Education, Hospitality, People, Rectory Stories, Three Rivers

Food and community: Chelsea’s reflection

We asked each of our 2016 summer interns to respond to their time in Three Rivers. Below is Chelsea Smith’s reflection:


My summer in Three Rivers gave me a glimpse into community life and left me eager to experience more. During my time with *cino, I stepped into a community that overflowed with creativity, joy, work, and rest. My role in the community manifested itself in many ways, mostly revolving around time and food. I grew food, cooked food, and shared food. I co-planned community events and enjoyed time with community members.

In college, I studied community development, so I came into this internship with some expectations of what I would learn and do. In many ways, working with *cino exceeded and reconstructed those expectations. Prior to this past summer, I would have said that I desired a lifestyle without rhythm and regularity. I liked switching things up and not falling into the same weekly routine. But I have grown to miss Monday night gatherings at the Riv, Tuesday “Garden of Your Mind” meetings, Wednesday communal work and pizza nights, etc. I realized during my *cino internship that rhythm is a sacred part of community. Gathering together regularly and sharing time (and food!) together is essential for building relationships and connections, especially when spending time in public spaces. These predictable gathering times were refreshing and restful times of my week.

When I studied community development in school, I dreamed of an exciting life as a “community developer” (or however that work would manifest). I thought the day-to-day life would be filled with inspiring actions, important decisions, and influential conversations. I learned this summer that those things do happen, but much more sporadically than imagined. The day-to-day role is filled with smaller moments of connection, commitment, and creativity. The details matter much more than I realized. Somewhere between planning kids’ crafts, cleaning the soon-to-be wood shop, and sewing countless feet of bunting, I discovered that there’s a sacredness in the details. After all, it’s the details that make the larger picture come together.

The connections I made during the ten weeks in Three Rivers were richer than connections I halfheartedly formed over double that amount of time. I felt more present working with *cino, where my priority was to invest in the community. This reflection was somewhat difficult to write, because I don’t feel like my time in Three Rivers is over. There is more to learn working with *cino, and I am still processing the impact of this summer internship. I am filled with gratitude for my experience in Three Rivers and still feel connected to the rich community there. I have a feeling this won’t be the end.

Read More →

*cino Work, Education, Organization, People, Three Rivers

A sense of place: Lauren Otto’s reflection

We asked each of our 2016 summer interns to respond to their time in Three Rivers. Below is Lauren Otto’s reflection:


How can I possibly explain how my internship changed my sense of what “place” means to me? Place used to be simply a collection of geographic data. My home town of Newberg, Oregon is not so different from Three Rivers, Michigan if you describe it geographically. Both towns are distinct for being centered around waterways and railroads; both have a manufacturing history and are surrounded by farmland; both have historic theaters, local watering holes, and a handful of residents usually described as “characters” (although that is often not a fair description).

Three Rivers had so many geographical similarities to Newberg; the only difference was that it was a new place. Despite this sameness, uprooting myself and moving to a new place made me reevaluate. And yet, in Three Rivers I felt a connection to its landscape, places, and characters. This was novel, since I regarded my own town with affectionate apathy. Three Rivers was not my town, but it was a town that embraced me with such kindness that I wanted to move there immediately and settle there forever.

This left me wondering what on earth my town was doing wrong to make me feel so ambivalent towards it. But as summer went on and I kept spending my days working in Three Rivers, growing food, playing with kids, and interacting with the local communities, I realized that the problem was not my town: it was me. My town has good communities, it has gardens, it has characters, but none that I invested in. My internship has prepared me to connect with a community and build relationships. At home, I had to work at it, and I had failed to invest in my own community and as a result had not reaped the benefits of a connection. I resolved to go home at the end of the summer and approach my town with new eyes. I would not look at my place with apathy, but would resolve to work in it and for it, for its good and my own.

Read More →

Education, Publishing, Three Rivers

2016 Local Food & Recycling Guide now available!

*culture is not optional is once again partnering with the St. Joseph County Conservation District to produce and distribute the River Country Local Food & Recycling Guide for 2016. A group of local citizens interested in local food issues started the guide in 2009 and passed it off to *cino and the Conservation District in 2014. The guide provides listings of the numerous farms and markets in southwest Michigan which offer fresh produce, meats, baked goods, maple syrup, honey, and other items. One of *cino’s passions is eating and sharing the food grown by our neighbors, and we love connecting people with local food sources! Also included is a guide to locations at which you can recycle a variety of items.

You’ll find free copies of the guide in businesses and institutions around Three Rivers, Centerville, Sturgis, Vicksburg, Mendon, White Pigeon, and Constantine. You can also find listings and leave reviews for your favorite farms at our Food Guide web site!

Read More →

Building, Education, Hospitality, People, Three Rivers

Calvin College students explore Three Rivers on Spring Break

Every year, we look forward to a visit from Calvin College students who are ready to serve and learn about Three Rivers over their spring break. We had to cancel our plans last year on account of low registration, but this year we are grateful for a very enjoyable and productive week with five eager and passionate students!

Calvin College’s Service-Learning Center coordinates groups for a week of service and learning with organizations around the country. Along with the *culture is not optional staff, the five students followed a rhythm of life together: beginning each day with morning prayer, working for several hours at the Huss Project in the morning, eating lunch at the Rectory, visiting local community members around Three Rivers in the afternoon, and cooking and lingering at the dinner table in the evening over conversations both weighty and light-hearted. The group stayed at The Hermitage and St. Gregory’s Abbey, which offered an environment of rest and contemplation during a busy week.

At the Huss Project, the main focus of the work was preparing the gym to be converted into space for a woodshop. Willing hands took down the drop ceiling to make way for new lighting, installed pallet racking for storage, and hauled away metal for recycling. Removing the ceiling revealed that we might be able to collect rainwater from the gym roof for the garden! The Huss Project garden is nearly ready for planting, thanks to the students who pulled out last year’s plants and harvested over-wintered carrots. Some much-needed organizing also took place in the office and supplies areas of the building.

In the afternoons, we visited neighbors and community members to listen to their stories and to learn how they make Three Rivers a unique place. We visited with farmers (and harvested more carrots!), artists, business owners, civic and church leaders, and monks and spiritual leaders. We had excellent conversations about the challenges and the life-giving aspects of living intentionally in a place.

It was wonderful to spend a rich, full week with curious, engaged, hardworking students who are asking good questions about the world we live in. At the end of the week, instead of “Goodbye,” we said, “See you soon!”

Find pictures of the week on our Flickr album.

Read More →

Education, Organization, People, Three Rivers

Join us for our PAID summer internship!

Join us for our 10-week summer internship program in Three Rivers, Michigan! We’re looking for folks who are self-motivated and interested in the cross-section of social justice, local food, community, and deep-rooted faith values to join *culture is not optional (*cino) in Three Rivers as we work toward the flourishing of our rural city.

The 2016 summer internship runs from June 3 to August 14. Interns live together in our community house, work alongside the resident community of the organization on our community development work, and learn together through an embodied curriculum. Interns are expected to contribute an average of 20 hours of work per week for *cino. Interns can also work up to 20 hours per week at local partner farms in the area to earn additional income. Here’s our illustrious benefits package this year:

  • Housing
  • $1,000 living stipend
  • Up to $2,000 at partner farms

If you have an interest in farming and gardening, planning special events, communications and promotion, or small business, read more about the intern positions we’re looking to fill this summer. Do you have a different set of skills that you think would benefit *cino and Three Rivers? Apply! Want to know more about what *cino interns actually do? Read these reflections from former interns NateAlexandraSeth, and Kate.

If you have have any other questions, please peruse our Internship FAQ or get in touchApplications are due April 30!

Read More →

*cino Work, Education, Workshops

A writerly weekend at Earlham School of Religion

A couple of years ago, Rob and I connected with Ben Brazil at the Calvin College Festival of Faith & Writing. We were at the festival exhibit hall displaying for *cino and he was there displaying for the Earlham School of Religion’s Ministry of Writing program.

You never know how such encounters are going to bear fruit in the future, and this past weekend, we were delighted to participate in the Earlham Writing Colloquium. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet new kindred spirits, share about *cino and Topology Magazine, hear some wonderful words.  On Friday, we collaborated with poet Dave Harrity on a pre-conference for undergraduate students from Earlham College, and then on Saturday, we did a workshop on “Writing from your Watershed,” as well as a 20-minute talk on understanding our relationship with our places in terms of the covenantal relationship of marriage.

We entered the experience quite exhausted from a too-long busy season, and left refreshed, inspired and grateful because of all of the amazing people we met. What more could we have asked for? Thank you to Ben and Mandy for the organizational work, and to the other speakers and participants for the great conversations and storytelling.  We wish you all so much joy as you return to your places and continue to imagine how your writing can cultivate your inner life and the life of the world.

Thank you to Anne M. Hutchinson for taking the above photo during our panel presentation!

Read More →

Education, Organization, Workshops

*cino at Rooted & Grounded

During the first weekend in October, a collection of scholars, practitioners and scholar-practitioners gathered at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana. For the second year running, AMBS played host to the Rooted and Grounded Conference, which is an ongoing conversation about the relationship between a commitment to place and the Christian faith, with a decidedly agrarian spin.

Rob and I were honored to be among the presenters for the gathering, which included many whose work in places throughout North America we deeply admire. Our topic was an exploration of the ways our commitment to our places is akin to marriage, weaving together biblical foundations, narrative examples and images of both faithfulness and faithlessness.

A highlight of the weekend was our visit to the Merry Lea Environmental Center, where our friend Jon has been working for a number of years. As an extension of Goshen College, Merry Lea serves as a site for ecological education and experimentation.  Touring their platinum LEED-certified buildings, market garden and woody perennial polyculture plot was greatly inspiring for our ongoing work at the Huss Project.  It was a multi-sensory experience that reinforced the many profound ideas we take with us from the weekend, including Ched Myers’ call to watershed discipleship and Sylvia Keesmaat’s reminder that each loss of creation is a lost opportunity to know the fullness of the Creator.

Photo from workshop attendee Hillary W.

Read More →

Building, Education, Event, People, Three Rivers

Sixth annual Huss Future Festival to feature art, food, music and more!

In 2010, the seed of an idea began to sprout when Three Rivers citizen Julie Keefer asked a simple question: what would it look like to organize a summer fundraiser for the Huss Project, which is an effort to turn an old elementary school into a community center and residential space? In the years since, Keefer’s idea has blossomed into one of the area’s most lively community events, growing bigger and better each year. The sixth annual Huss Future Festival will take place on Saturday, July 18 at 1008 8th Street in Three Rivers.

“We are thrilled to be partnering for the second year in a row with the Three Rivers Area Faith Community to host the annual Back to School Celebration,” said Keefer, who has served as the Festival chairperson for six years running. All school-aged children who attend the celebration with a guardian will receive a backpack full of school supplies and the first 300 kids to register will also receive a slice of pizza from Hovey’s Pizza. The Back to School Celebration will run from 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. alongside a Coin Carnival, with a variety of activities and crafts provided by local organizations.

Beyond the Coin Carnival and Back to School Celebration, the Festival will feature a wide variety of activities from 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Local musicians will provide live music all day long, and a rummage sale with gently used items donated by the community will benefit the Huss Project. Those looking for something to eat and drink can enjoy the coffeehouse, bake sale and farmers market. The farmers market will offer prepared salads for lunch, with Ambassadors for Christ Church bringing their famous BBQ.

The Huss Project is currently raising funds to build an outdoor pavilion that will benefit ongoing summer programming at the site, including a community garden, summer lunches for kids and educational workshops. Tax-deductible contributions are welcome and can be sent to P.O. Box 1, Three Rivers, MI 49093. Three Rivers Area Faith Community also welcomes contributions toward the Back to School Celebration, which can be mailed to P.O. Box 273, Three Rivers, MI 49093.

Read More →

Education, Event, People

Get outside with *culture is not optional!

As spring emerges here in Three Rivers, we are very excited to announce a few opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy each other’s company while we work the land together.

Coming up in May, join us any or all of three Saturdays to help get the community garden at the Huss Project rolling for the season.  Produce from the garden goes to local families in need directly and through partner agencies.  We also sell our veggies at the Three Rivers Farmers Market to help raise money to sustain the garden, and we’re thrilled that the farmers market will be participating in Double Up Food Bucks this coming season!  Join us to help kick things off for 2015:

  • May 2: Potato planting (2-5 p.m.)
  • May 9: Garden clean-up (9 a.m. – 1 p.m.)
  • May 16: Garden planting (9 a.m. – 1 p.m.)

Whether or not you can make it one of these dates, we would love to have your help on an ongoing basis throughout the growing season as we water and tend our plants, and harvest good food for our community.  Please get in touch about helping out through our online citizen interest form.

In case you’re looking for a weekend opportunity, *cino is also partnering to host a weekend gardening retreat just west of Three Rivers at GilChrist Retreat Center.  Part of the Contemplative Ecology series, the weekend will feature both time to work together and time to rest apart.  Participants can enjoy free camping or discounted stays in GilChrist cabins in exchange for doing some work on the center’s 67 acres.  Other features of the weekend will include a shared meal, campfires and silent and guided meditation times.  It’s sure to be a wonderful, restful, reinvigorating weekend and we’d love to have you join us!  There are more details here and on the Facebook page for the event.

Read More →

*cino Work, Education, Organization, People

Summer intern application deadline extended to April 30

Are you looking for an amazing summer experience alongside wonderful people in a great rural city? Well look no further! We’d love to have you join us this summer in Three Rivers to help us with our community development work. We grow a market garden, work on renovating an old elementary school to help build a community center, hold a summer festival, run a fair trade store, sell at the local farmers market, make art with neighborhood kids, publish an online magazine, listen and tell stories to know our community better, and more … so there are a lot of great ways to plug in!

We’re extending our application deadline for our summer internship program to April 30, so there’s still time to apply. We’re specifically looking for folks to fill roles in agriculture, business support, promotions/communication, and event coordination, but anyone who is interested in our work should feel free to apply —  we often find creative ways to employ the unique talents of our interns.

Apply online now!

Read More →