Discussions about getting nutritious food to those who need it often center on price. So do discussions about helping farms survive. Asking farmers to grow food as cheaply as possible has a price. That extra cost is paid in low wages, disappearing communities, and environmental degradation. We pay this price with every inch of topsoil that erodes, never to be replaced, with every farm that is transformed into parking lots and shopping centers, and with every local crop which has fallen out of production because we would rather buy it from halfway around the world than from our neighbor’s backyard.
Asking low-income people to only buy inexpensive food has its own price. We pay this price with every person in our community who must choose between groceries and medicine, with every child who develops diabetes because of a lack of fresh, healthy food, with every farmworker who proudly used to harvest a crop from his own farm but now must reap, with aching back and broken pride, the fruit of a strange land for poverty wages.
If the only thing that consumers and farmers have in common is the price at the grocery store, then consumers and farmers must always be at odds. Consumers want low food prices; farmers want high food prices. But farmers and hungry people have more in common than the price on the grocery store shelf. Often, they are the same people: 19 of the poorest 20 counties in North Carolina are rural. At the very least, they share the same state, the same economy and the same communities.
Churches are the beating heart of those communities. Churches know how to hope and how to heal. As people of faith, we are called to realize that food is a gift of God’s grace, given through two of God’s greatest gifts: the natural world and our human community.