AMBS Student Takes the Lead on Campus Composting, Gardening

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Ryan Harker is a Master of Divinity student and adjunct instructor at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, IN. At AMBS, Ryan is concentrating on Biblical Studies, specifically the intersection of the Bible, Agrarianism, and place/land-based ecclesiology. He and co-liaison Janeen Bertsche Johnson were recently featured in a story about their partnership with the SSA in The Mennonite, available to read here.

The following interview with Ryan Harker was conducted by SSA staff.

How did you come to be involved in creation care?

In my freshman year of college at Truman State University, I began reading the writings of John Howard Yoder, which led me into the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition. As I got more into this way of thinking and doing Church, I slowly picked up on the importance given to simplicity in much of Anabaptist thought. I then took a course on the ethics of sustainable agriculture and read Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America, which together changed my thinking quite radically. The years since then have been an experiment in figuring out how to bring together my two loves: Biblical Studies and homesteading/sustainable farming.
 
 
What are particular issues you focus on with regard to creation care?

I’m a Masters student in Biblical Studies, and the pursuit of this degree came out of a desire to combine my two passions in a way that I can serve the Church, helping it to think theologically about the way we live with the land as stewards. As a hopeful Biblical scholar/farmer, I think any legitimate Christian ecological ethic is grounded in the Biblical text and the Gospel, and any good reading of the Biblical text should lead a community to care for the land. As far as interests go, I’m particularly interested in drawing out the agrarian context/milieu in which the New Testament was written. Much work has been done in this area with the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (most famously, Ellen Davis’ fantastic book), but I’m interested in bringing that lens to the New Testament, or rather, drawing out the agrarian lens that it is already there!
 
 
How are you engaged with the creation care efforts on the campus of AMBS?

At AMBS, I got our campus compost system up and running

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again during my first year. After having fallen into disuse for a few years, the compost system needed a lot of work. So, I got a group together and built a new 3-bin compost system, and the system is now going very strong! I am also the coordinator of our campus garden (about 6,700ft2). We have fourteen plots that are 12ft. x 40ft. that are rented by students and their families. In addition to my work with the campus garden and compost crew, I am also on the Environmental Education Committee that is charged with finding ways that creation care can become more integrated in the life of our community.
 
 
What are some routines you employ to make care for creation a part of your daily life?

Whew! My wife and I are on a long journey of learning to live more in line with our God-given vision for our lives, of living as with our ecosystem rather than against or despite it. We have come a long way, but we’re nowhere near where we’d like to end up. We are pretty serious gardeners, so we spend a lot of time growing, harvest, canning, and cooking together. We just try to make what radical simplicity a habit of life, so we are constantly, patiently changing things to live more in line with where our hearts are. Right now, one of the things we enjoy doing together is biking/walking together to the AMBS campus, which gives us an hour each day to chat, and it cuts back on our oil consumption! Overall, we simply try to live as “small” as possible.

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The three-bin composting system Ryan coordinated.

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A view of the campus garden.

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Campus wildflowers.