by Betty Daugherty, FSPA
In the last issue of Insight, Sister Karen Flottmeier described her personal experience with the process of growing food as a profoundly satisfying connection to Earth and its bounty.
In this article, I would like to continue this theme of food, touching briefly on what is happening in the farming community in the Midwest and how our food supply is endangered. But, to offset that depressing reality, I hope to highlight some positive steps that are bringing hope to people who care about the land.
Most of you are aware that just a few multi-national corporations are taking control of our food system and this is not good for the consumer. These huge global agribusiness complexes care little for the stewardship of the land, the nutritional value of food or human health. Their motive is simple: profit.
The fact is most of us are far removed from the source of our food which often travels thousands of miles to reach us. And we are removed from the land itself. Our children are unacquainted with the miracles of the soil, the microbes, the plants and animals that supply what we eat. The whole contemplative experience accompanying the tending of the land is often unknown. In fact, the sacred relationship between us humans and our roots within the nourishing Earth is hardly recognized.
And here in the Midwest, the farm crisis is not over. Farm income is down and farm families are still losing their land. Soil continues to be depleted, waters poisoned and food produced with the help of chemicals. The sacred relationship between farmer and land needs mending.
All of this presents us with a huge problem but also with many opportunities. As an example of the latter, I would like to tell you about some people who are finding ways to help small local farmers stay in business and also improve the quality of the food we eat each day. These people are playing the part of David against the giant Goliath corporations.
I know these people personally since it has been my privilege to be a member of the board of Churches' Center for Land and People (CCLP) for a number of years.
The goal of this ecumenical group is to connect farmers in the tri-state area-Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois-with people in the cities and to do that through churches. Or, as its mission statement reads, "To seek greater economic justice, earth stewardship, revitalized communities and spirituality for the farming people." I am grateful that FSPA is one of the five religious communities that help to sponsor CCLP. Several Catholic dioceses and a number of other churches are also strong members.
Customers look over maple syrup, sorghum and other products at a Harvest of Hope benefit sale.
Photo courtesy of Tony Ends, Harvest of Hope
Although the problems related to getting locally grown foods to local people are challenging, CCLP director Tony Ends has found two especially innovative ways to bridge this gap. With the help of funding from an FSPA Ministry Grant and grants from other religious communities, Tony has been able to hire two part-time organizers of Harvest of Hope Sales in Wisconsin and Iowa.
This is how it works: a church community sponsors a winter farmers' market. Local producers are invited to bring whatever they have to sell to the church hall on a given day. I've been to several of these and have brought home such treasures as homegrown squash, apples, honey and organic meat, as well as homemade soap and bakery.
There is no charge for the use of the hall. Each farmer donates 10% of income from the sale to an emergency fund, called Harvest of Hope, which is used to help farmers in crisis situations. These markets encourage inter-faith collaboration, provide farmers with a cash flow in what is usually an off season, and create relationships between city folks and local farmers. One goal of CCLP is to hold 100 Harvest of Hope winter farmers' market sales annually in each of the three states. These sales bring farmers in contact with city churches and city consumers.
Another project of CCLP aims at helping young people find a foothold in farming or organic gardening. Tony is working to find religious communities willing to sponsor a young person who wishes to get into more sustainable food and farm production. To explain this project, CCLP has produced a 25 minute documentary called Crafting Farmers for People and the Land. The film demonstrates how one young intern, with the help of a Catholic seminary near St. Louis, has become established as an organic farmer with 150 customers in just 1½ years.
To help young people learn the skills of alternative farming, Tony has mapped out a training program through a Community Supported Agriculture Center in Illinois. Here, too, he hopes to link urban and suburban churches with these apprentices in a supportive relationship.
These two efforts seem to me to be practical ways to encourage local farmers, increase awareness surrounding the availability of healthy foods, and build strong relationships within communities.
I would like to close this reflection on food with a quote from Wendell Berry which graces the introduction to an excellent resource on the spirituality of food and sacredness of Earth.
We can[not] live harmlessly or strictly at our own expense; we depend upon other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. The point is, when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament; when we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration . . . in such desecration, we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.
From the book Food and Faith: Justice, Joy and Daily Bread edited by Michael Schut