In June of 2017, I was in Washington, D.C. for a family-related trip. The focus wasn’t on work, but I did get in one conference call. It was held at Creation Justice Ministries, and it turned out to be important.
Shantha Alonso Ready (the director at Creation Justice Ministries) and I got on the phone with Steve Schwartz of the Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative in California and Andrew Kang Bartlett of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. As the four of us discussed issues we saw at the intersection of food, ecology and faith communities, one challenge came to the forefront:
Churches have lots of land, some of which is suitable for sustainable agriculture. We also have a Bible that says humans are of one substance with the soil (Genesis 2:7). These are widely known facts in the world of western religious leaders.
But there hasn’t been overlap between the world of land access professionals and faith community leaders. There isn’t a community of practice that helps the church reconnect with our Scriptural/agricultural roots and opens doors for partnerships with farmers. I know this because I know exactly how hard it was to start Plainsong Farm.
As we talked about this challenge – which all four of us recognized as a major issue – Steve Schwartz suggested we bring in Severine vonTscharner Fleming to the conversation. The founder of Greenhorns and co-founder of multiple other organizations for young farmers, Severine was sure to have ideas for how to make progress at this intersection.
June 2017 was almost nine months ago. Since then, a lot has happened:
- Steve contacted Severine.
- We learned she also saw this gap as a major issue that she wanted to address in partnership with faith community leaders. She already had developed a spreadsheet of potential partners.
- I was on her list of potential partners – even as she was on my list of “people I hope to work with someday.”
- A planning group developed with the goal to gather young farmers, faith community leaders from multiple traditions, and land access experts for mutual learning.
- That working group met by phone, in various and changing configurations. We added Land for Good as a key partner and Kathy Ruhf was instrumental to our progress forward.
- I wrote a grant proposal to the Episcopal Church to fund some of my participation in the working group and to begin to create a toolkit for churches seeking to make land available to young farmers for sustainable agriculture projects.
- The grant proposal was funded.
- Greenhorns made arrangements for the gathering: they secured the funding, the site, and managed all the logistics. This is the key that got us from concept to reality. God bless Greenhorns!
- People from multiple faith traditions and land access organizations were invited.
- So many people accepted that every bed is full.
We are now two weeks away from this gathering. I am praying it will be an important next step in stewarding greater health and vitality for all of God’s good creation. I know it won’t be perfect. It’s not meant to be. It’s one next step forward. Please pray it is a step in the direction of health for all.
The toolkit that we are creating at Plainsong Farm will be available in draft version later this spring. It’s meant to be a very basic introduction for church governing bodies to understand the issues and consider action. It will be a free resource.
If your church/diocese/judicatory has property that might be suitable for sustainable agriculture, please sign up for our mailing list below. We’ll keep you posted when the toolkit is publicly available.
The day before the FaithLands gathering begins, I’ll be attending and participating on a panel at the Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative’s annual conference in Marin City California. I’m looking forward to learning from how they do things out there! I know already they have stronger connections between congregations and sustainable farms than any I’ve yet seen in Michigan.
Some say the winter season is slow in farming. I’ll tell you for sure: it isn’t slow in farm-based ministry.
But that’s a good thing. God planted us here to grow.
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