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Report for America is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.

Honoring Earth Day Includes Self-Maintenance


Most people don’t think about taking care of themselves on Earth Day, but two northern Illinois farm executives say we are extensions of our home and taking care of our health can in turn save the environment.  

This once-a-year celebration is a time when many people reflect on taking care of the earth. 

Joy Kaufman is the founder and executive director of Farm Stew International. She has a Master’s in Public Health and said her love for nutrition started as a little girl. 

“I actually became a vegetarian just because I loved animals when I was nine,” Kaufman said. “And my family thought this was just going to be this little, you know, fad for a nine-year-old. But I stuck with it.” 

As an adult, she said she realized how preparing these creatures for ingestion can impact the earth’s resources. 

“Both in water and land used to grow those resources,” she added. “And then also the production of greenhouse gases from those animals that contributes to these climate crises that we're facing.” 

She said if people would give up eating meat once a week, it would contribute to preserving the planet.  

Karla Stoltzfus Detweiler is the executive director of Hungry World Farm. She said we are what we eat. 

“That's just one way of thinking about how our health is so intimately connected with the health of the soil, the soil that feeds the plants that feed the animals then that we eat -- it directly affects our health,” she said. “And I mean, I believe that nutrition is a huge part of our human health.”  

Detweiler explained that her organization seeks the “well-being of all.” 

“What that phrase means to me," she said,  "is that we're wanting to demonstrate the interconnectedness of people with every part of creation, and that our well-being as all interconnected.” 

Kaufman said that Farm Stew is an acronym for some of the things we should do to take care of ourselves. She explained a few principles. 

“So, the letters stand for farming, which was our foundation, as I mentioned, attitude, changing to a positive mental attitude. And also, just, you know, forgiveness. And just the importance of really being involved in your community not being isolated type, then rest is basically focused on our bodies, resting our bodies, also resting the soil.” 

Both Kaufman and Detweiler said their organizations focus on teaching so others can live more abundantly while taking care of the earth. 

Detweiler shared some of the things her nonprofit focuses on to accomplish this.  

“So last year, there weren't many public events on the farm, but we hope to have a few coming up soon,” she said. “So, inviting people to come to the farm to learn about soil health, to learn about composting, to learn about food insecurity.” 

Another similarity between the two organizations is that they are faith-based. 

Kaufman said she believes the creation story in the Bible.

“But we start saying, okay, we were made in a garden, by a God who planted that garden,” she explained. “And then he told us to attend and keep that garden. So, gardening or farming, which is the core of Farm Stew – it’s our first core -- is a divine work, it's a holy work, it's a work that is blessed, and is designed to sustain you.” 

Detweiler said people can start their health journey by starting their own garden. 

“I just think there's so much joy in planting seeds and watching that miracle of this dead little fleck, growing into a plant that gives you food,” Detweiler stated. “So yeah, just starting small with a couple of tomatoes and some herbs. It's a great way to start.” 

Farming is not just about activity. Growing things requires time -- and patience. This is a period of downtime. Detweiler said this phenomenon is a principle we can use for better health. She said quiet time can bring calmness, renewal and a chance for reflection. 

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.
Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.