This is an excerpt from an interview with Don Bustos, program director with AFSC in New Mexico. Please visit Acting in Faith to read more and comment.
Lucy Duncan (LD): What changes have you witnessed in the communities in which you've worked?
Don Bustos (DB): People used to say the model you've created only depends on you. I'd say, "If that's true, then the model's not working."
In Las Cruces, in Chapparal, we're working with a group of immigrant growers. The group we're working with created a little farm in the middle of the desert, with limited water. They have cold frames, they are forming a cooperative, it's mostly women.
Women have really come into the project; we're hearing their voices more and more. They are growing food; they are going to the markets and speaking.
I did a study with Oxfam International which talks about the people that we work with—they get less than 1% of all the federal resources for agriculture, yet we represent 15% of the growers. In that same study, the growth of the farmers that will save agriculture is the immigrant growers.
LD: It seems as though your work is so powerfully practical and empowering. Would you mind talking a bit about the spiritual aspects?
DB: The spiritual is part of everything we do, so we talk about water and we talk about farming. When we plant we do a blessing, "One for the creator, one for the neighbor, and one for everything living,” acknowledging that the creator is all powerful. In the spring the priest blesses the waters, or rather acknowledges that the waters are blessed. That moves the tradition forward. It allows us to go forward and plant our seeds. On our farm we have a bean called a Virgin Mary bean, it's planted on the corners of the farm and it protects the farm from bad weather. We do a dance and acknowledgement. We plant by the moon cycles. That's part of what we teach.
LD: It's really interesting—setting up the systems that are interdependent and communal is empowering and humble all at once. Without the creator, there is nothing.
DB: The farmer trainees Fidel, Joseph, and Jeff were going through our training programs. We'd all work together, we'd go to one farm, we’d establish it, plant the seeds, then go to the next farm. We did the same thing on each farm. Eventually I started noticing that the crops were growing faster at Fidel's farm—I asked him, “what are you doing, are you using Miracle Grow or something?”
He said, “No, we have our dances in our greenhouses before we plant or work in the fields. We ask permission.”
LD: What about Quaker principles or testimonies—I see them as very evident in your work—but what is your sense of their relationship to your work?
DB: I think we work within the Quaker principles. In our program, I don't own the decision alone, we all own decisions, that's why our program is so effective. It's all of us figuring out what the next steps are.
The principle of simplicity is a basis for our program—how much do you need to support your family? Community is a part of it, too—we are part of a bigger creation, and we are part of a bigger whole. Acknowledging the creator and the earth and how we all work together is central. We inherently live within the Quaker values.
Our program is really based on social change through nonviolence.
LD: It's powerful because when you taste living on that plane of the testimony of equality, of community, you don't want to do it any other way, right?
DB: There is no other way.