemic means that “how we meet God is changing.”
“We’re thinking about agriculture and building community,” she says. “How we meet God, and how we pray.”
Field became the farm priest at Mission Farm in July, a one-third time position that she combines with her ministry as priest-in-partnership at St. Thomas, Brandon, and a nearby homestead that she and her husband began last year.
Ransom, a priest of the diocese for more than two decades, now spends a third of her time as executive director of Mission Farm and another third as vicar of Church of Our Saviour, Killington, the small stone church located on the property. She also runs a small family farm nearby and is co-owner of Grow Compost, a company that sells compost and other “organic soil blends.”
Given their experience, it’s not surprising that Ransom and Field aim to make Mission Farm a working farm once again. These days, they say, they spend most of their time together praying, planning and writing grants to fund their vision of growing food for people in need and teaching people to grow their own food.
“In rural communities with recreation-based economies, the pandemic has devastated our ability to access adequate food,” says Ransom. “We’re planning demonstration gardens for teaching that will also provide food. We want to help people see how it’s possible to grow food on a porch, on a suburban quarter acre, in a community garden plot—anywhere people have access to outdoor space.”
“One of my huge joys,” she says, “would be for someone to engage in a program here, feel a sacred connection to the land, and say ‘I can do that where I am.’”
The duo also envisions a CSA (community supported agriculture) program, in which people from the community and beyond could buy a share of Mission Farm’s harvest for themselves or to donate to people in need of food.
Alongside their new vision for a working farm, Ransom and Field are also considering how Mission Farm’s existing ministries, including a bakery, farmer’s market and guest house, might change after the pandemic.
“A lot of people know Mission Farm because they have stayed here in the guest house,” Field says. “We want people to have that feeling of being welcomed, to feel a connection when they come here.”
That sense of welcome, together with what Ransom calls “sustainable earth spirituality,” will be evident in the farm’s new programs, designed to respond to the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism.
“The farm provides ample outdoor space to social distance for “people for whom touch and smell and sound is important to their prayer life,” she says. Anti-racism training will be central to the project, especially through work with the Abenaki Nation, on whose ancestral land the farm stands.
Though even outdoor services are not yet possible, people who want to experience the farm’s peaceful setting online are invited to join a Zoom meditation on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:30 a.m.
“You are invited to come alongside others, the community of life at Mission Farm, and the Spirit through Zoom as we meditate together – opening ourselves to whatever the new day offers,” the website invitation reads. “If you would like to direct your meditation toward the new life that is unfolding at Mission Farm, we welcome you to hold that intention as well.”
Field says she and Ransom use these meditations to “share some prayer time and spend some time in silence. If we’re not grounded in the Spirit and in Christ, we’ll just make things harder for ourselves.” But, Ransom interjects, “As people of Vermont, we know that the seasons are short. We only have a few more months before we’re done with the growing season and we have to start thinking differently again.”
For Bishop Shannon MacVean-Brown, the new energy at Mission Farm holds promise as a model for collaborative ministry in other parts of the diocese. “The Holy Spirit’s fingerprints are all over this envisioning, and the wisdom of moving slowly and seeing what the land is asking to unfold is a great place to start,” she says. “This feels like a wonderfully agile place to combine what is already in place with what might begin to emerge.”
photo of the Rev. Rachel Field, left, and the Rev. Lisa Ransom by Madeline Baughman