Meet the Farmers


It’s coming along slowly, but we’ve been trying to improve our website.  There is still much to be done.

Most recently, we’ve added a “Meet the Farmers” page.  It’s an attempt to tell a little bit of our story and to put faces on the farm.

Here’s the link:

Would love any thoughts, comments, suggestions…

The same coin

Our society has a food problem.  Nearly one out of every five Americans lives with food insecurity, while one of out three live with obesity.  Because our culture is saturated with processed, life-draining, addictive and seemingly cheap industrial food products, it is common for Americans to suffer from both food insecurity and obesity at the same time.

As Fred Bahnson writes, food insecurity and the obesity epidemic are “both flip sides of the same coin, both results of a food system that’s very good at producing calories but very poor at producing health.”

With his food and faith initiatives through the Wake Forest Divinity School, Fred is doing great work to waken the faith community to this, even as it seems that most participate zealously in the gluttony, then pray that God will supernaturally heal the sickness and death that naturally follows.   Wake Forest recently added an M.Div. program with a food concentration.  They sponsor the Food, Faith and Religious Leadership Initiative, drawing attention and resources to this vital issue.

It is encouraging to see this kind of attention being given to the connection between faith and food justice, and it is not limited to what is happening at Wake Forest.  At Duke, Asbury and many other seminaries, there is a significant and growing emphasis on caring for creation, including our health and our bodies.  Through its Partners in Health and Wholeness program, the North Carolina Council of Churches is promoting food justice and alerting folks to the dangers of the industrial food system.  There are many other examples as well.  Even as I continue to be dismayed and saddened by the carnage our destructive food system is leaving in its trail, the work of Fred Bahnson and those like him is encouraging.

But sadly, these great initiatives continue to be the exceptions, not the norm.  In Jim Harnish’s book Simple Rules for Money, he quotes conclusions from a study by Purdue University sociologist Ken Ferraro, who tracked the relationship between religion and body weight.  Ferraro wrote, “America is becoming known as a nation of gluttony and obesity and churches are a feeding ground for the problem.”  He noted that although churches have historically raised concerns about most injurious behaviors, such as smoking and alcohol abuse, “overeating is not considered a great sin–it has become the accepted vice.”  From my experience, Ferraro understates the situation.  It seems to me that for the vast majority of Christians overeating isn’t considered merely an “accepted vice”–rather, it’s not considered a sin or a vice at all.

Gluttony is one of the traditional seven deadly sins (along with its usual companion sloth).  Ever heard a sermon on gluttony?

But as I pointed out in my post of a few days ago, it’s not just a question of eating too much (although that is an essential factor).  It’s also a question of the kinds of things we’re eating.  The industrial food complex spends tens of billions of dollars annually in advertising intended to convince us (and our children) to eat fattening food made from the sugars and hydrogenated fats derived from the processing of corn and soybeans.  An astonishing 90% of the food we eat in America is processed.  Even in  moderation that diet would be destructive of health, and because these foods have been stripped of any nutrient value they would have in their natural states, we’re more likely to overeat, because they don’t trigger the body’s natural “stop eating, you’re full” mechanism.

Recently a friend who works at the local food bank was telling me about her work helping educate teachers in the difficulties of spotting malnutrition in children these days.  In the past malnourished kids were always underweight.  Today, that’s not necessarily the case.  Some are, of course.  But many are obese.  To return to Bahnson’s quote, delivering calories is not the same as delivering nutrition.

It’s time we stop either a) ignoring this problem, b) pretending it doesn’t exist and/or c) expecting the government to solve it.    And to return to a theme from my earlier post, it’s way past time the church started being part of the solution, instead of part of the problem.

That way, the land will thrive.

Yes, I’m still clinging to the idea of an agricultural economy of diversified small farms that produce for local markets and local consumers. I want people to continue to eat. I want them to have, as dependably as possible, a local supply of good food. I want their food budget to support a thriving population of local farmers. That way, the land will thrive.

Wendell Berry

adapted from “The Problem of Tobacco”
Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community

Necessity and Danger

It is well to have specifically holy places, and things, and days, for, without these focal points or reminders, the belief that all is holy and “big with God” will soon dwindle into a mere sentiment.

But if these holy place, things, and days cease to remind us, if they obliterate our awareness that all ground is holy and every bush (could we but perceive it) a burning bush, then the hallows begin to do harm.

Hence both the necessity, and the perennial danger, of “religion.”

C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer

Reading this drew my mind to this, from Wendell Berry’s essay “Christianity and the Survival of Creation:”

A second reason why the holiness of life is so obscured to modern Christians is the idea that the only holy place is the built church. This idea may be more taken for granted than taught; nevertheless, Christians are encouraged from childhood to think of the church building as “God’s house,” and most of them could think of their houses or farms or shops or factories as holy places only with great effort and embarrassment. It is understandably difficult for modern Americans to think of their dwellings and workplaces as holy, because most of these are, in fact, places of desecration, deeply involved in the ruin of Creation….

I don’t think it is enough appreciated how much an outdoor book the Bible is. It is a hypaethral book, such as Thoreau talked about–a book open to the sky. It is best read and understood outdoors, and the farther outdoors the better. Or that has been my experience of it. Passages that within walls seem improbable or incredible, outdoors seem merely natural. That is because outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary, but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread. Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air, and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances, will hardly balk at the fuming of water into wine–which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is fumed into grapes.

What the Bible might mean, or how it could mean anything, in a closed, air-conditioned building, I do not know. I know that holiness cannot be confined. When you think you have captured it, it has already escaped; only its poor, pale ashes are left. It is after this foolish capture and the inevitable escape that you get translations of the Bible that read like a newspaper. Holiness is everywhere in Creation, it is as common as raindrops and leaves and blades of grass, but it does not sound like a newspaper.

It is clearly impossible to assign holiness exclusively to the built church without denying holiness to the rest of Creation, which is then said to be “secular.” The world, that God looked at and found entirely good, we find none too good to pollute entirely and destroy piecemeal. The church, then, becomes a kind of preserve of “holiness,” from which certified lovers of God dash out to assault and plunder the “secular” earth.

And both passages bring to mind the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browing:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries…

How Many More?

I spend a lot of time in the place where faith and food intersect.  As a farmer and a seminarian, I suppose that is natural.  But because I have chosen to make that place the focus of my education, and because it produces some of the driving reasons for what we do here, my exploration of that area is particularly deliberate.

These days, most of the time I’m not outside working on the farm, I’m inside working on my thesis–in which I hope to discover where the thoughts and writings of John Wesley would locate him within the contemporary food movement.  When I began my research I didn’t realize how fertile that ground would turn out to be.

The world remembers John Wesley as a tireless evangelist and advocate for social justice.  His ecclesiastical legacy is Methodism and the many denominations it produced.

But in his day Wesley’s writings on holistic and preventative medicine far outsold his sermons.  He worked to promote both “inward and outward health,” believing that while God’s ultimate plan for creation is to redeem it from all sickness, death, violence and decay, it was the duty of humanity to do as much as possible now to preserve and restore the wellness God intends.  While preaching the necessity of personal holiness, Wesley also called on his followers to exercise regularly and practice responsible diets.

I am convinced that if Wesley were alive today he would embrace the Food Movement, and he would be horrified at what we have done to our bodies and our society by our poor food choices.  That we have done so, in part, by the systematic torture and abuse of animals would particularly enrage him.

The deeper I get into my study (which necessarily requires me to examine carefully the evolution and effects of our current industrial food system) the more I’m alternatively saddened, frustrated and angered by how little most Christian faith communities seem to care about the health crisis that it is producing.

I’m not going to take the time now to review the facts that show the existence of the crisis.  Anyone who has been reading this blog a while has already been repeatedly subjected to that.  Neither am I going to repeat my argument that this is in large part a moral issue, which the church tends to ignore or even facilitate (see HERE for a review of that), beyond a few thoughts that are gnawing at me today.

In his most recent book Ben Witherington describes being invited to speak to the Southern Baptist Convention.  As he looked out at his audience of Baptist preachers and their wives, he was shocked to see that nearly all were obese, many morbidly so.  Wesley’s heirs are probably no different.  Studies show that these days Methodist preachers are more likely to be obese than are their congregants. And the congregants are more likely to be obese than those who are unchurched.

A few days ago I got an email from a friend who has been planning a mission trip to China for over a year.  On his last trip he helped establish some rural schools and he feels called to be a witness there.  On the eve of the trip, he had to cancel it.  Why?  Because he had to have emergency triple bypass surgery.  He is in his 40s and he is obese.  The Chinese children will just have to wait.

I’ve been distressed by frequent requests to pray for supernatural healing of illnesses and diseases caused by overeating.  I can’t remember ever being asked to pray to heal someone from food addiction, gluttony or an absence of self-control.  I can’t remember ever being asked to pray that a loved one change his or her diet.  Instead it seems the accepted practice is to wait until the person is sick or dying from the consequences of deadly food choices, then pray for God to heal them from it.  I have to shake my head.

I don’t mean this post to sound judgmental.  I realize that our addictions are difficult to break and I realize that in some cases there are genetic predispositions to overeating that make it particularly hard.  And of course the food industry spends billions of dollars creating processed food designed to be addictive and billions more on advertising it.  But I can’t imagine that if any other entirely preventable illness was sweeping our world, and if its root cause was arguably immoral behavior, the church would be condoning or ignoring it this way.

I realize, of course, that there are many people of faith who are taking this issue very seriously.  At least one chapter of my thesis will be devoted to discussing the growing number of Christians and Christian leaders who are part of the food movement and who are working to help stop our descent into obesity, sickness and premature death.  They have a very difficult challenge.

I’ll close with this passage from Michael Pollan’s wonderful little book Food Rules:

Populations that eat a so-called Western diet—generally defined as a diet consisting of lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains, lots of everything except vegetables, fruits, and whole grains—invariably suffer from high rates of the so-called Western diseases: obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Virtually all of the obesity and type 2 diabetes, 80 percent of the cardiovascular disease, and more than a third of all cancers can be linked to this diet. Four of the top ten killers in America are chronic diseases linked to this diet.

People who get off the Western diet see dramatic improvements in their health. We have good research to suggest that the effects of the Western diet can be rolled back, and relatively quickly. In one analysis, a typical American population that departed even modestly from the Western diet (and lifestyle) could reduce its chances of getting coronary heart disease by 80 percent, its chances of type 2 diabetes by 90 percent, and its chances of colon cancer by 70 percent.

We need a new John Wesley.

Where Now?

The question of “Where now is our authority?” is always the central and overarching one in every time of upheaval. The Great Emergence will be no different from its predecessors in this regard.
Phyllis Tickle