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Green Thumb

Green Thumb
By Jacob Baynham

Jonathan Trauth didn’t get into farming for the money. On a Saturday at Findlay Market last fall, he made $12 selling the vegetables he helped grow with eight political refugees from the central African country of Burundi. “I got to pay everybody $1.50,” he says. “I can see why American farmers are subsidized.”

The real reason Trauth spends his lunch breaks moving piles of manure around an urban garden is about something he finds even more enriching than cash: community.

The center of Trauth’s agricultural project is St. Leo the Great Parish in Cincinnati, where Mass is celebrated each Sunday in three languages—English, Spanish and Kirundi, the language of Burundi. The Burundians who attend the parish were granted asylum in America after fleeing a civil war in their country. They have food stamps, Section 8 housing and access to parish nurses.

But few of them have jobs, and Trauth sees farming as a way to provide them with fresh vegetables, a project to invest in (he calls it “horticultural therapy”) and maybe—eventually—a source of some pocket change. He also teaches them English to help them find work.

Trauth and the refugees have covered the hillsides around the parish with vegetable plots, and they’re busy transforming the parish attic into a greenhouse. If he can find the money, Trauth wants to put solar panels on the parish roof. He’s also looking for $10,000 to buy a truck to haul tools, fertilizer and people to and from the gardens. The idea is rooted in self-reliance.

“Our aim is to move strongly toward a Christian-based community.”

Trauth graduated from Xavier with a psychology degree in 2000. He tacked on a theology degree at Xavier in 2001, and then earned a master’s in social work from the University of Kentucky. He’s now simultaneously pursuing a doctorate in ecological counseling at the University of Cincinnati and a master’s of theology and pastoral counseling at Xavier.

“It doesn’t feel busy,” he says. “I try to make it something I love to do.”

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