Rev. Brian Cole from All Souls Cathedral in Asheville, NC spoke first and discussed how we as Christians can affect our churches understanding the role of the good steward plays in a ministry that serves the hungry and displaced can benefit our communities. He reminded us that in Exodus 16, the Manna from Heaven assures us that God is the source of our food and that the dietary laws of Levitcus were there for good reason. In Luke, we look at who Jesus sat down and broke bread with- the poor, sick and afflicted- this created community. And that in Mathew 25, when the people of God feed the hungry, doing so becomes a way of doing justice.
Also, The Rule of St. Benedict, who wrote as if the world is falling apart- Ch. 39- 'the proper amount of food'. " Nothing is more contrary to being a Chrisitan than gluttony."
So, food is a moral issue. In many churches, this moral vision is starved. It has become more about how much money can the church raise off the backs of their parishoners rather than how much work for the good of the community by feeding the hungry or creating programs for sustainability in a rapidly changing economy.
The Bible is an outdoor document. And so much of Christianity has become an indoor activity.
Rev. Cole related one story from his early days as a Pastor where one KY farmer's wife said 'Farming is the holiest activity that can happen. '
Suggested reading- Thomas Merton's works. Wendell Barry: 'Jaybird Crowe'. 'Practicing OurFaith' Series. Books that seek to make sacred connections. Also,
Next, Mr. Charlie Jackson of the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) spoke concerning food and farms in NC- these are both important to all of us in other states-
The biggest problem is that the US is losing farms at an alarming rate to developers. So, much of our large sources of food production are failing- the small farmer and projects that include community outreach are going to become the biggest source of food production. Farmer's Markets, local food and community supported agriculture is the best way to deal with this changing paradym.
Churches can help by sponsoring markets in their parking lots- also, a church can sponsor things like a community garden, or contact local growers to ask if they will allow a church to glean the fields after the farmer's harvest is in so the food can then be used and distributed among the needy.
Kitty Schaller, executive director of MANNA Foodbank (secondharvest.org) spoke about how so many folks who were able to make their own way now find they are marginalized by a sudden downsizing and job change. Again, our changing economy has forced so many people into a role of not being able to make it any longer- the 'working poor' who suddenly have no health care, housing they can no longer afford, and a support system that turns their back on them. (This is an important one to me as my father became one of these people after the firm he worked for downsized, moved out of the city we lived in and he lost his job- though no fault of his own- and his own family turned their backs on him when he was unable to recover from those devastating effects.)
These are the sorts of folks we see, especially in an intercity ministry- these working poor who feel they will not be able to survive and become angry, with drug or alcohol issues, and often trouble with the law.
The one thing we can give them is a good and healthful diet, full of fresh vegetables and fruit, but less carbohydrates which contribute to health issues and obesity. In food baskets, it is important to remember that fresh vegies are a priority.
Steve Hodges from the Jubilee Project is from Sneedville, TN- this is a faith based non-profit working with farmers from several counties in eastTN to make value added foods and start a farm-to-school project. Their current project is the potato wedge product that can be introduced into local schools, churches and other institutions. www.apspringcoop.com
Steve introduced himself to me and as it happens he knows a neighbor of mine who is on the board of directors with him and also another worker for good in my area whom I have had the pleasure to know for many years.
We enjoyed a lunch of locally made breads, and soup and salad from locally grown sources. After an afternoon of round table discussion, we went on a farm tour of two different local growers.
In NC, these farms are very much on the fore-front. In TN, it all seems about 'how much money can you make for the state', with very little emphasis on how to co-operate with each other- ie. so few farmer's markets as compared to the headspace of NC. Forgive me, this is one of my sticking points.....
If you are reading this in TN and would like to get involved with the Appalachian Grown project, visit www.AppalachianGrown.org or www.buyappalachian.org . The listing online is free and they welcome all farms and other endeavors from the whole Appalachian region. As our economy changes, local food becomes that much more important as we begin to take care ofeach other more instead of relying on our government or outside sources for food and sustainabilty.
Encourage your churches and communities to grow a small garden to feed the people who need help and know that each small thing done with great love to help someone else in need is sufficient in the eyes of God.