He's a family man who worked with his wife and two daughters to create a year of completely local food and product consumption (rewarded with a remarkable trip to Thailand at the end!).
He's a pastor whose church instituted a farmer's market in its parking lot.
He's a community leader who is spearheading a new community garden in a formerly abandoned lot in his hometown of Spokane, Washington.
And in his office, his Master Food Preserver certificate hangs right next to his Master of Divinity diploma. Yes, this is someone who has a story to tell about the intersection of food and faith, soil and spirituality. Read on for Craig's inspiring Sparks in the Soil interview, visit his blog YearofPlenty.org, and check out his Pumpkin Patch Community Garden website as well.
Describe your "Year of Plenty." Why did you name it that, and what did you learn by consuming everything local?Going into 2008 we were feeling burned out from the crazy consumption rhythms of Christmas and started brainstorming different ways of being consumers. Out of this conversation we decided to try to live for a year consuming everything local, used, homegrown, and homemade. Surprisingly this New Year's resolution stuck and led to a great adventure of living off the beaten path, walking to work, eating seasonally, living without sugar, making out own butter, turning our lawn into a vegetable garden, and taking our whole family to Thailand at the end of the year. (We selected one international location to purchase items from during the year and made a pledge to visit it just as we committed ourselves to making field trips to the local producers of our consumer goods. We took our insurance check from our totaled minivan and used the money to buy our 4 tickets to Thailand. Living with one car was our compromise for not being able to buy local fuel.)
We chose "Year of Plenty" as the title of our blog early on, but as the year progressed it really came to fit our experience. Even though we lived without refined sugar and store bought ice cream and were even driven to eat dandelions before any local greens were available, we had a great sense of gratitude and abundance during the year.
Have you always felt a spiritual component of food and eating? Where does that connection come from for you?
It's really been over the last five years that I've discovered a personal deep resonance between my spiritual journey and food. We bought our house here in Spokane in August. The previous homeowners, who had grown a vegetable garden, generously allowed us to harvest their hard work after to we moved in. I had never grown a plant from seed in my life, but we enjoyed the harvesting experience so much that we decided to try out the planting side of the equation when the next growing season came around. I discovered a love for gardening and growing food.
As I got into gardening I found it a great way to connect with people in the church as I get to know the people in the Presbyterian congregation I pastor.
The summer before our [Year of Plenty] experiment, our church started a farmers' market in the church parking lot, and I developed friendships with the farmers. For the first time, my food had a friendly face to go along with the taste and nutritional content. That played a key role in our commitment to eat locally and the market served as a wonderful place of connection and community building not only for the church but our neighbors as well.
More personally, I have come to see eating food and gardening and raising chickens as spiritual practices, that help me integrate my life in a world that so often divides up the sacred and secular, material and spiritual. Related to this I wrote recently on the blog:
And so my work with local food, our year long experiment, tearing out the lawn, raising chickens, etc. is, at least in part, an experiment in re-weaving faith and soil, food and spirit, earthy reality and divine truth, backyard and baptismal font.It also relates to my experience as a pastor. I'm thinking of a friend who no longer attends church because she says she experiences God in nature. I'm thinking of the growing crowds of people who say they are spiritual but not religious. I see this as more a rejection of the false divide of the "holy and the world" than it is a rejection of God. And in some ways the church has itself to blame for this exodus. The church signed a long-term endorsement deal with modernity that looked like the deal of the century for awhile but has taken a tragic turn where people feel like they have to choose between nature and sanctuary, spirituality and a community of faith. As a pastor I am experimenting with what it looks like to lead a church that rejects this false divide and witnesses to a holistic faith. So I do the normal stuff like preach and visit the hospital and write newsletter articles, but I also manage a farmers' market and help distribute food with Second Harvest and work to establish community gardens in West Valley, and write a blog about local food.
And let me be as clear as I can, my interest in food and consumption is not some bait and switch effort to slip Jesus into people's lives, as if local food were some carrot on a stick to lead people along into the holy. The whole point is that I am learning to pay attention to real carrots, preferably local and organic, and see them as in some way holy. If I am seeking to convert people here it is a conversion to a whole life where truth and holiness are wedded to earthiness. At least that's the ongoing conversion I'm seeking in my own life.
As part of our year long experiment I became a Master Food Preserver. In my office, the Master Food Preserver Certificate is right next to my Master of Divinity certificate. They represent essential aspects of what I see God calling me to do as a pastor and person.
Do you believe that people of faith are obligated to eat healthy, sustainable food, and share it with others? If so, why?
I believe that God has created all things and called all things good. I believe that to imagine a faith that has no interest in the health of the "all things" of God is to get caught up in a modern tragedy, where spirit and earth are divided in an attempt to keep each other safe, and as a result both are hurt.
I agree with Wendell Berry when he says;
"...perhaps the greatest disaster of human history is one that happened to or within religion: that is, the conceptual division between the holy and the world, the excerpting of the Creator from the creation...and this split in public attitudes was inevitably mirrored in the lives of individuals: A man could aspire to heaven with his mind and his heart while destroying the earth, and his fellow men, with his hands."
As a Christian, Colossians 1 is a key verse for me where Jesus is described as the one in whom all things are created and redeemed. I believe that following Jesus as Lord and Savior includes decisions we make about the food we eat and the impact of that food's life cycle on people and the land. Ironically, the key to a down-to-earth faith is a strong theology of the cosmic Christ.
Talk about the Pumpkin Patch Community Garden. How has your congregation responded to the idea of being a lynchpin of this community garden?
We are actually right in the middle of negotiating the church's role in the garden. We had our first work day last Saturday and of the 25 volunteers, 7 or 8 are members of the church or associated with it. The rest were neighbors and other people interested in helping out. I heard two sentiments related to the church's involvement. One person expressed a desire that more "church people" had attended, while another was quite pleased that it wasn't dominated by "church people." I tend to agree with the latter assessment.
We're living in the tension of the reality that without the church's initiative the garden wouldn't be possible, but without the participation and shared vision from the community, the garden also wouldn't be possible. I think that's a good tension for the church live in.
We often express our church's mission using the words of Jeremiah 29 where he commissions God's exiled people to "seek the welfare of the city I have sent you do, and pray for it, for in its welfare you will find your own welfare." So we are prayerfully seeking the welfare of the city God has called us to, which goes beyond the welfare of our church and church members. We are seeking to be a sign and foretaste of God's justice and peace in the world. Seeing a barren, abused empty lot become a beautiful productive piece of land feels like a small fulfillment of our weekly prayer, "Your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven."
It's worth mentioning that in that same passage Jeremiah instructs God's people to plant gardens. It's probably exegetical malpractice to connect the commission of Jeremiah to plant gardens with a church helping start a community garden, but I won't call the exegesis police if you won't.
What is the biggest benefit of church-based gardening, in your opinion--the community cohesion, restoring the land, feeding the hungry, or....?
I love the way it gets me as a pastor and our church folks out interacting with our community and neighbors. As a pastor I see the primary challenge, at least for our church, is not getting people in the church's doors, but getting the congregation out the doors into the neighborhood in meaningful and faith-filled ways.
You said that you see a divide in our culture between the material and the spiritual, and that divide is hurting the church. Do you believe gardening might be a way to bridge the divide?
I have found that to be true in my personal life and I think the same could be said for many churches in North America. The challenge is that most churches don't have the resources within the church body to do it. Like I said above, I think it's good for churches to recognize that God is calling us to do things that require collaboration and partnership with out neighbors. We don't impose vision on the neighborhoods that surround our churches, rather we are called to share vision.
I think of the disciples who fanned out with Jesus' instructions to enter towns, live, eat, and work among the people AND proclaim the kingdom of God at hand. Because the church often doesn't truly enter the neighborhood and "eat and work" alongside, when we do proclaim the kingdom of God at hand, our neighbors often respond with indifference. They say, "Who are you to proclaim anything to me? I don't even know you. I don't share anything with you so why should I trust your words or proclamation."
For us the Farmers' Market, our monthly food distributions, and now hopefully the community garden are ways for us to work alongside and "eat" with our neighbors.
Have you had an experience where you've inspired someone to change their eating/buying habits? If so, please describe it and share what it meant to you and the other person.
I have had many people along the way say that our journey has led them to eat local, try vegetable gardening, or get some chickens. I love that we've been an encouragement to people but we've been careful not to pretend that we're experts or that we should presume others follow our path. One of the families that we've mentored into gardening and growing food entered veggies in the County fair last year and their kids won the giant pumpkin contest. We've been trying to do that for 4 years now. The student is now the master. :)
Click here for more Sparks in the Soil interviews! And nominate your own "Growers in the Spirit" for a future feature!
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