To Brother Rick Samyn, O.F.M. Capuchin and master gardener, growing food is about more than planting and harvesting. It is about teaching kids to eat better and sharing with them the human food relationship to Creation.
To that end, Samyn began the Earth Works Urban Farm Project to address the nutritional needs of Detroit’s poor. In partnership with the Gleaners Community Food Bank, and the Greening of Detroit, Samyn created a three-quarter acre farming project on Detroit’s east side. Earth Work’s goals are to create awareness of the need for sustainable food systems within our communities, and to promote healthier eating habits for youth. Much of the produce grown at Earth Works is distributed through the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) Project FRESH program in Detroit and Wayne County, and to the Capuchin Soup Kitchen.
“Brother Rick began the Earth Works Project in 2001 as a way of helping the less fortunate, by calling them to use their talents in preparing gardens, and learning the techniques involved in planting and caring for gardens in a more natural setting,” said Father Lloyd Thiel, chairperson of development for Capuchin Ministries. “Rick has become a very integral part of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen programs. His goal is to promote the use of non-synthetic farming techniques and to help create healthier eating habits.”Samyn enjoys teaching adults and children alike how to plant seeds, nurture plants and make jam. He especially enjoys teaching elementary school children about where vegetables come from, he says, because so many believe that they come from the grocery store. A honey bee apiary teaches them where honey comes from, and produces combs that will be spun for honey.
The project garnered national media attention when an article in the Detroit Free Press was picked up by Knight wire services.
In fact, so impressed were inmates at the Western Wayne Correctional Facility in Plymouth, that they volunteered to raise and donate seedlings for the project.
“I am driven by the belief that the quality of life is not how much one consumes or controls, but by how one cares for neighbor and nature,” says Samyn. “I believe in creating an agricultural urban farm model based on respect and mutuality.”
Following high school graduation, Samyn spent four years in the Navy and nine in the Coast Guard, working as a ship’s mechanic. He also worked in law enforcement for the Coast Guard investigating illegal drug activity.
An ad in a Catholic newsletter about the Capuchins caught his eye. To learn more, he visited the friars of Puerto Rico where he was stationed, and eventually joined the Capuchins in Detroit in August of 1988. It was there that he discovered his passion: to care for and love the natural world, and seek a way to live with least harm.
Samyn received his Bachelor of Social Work degree from Marygrove in 1995, then put his skills to work by creating the position of client advocate at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. Though he has moved on, that position is now staffed by three employees at various sites of the soup kitchen ministry. They work with soup kitchen clients to access community resources, secure employment and help people cope with substance abuse.
“Marygrove really gave me confidence in myself and reinforced my commitment to justice and working for systemic change in our society,” Samyn said. “There were two important lessons I learned from my Marygrove experience. These lessons did not come from some text or lesson plan. They came from students and faculty. My fellow students taught me courage, the courage of that single mom achieving her goals under tremendous odds. From Marygrove faculty, I saw dedication and commitment to stick with it, to show commitment to the Marygrove student body and the Detroit community as a whole.”
Samyn’s personal creed is, “Hold on to the vision and whether it bears success or failure, trek the noble path.” His advice to college students today is similar. “Stay focused. Love well, listen long and follow your vision.”