Ella Postuma whipped up two batches of dough from heirloom wheat grown at Plainsong Farm in Rockford, Mich., and slid them into the oven last weekend.
When the loaves of bread were done, she let them cool in the kitchen and then took them to be used for a communion service Sunday morning at Sherman Street Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Currently, Sherman Street is the only CRC using the wheat for communion, but at least one other congregation is thinking about it. Meanwhile, churches from several denominations — as part of a growing Christian-focused food movement in West Michigan — are turning to this product for their communion services.
“We appreciate Sherman Street joining our program. We have now had two growing seasons, and churches are finding that using this for communion can give the churches a deeper connection to God,” said Nurya Love Parish, an Episcopal priest and cofounder and executive director of the farm.
For her part, Postuma, a junior in high school, says, “Baking the bread helps me slow down from the busyness of life, to think and connect.”
Plainsong Farm’s heirloom wheat was first grown in Turkey, and then in Russia. Other varieties took different journeys. The farm grows a strain called Turkey Red, but there are other heirloom varieties, including one called Einkorn, dating from around 7,500 B.C. and originating in the Tigris-Euphrates region. That variety or some others could well have been eaten in Judea in the time of Jesus, along with barley, spelt, rye, and oats.
“I think about how the wheat was planted, grown, harvested, and milled,” said Postuma, “and how now I am playing a role in the process by shaping it into something nourishing for God’s people. And this is a way for me to serve my church, which is important.”
Postuma is in the baking rotation at her church, making the communion bread every few months. Besides being able to serve in her church in this way, she appreciates how this allows her to play a part in caring for God’s creation.
“Being connected to the earth is good for my, and everyone’s, soul. Creation is so vital for our surviving and thriving,” said Postuma.
About a year ago, Katharine Broberg, a Sherman Street member, visited Plainsong. She was drawn by its programming and how it links agriculture with creation care. After starting to volunteer at the farm, she learned of the Heirloom Wheat for Communion program and thought it sounded like something her church might appreciate.
“I’m on the worship committee at church. I know the people and their interest in caring for creation,” said Broberg. “I presented it to the committee, and they signed up right away.”
Like Postuma, Broberg said she appreciates how the wheat is tended — planted and harvested mainly by hand. She is also drawn to other aspects of Plainsong Farm’s ministry, she said: growing food in sustainable ways for local food banks; Sabbath worship that takes place outdoors during good weather; and a 12-week summer fellowship program that offers young adults the chance to learn small-scale regenerative agricultural practices, which focus on topsoil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, and improving access to water.
“I care about where food comes from, how growing it helps or hurts the land and my body, and then being able to marry this with spiritual practices,” said Broberg. “It is very special to have a bread source from wheat grown in an intentional way.”
Operating on 10 acres of land north of Grand Rapids, the farm and ministry were begun by Parish and Mike and Bethany Edwardson. Plainsong is a nonprofit farm in which community members share expenses and produce; it is also a magnet for outdoor education, drawing middle school students to learn sustainable farming techniques. Adults can come to learn as well.
“We love to give people a hands-in-the-dirt opportunity to care for creation,” said Parish.
Creation care is, in fact, a core element of what goes on at the farm, from blessing the fields when the wheat seeds go into the ground, to sharing Scripture with and teaching spiritual practices to young people working on the farm. Plainsong Farm, said Parish, is part of a growing Christian-focused food movement, both nationally and in West Michigan, that emerges from a strong desire to care for the land and water that God has created.
“We have Christians from many denominations who labor together in the fields out here,” she said. “We are seeking to provide for the table that the Lord has set.”
Parish has a goal of finding ways to bring more young adults to the farm to both learn and take part in caring for creation — and to do so at a time when there is a disturbing climate crisis that can lead people, especially the young, to feel despair and hopelessness.
“I would like to see youth groups come out here,” she said. “We would like to help youth face the climate crisis. We are here as a companion ministry.”
Ministry is also an important aspect of the farm’s Heirloom Wheat for Communion program. Wheat, after all, has a background mentioned often in Scripture.
“Jesus talked so much about wheat and bearing fruit,” Parish said. By way of paraphrase, she added: “Jesus speaks of one seed being put in the ground and how over time it will rise to produce a stalk.” And the stalk will bear seeds for harvest.
Churches are welcome to join the Heirloom Wheat for Communion program at any time, Parish said, but the best time to join is before June 30 to receive priority invitations to the harvest-day celebration.
“Seeds are sent to your church to be prayed over in your worship service before being planted. Simply return them to us following the worship service in the self-addressed envelope provided.”
At the same time, said Parish, your church is invited to hand-planting and hand-harvesting events. These combine prayer, learning, music, fieldwork, and a farm meal.
Dave Warners, a member at Sherman Street, said, “Since we began serving bread at communion from Plainsong Farm using the heirloom wheat that is grown there, communion has become more meaningful to me.”
“Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8) has deeper significance for him now, he added.
Taking the bread and dipping it into the wine, he said, reminds him that the sacraments are visible signs of God’s grace — and knowing the farm where the wheat comes from and that the wheat is a variety that has been grown for hundreds of years reminds him of God’s ongoing grace displayed in creation.