Saving Seed

Saving Seed

Rebecca Hennessy lives in Portsmouth, NH and traveled to Nicaragua as a member of South Church in cooperation with the UUCSJ. She is a mother and a garlic farmer. She owns a small value-added food business, Backyard Garlic, coaches ultimate frisbee and likes exploring new places.

Memories of Nicaragua continue to organize in my mind and body.  Reflections on being a part of a delegation as well as an individual have increasingly become a part of my daily life. For me, this is a sure sign of a good trip. One experience in particular, I hold carefully, as though it were alive in the palm of my hand.

On day 5 of our 8-day trip we travelled to Las Diosas farm to spend the afternoon. We shared a meal with the women working there and learned more about what happens from day to day. FEM and Las Diosas’ mission of rebellious attention to reproductive processes and resources were apparent everywhere we looked – through building local, to international markets, expertise in alternative farming techniques, and visionary business practices. The farm has a plant nursery, experimental garden, testing and processing facilities for hibiscus, coffee, and honey, and infrastructure to support continued growth of women owned and operated cooperatives. Also on the farm is the ongoing study and practice of saving seed.Handful of Seeds - Nicaragua

I felt joy on this farm. In simply being there and in what I learned. And it was the practice of saving seed that is most present to me now. A seed can be deceptively simple. Profundity is a trait of simplicity, after all.  And much can be said of the word  – saving. Seed is potential, diversity. Seed is survival. And when a seed is understood for the qualities it brings to the plant, it begins to reveal the history of the soil from which it grew.  From which, and in which, it can be saved.

In this way, seed is memory and soil is history. Both record human activity – present and past. Saving seed is an act of deep affection. It is an act of profound attention to what has gone before.

Knowing how to save seed is not unlike knowing how to raise a hand in protest.  March 8 is International Women’s Day.  And March 24 is March for Our Lives. For both, I will remember what I learned from the women of FEM and on the Las Diosas farm. I will care for the seed in my hand, how it roots me, saves me, in what I believe. I will work to have a deeper understanding of the history I inherited and the history in the making – it is the soil in which I grow. Saving is conserving as well as setting free.

We often heard the word ‘organized’ on our journey. For me the word organized came to mean – knowing who you are and what you bring to the work. It meant planting your words and actions with a rebellious attention, selective care and abundant joy.

Carlos and the Guardians

Carlos and the Guardians

Rev. Paul Langston-Daley is the Senior Program Leader for Justice Building at UUSC. In November 2016, he travelled to Nicaragua on UUCSJ’s Guardians of the River: Climate Justice for Theologians journey specifically for religious professionals (ministers, seminarians and religious educators).

It had already been a difficult year, and then November came and with it, the election of Donald Trump. I was feeling pretty, cynical about the future. The trip to Nicaragua was scheduled for the end of the month and I was trying, like most people to see some kind of silver lining in what was about to unfold. I was particularly looking forward to being there with colleagues, as we shared this experience together.

I didn’t know much about Nicaragua – I knew some about the Sandinistas and about American interference and involvement in the civil war, but not much else. The study materials provided by the College of Social Justice were outstanding, providing a backdrop to frame the experience, but not requiring more than was manageable in an average schedule. It was engaging, and familiarity with the history, and with the current political climate, provided depth to the trip.

Though there were many highlights – the women of Matagalpa, the lush green mountains of the countryside, the many wonderful speakers who shared their lives with us, worship that helped to ground us each day – the real center of the trip was our visit with Carlos and the Guardians of the River. The Guardians are a grassroots community resisting a gold mine that would destroy their sacred river the Yaoska. I was unprepared for how deeply this meeting would impact me. The sharing of gifts, when we all brought a symbol of something that connects us to mother earth, brought an unanticipated level of vulnerability and caring. My fellow religious leaders brought an incredible depth of sharing as they made offerings to those gathered. Colored leaves, special stones, gifts of nuts, cranberries and honey, all were shared with reverence to nature, the beauty of this place, and at our being together in solidarity. Hearing the Guardians sing, the joy they shared at being in this place, the passion they held for life, the depth of their love for the planet, all of it was palpable. Gratitude was present in a form that was undeniable and we were embraced in that gratitude.

Participants with Guardians of the River making an altar of their gifts

Participants with Guardians of the River making an altar of their gifts

Reverence for all life is not just a quaint sentiment for these Guardians of the River.  For them, this beautiful, Eden like place is worthy of their protection. The songs they sang brought laughter and tears. We swam in the river, admired the mountains, marveled at the power and wonder of this pristine garden. I was deeply grateful to these Guardians, who know a deeper certainty, who claim a nobler truth, the people who stopped the gold mine. Because they understand that the land and its people are far more precious than gold. Everywhere we went, reverence for and connection to the land was present. The fruit trees, the chickens, the coffee, paradise is here. A deep religious connection to the earth, to all life, abides.

I learned more than I could have imagined, not just about Nicaragua, its people, and their struggles, but about a shared commitment to the earth that knows no borders or boundaries. I learned about the power of a people capable of stopping a multi-national corporation. I began to understand what it might take to return to my own country to face a new administration. I returned to the United States with a sense of hope and spirit.

It has been a little more than a year since my trip, and on the days when I feel things are impossible; when I don’t think I can bear one more tweet, or policy move, or ridiculous statement from the White House, I recall the voice of Maria, a young Guardian of the River.  I remember their struggle, the challenges they faced, the stories of those who resisted, and my spirit is renewed. I am reminded that with love, nothing is impossible.

To learn about future journeys specifically for religious professionals, visit 

UUCSJ By The Numbers

UUCSJ By The Numbers

The UU College of Social Justice was jointly founded in the summer of 2012 by the UUA and UUSC, so this year we are celebrating a big anniversary. We are grateful for all of our alumni and supporters who have made our work possible!

In honor of of all of you and our anniversary, here is CSJ by the numbers (as of October 2017).



UUCSJ has been inspiring and sustaining faith based action for social justice for 5 years!


During our 5 years, we have run 39 immersion journeys for adults, with a total of 470 participants (78 of whom were ministers, DREs or seminary students).


Through 18 week-long youth focused immersion learning journeys and training programs as well as three one-day offerings during General Assembly, 392 youth have experienced how Unitarian Universalism can inform their work for justice.


We have placed 65 interns in summer-long immersion internships in over 15 different grassroots justice organizations.


We have sent 53 skilled volunteers to placements with partner organizations for between one to 8 weeks. Most of those placements were lawyers and Spanish speakers working with RAICES in San Antonio Texas to help the women and children detained in Karnes.


Total participants across our programs totals 1,063. This number does not include collaborative training programs like the UU-UNO Spring Seminar and the Goldmine Youth Leadership program which extend our reach even further!


Of the participants who have completed an impact assessment form, 88% said that, as a result of their journey, they have a deeper sense of the connection between their faith and the role it can play in social justice.


Participants – both those who came as individuals and those traveling in a congregational delegation – came from 260 congregations representing nearly every state in the country.

Beyond Fair Trade: Building Just Relationships

Beyond Fair Trade: Building Just Relationships

Jan Taddeo (writer) and JenJoy Royal (photographer) travelled with UUCSJ to Nicaragua in February 2017 for our Beyond Fair Trade: Building Just Relationships immersion journey. We partner with Equal Exchange for this journey to explore the power of fair trade to improve the lives of producers and help consumers live their values. To learn more about this journey or to register for our upcoming February 2018 journey visit 

It’s been eight months since I journeyed to Nicaragua with the UU College of Social Justice. Every morning when I drink my coffee I am reminded of the many complexities associated with this journey. Nicaragua is a beautiful country, with a very complex historical relationship with the United States. The people we engaged with during our journey were warm and welcoming, and their lives are complex. The Equal Exchange coffee I drink each morning takes an intricate journey to arrive at my breakfast table.

The preparation for our journey to Nicaragua included several weeks of reading, learning, and reflecting about the history of the country, and the history of U.S. involvement in Central America. Not knowing this history prior to making the commitment, I was overwhelmed with the stories of our entanglement, interference, military involvement, and economic influence. I wasn’t quite sure how we would be received by the people. On one hand, Nicaraguans have many reasons to be wary, distrustful, and fearful of Americans. On the other hand, many U.S. citizens came to Nicaragua to support the people in their struggle. However, I need not have been concerned, we were met with great hospitality and trust.

Jan Taddeo Picking Coffee Cherries

Jan Taddeo Picking Coffee Cherries

The greatest example of the trust placed in us showed up in our first meeting with the leadership of the farming cooperative in Quibuto. After engaging in an enthusiastic game of “All My Friends and Neighbors” (todos mis amigos y vecinos) to break the ice, the coop leaders gave a presentation about their needs and concerns as farmers. Their presentation included details of their costs, from planting the seeds to harvesting and processing the crops. This was followed by a breakdown of how much money they receive from the larger coop that buys the crops from the small farmers, how much that coop receives from Equal Exchange, and then their understanding of how much Equal Exchange makes on a pound of coffee. They explained  the challenges they face in obtaining deeds for the land so they can plant more coffee, and the hardships of weather, blight, and infestations that can wipe out crops that take three years to mature.

Representatives in attendance from Equal Exchange were able to engage in a deep conversation about all of the forces that impact the creation and distribution of coffee. It was a difficult and fascinating conversation to hear, even when everyone was speaking the same language. We were able to ask questions which led to more conversation and it was an honor to be invited in and trusted. We learned that even though this is a fair-trade relationship between Equal Exchange and this small farming cooperative, it is still a difficult life, in part because coffee is a complex crop.

The group hard at working harvesting coffee

The group hard at working harvesting coffee

I never thought too much about what a coffee plant looks like, how it grows, or how we get coffee from it. On this journey we followed the trail from coffee seed to coffee bean to coffee tasting. We drove by fields of coffee bushes devastated by rust. We saw seedlings that were just a few months old and learned that they will not produce fruit for three years. We climbed the side of the mountainous landscape to reach the coffee bushes living under the shade of giant eucalyptus trees (did you know coffee grew on bushes?). We were taught how to tell when the coffee cherries are ripe and had the opportunity to harvest them. It’s much harder than it looks!

Back at one of the homes in the village, we helped unload giant bags of coffee cherries, dumped them into a bin that was attached to a depulper, and ran the cherries through it. We assisted in washing the naked beans, gently swishing them in the trough with a large paddle to allow the good beans to float to the top and the unripe beans and debris to sink to the bottom. Then we took buckets of beans up to the large drying racks in the front yard. There the farmers would carefully sort through the beans, separating the top quality beans from the lower quality beans. The best beans are the ones that move forward to the next level of processing at the larger coop, which then ships the beans all over the world. In touring that facility on our way out of the village, we also got to visit the tasting room! Yum!

Coffee Sorting

Coffee sorting

The coffee we drink that comes from Nicaragua, and from many other countries, has a complicated history with the land, and a complex life from seedling to the cup of steaming coffee on the breakfast table. The people who grow the coffee work harder than I ever imagined, and they lead humble lives compared to mine.

We stayed three days in Quibuto, living with the families, getting to know their children, grieving with them when the sudden death of young man shocked the community, and being entertained by them at a big community party on our last evening together. We discussed a wide range of topics with the people we stayed with, depending on our language skills. Some heard their stories from the revolution, or enjoyed deep theological conversations. Not knowing Spanish, I got to know my family through dancing with them to the rock music their 17-year-old nephew put on the radio. I brought color pencils and paper, and the children and teens drew beautiful pictures for me. I managed to learn that my host’s niece is attending nursing school at the university. Being a vegan, I was a bit of a mystery to them, yet they accommodated me with great generosity … the best rice and beans I’ve ever had. I promised my family that I will return again, next time fluent in Spanish. This is a promise I intend to keep.

There is so much more to share about this journey … this was really just one small part of our experience. We visited many places, met incredible people, and heard profoundly inspiring stories of resilience, perseverance, and the power of love to overcome great challenges. This was not a service journey … this was a cultural learning experience that challenged me, and transformed me. I look forward to returning.


It All Makes A Difference

Guardians of the River: Climate Justice for Theologians 2016 group

Guardians of the River: Climate Justice for Theologians 2016 group

Jacquline Brett is a recent graduate of Meadville Lombard’s Masters of Divinity program (MDiv) and will be at Meadville for another year for the Master of Arts in Leadership Studies (MALS) program. She has participated in UUCSJ’s 2015 Religious Professionals Journey to the Border and our 2016 Journey to Nicaragua, Guardians of the River: Climate Justice for Theologians. 

One of the profound things about participating in a UUCSJ trip is that memories of the experience, and the processing of what was learned, linger for months after returning home. The experiences are rich in depth of meaning and are very impactful. Even months later, I continually find myself coming to a deeper and fuller understanding of something I witnessed, was in conversation about, or heard in a story someone told. And then months later still, I connect another dot with something else occurring here at home, or elsewhere in the world. This has been true for me both on the Border Witness journey to Arizona and Mexico, and perhaps most especially on the trip to Nicaragua. 

The Women of FEM

The Women of FEM

On the Nicaragua journey, as a woman of color I very much wanted to understand how race and gender intersected with issues of climate. I was left with much to consider as we engaged with many different communities of people: university professors, workers, scientists, leaders of non-profits, a women’s group, and powerful activists who were simple but proud peasants determined to take a stand for environmental justice in their communities. I especially appreciated that almost everyone we met were people of color who told the story of their experience or of their research. As I listened to a scientist explain and illustrate a simple process that was used to engage the wisdom of the community in tracking climate change, I was not only impressed by the process, but began to understand as I had not before how urgent this situation is in the world over.

I loved living with a family in the mountains during part of our stay. I so respected their fierce commitment to their community and their generosity of spirit as hosts.  We arrived in Nicaragua just after the U.S. election of 2016, full of both our privilege as Americans and a sense of dread for the future of our country. We were told more than once by Nicaraguans we encountered, who looked us straight in the eye and advised (with great sympathy), that rather than figuring out how to help them, we Americans had plenty of our own work to do back here at home. And we needed to set about doing it. I for one returned home with a greater sense of our interconnectedness in this process. As I remember the women at the edge of the Yaoska River who prepared an amazing, simple meal over an open fire, I’ve reflected on how greatly each of us is needed to change the world, no matter what small corner of it we occupy, no matter how wealthy or poor we are. We each have the capacity to offer a little something of ourselves. And it all makes a difference.

Learn more about our Journeys for Religious Professionals or register for the upcoming fall journeys at

What Would FEM Do?

What Would FEM Do?

Kirsten Hunter is the Director of Religious Education at South Church in Portsmouth, NH and journeyed to Nicaragua with a small group from the church in January, 2017.

I have been back from Nicaragua for a little over a week now.
Such an astounding moment

– to leave

Always Embrace Relentless ChangeAs Trump was preparing to take office
As the Obamas were saying goodbye
With the women’s march gearing up
And the dialogue turned high.
Division was so palpable as we departed
– across aisles, but also between fellows
Women fighting other women for a seat at the table to articulate what feminism should look like in 2017
Liberals, pointing fingers at one another for anything that might be part of the reason for us being where we are
Conservatives trying to breathe into a new definition that has been written upon their heads, that they don’t necessarily own. Or want to own.
At such speed.
A feeling of utter unrest.

– and to return

With Trump in the oval office, and an endless stream of photographs on my facebook feed
Of women
Of children, and fathers. Crowds. Passion
And still unrest
But hope

And despair, oddly swirling in the words of dear ones
Reflecting on a historic gathering.Portsmouth Nicaragua Journey Group Circle
Reflecting on history unfolding.
Bracing themselves
Arming themselves.

– and in between

This part is even more illusive
I am asking myself to avoid romantic colors as I look for words.
I am reaching to find a way to convey all the things at once, so that I don’t mistakenly suggest simplicity
Or hierarchy
But we boarded a plane and arrived quite literally into the arms of people doing heroic work.
People who have not had the decades of national peace that our country has experienced.
People who know exactly what it means to feel powerless under the thumb of-
a dictator
A husband
A system
People, even, who know very dark truth about the country that I love.
About the ways that my United States has thrived at the expense of their liberty.
Long before this election.
And still, these people open their arms to me, to us.
And still, these people are just like us

I spent a week learning about the work of women who have organized.
They speak about it like an event. A moment in their life
“When I became organized” in the same way one might “find Jesus”.
I could hear truth in what they were describing, could find parallels, or glimpses of parallels to my own path.
Moments when I found a practice, a routine, a strategy that unfolded.
Moments when some shift led to blooming.
These women, one by one, found each other.
Day by day, spoke with each other
Examined the challenges they were facing in the midst of a revolution.
They looked under the rug
Looked in the faces of those who were oppressing them
Looked into their own hearts
And then, when they felt like they could see it wholly,
They started to strategize on how to break it down.

What Would FEM Do TogetherAnd for 22 years. They have been breaking it down.
They have been reading books about agriculture and accounting
About medicine and reproductive health
Feminist theory
Neo liberalism
Global economics.
They don’t seem to stop seeking more understanding, but also, they are organized
Which seems to mean, that every new piece of information gets plotted into their vision
Over and over they come back to their vision and it is from that place that they make their next step. And from that place, it seems like anything is possible.

Our week with the women of FEM in Nicaragua was so many things.
Witness, and discussion, and celebration
We shared sorrow and knowledge with one another
We learned from one another
We struggled to find language
We misunderstood, and misspoke, and stumbled over ourselves in ways we don’t even realise
But underlying most of it was a feeling that oddly, we were all doing the same work
We were comrades.

-And so I’m home now

in the midst of all of this madness, and I feel happy. I feel clear and ready to move forward.
I feel at once alarmed by what is being rolled out before me,
But also at ease.
I am prepared to keep breaking it down.
This moment in our country isn’t new
Just a different variety of the same old thing
Greed and power and money, being put before the needs of people.
Taking away access to education, and taking away women’s control of their bodies so that people have fewer tools with which to fight.
Vilifying humans based on their faith, on their skin color, on their sexuality.
Feeding hate
This isn’t new.
It’s almost timeless, really.
Which means all the answers are out there.

We just need to organize.
What would FEM do?