January 20th through 23rd found Erynn, Sarah and I braving a long and rainy drive up to Monterey to participate in the 30th annual Eco-Farm Conference. Where to begin? Well, the opening plenary began with Wes Jackson (from the Land Institute) and Frances Moore Lappé (author of “Diet for a Small Planet,” among others). Let’s just say they set the precedent for standing ovations.
I’ll let Sarah and Erynn talk more about the impact the conference had on them. Personally, it opened my mind to the variety of approaches that farmers and others take when it comes to the vague word “sustainability.” Everyone from your nose-pierced, shaggy and/or dread-locked biodynamic farmers to the large-scale organic, wrangler-wearing, big-truck-driving farmers were there, mingling, exchanging stories, and dancing together during the final night’s Louisiana funk band dance. It was a lot of fun.
One of the sessions on CSAs and their alternative role in the economy stuck with me in particular. The speaker outlined the history of Community Supported Agriculture, and how it goes against the consumerist grain. The CSA model offers an alternative to the typical commodity-based market economy. I got to thinking about this in relation to our Abundant Table Farm Project (ATFP) ministry.
How is our CSA program connected to the Abundant Table ministry? How does the worship service, Eucharist and potluck we host every Sunday night extend into the week and define our work? When our subscribers sign up for our CSA program, they are not simply buying a weekly box of seasonal vegetables and their unit-by-unit worth. No, their financial support symbolizes a deeper commitment for which the box could be considered an acknowledgment, a return of gratitude in the form of our land’s bounty. They are “buying into” something beyond the worth of the veggies – and this something is our soil quality (good soil is everything in agriculture, I’m discovering), our care over a piece of land for future generations while cherishing the family history of generations past, the knowledge that those who tend the land are well cared for, housed, fed, insured, etc., and of course a closer relationship with the substance upon which we are all dependent, food, and the people who grow it.
Our CSA is part of our ministry, then, for it enables people in some small (but small is large) way, to step outside the role that society has ready-made for them as a consumer expecting direct, personal returns. Just as our boxes are not personalized based on individual preference but rather offer the same assortment to all, our ministry gently, even sub-consciously informs people that it’s not “all about me.” Our CSA ministry offers freedom from “cheap” materialism and an opportunity to participate in a richer materialism, in a different sense of the word if you will, that goes beyond individual gains to include things like the material of our earth, its friendliness toward worms and birds, and yet unborn material seven generations from now.
We can be a part of something larger than ourselves, contributing to the soil’s fertility and to supporting a community. I believe that these things essentially teach us what it means to be more fully human, which is, as our priest Julie likes to say, the mission of Christ.
Now, to the reason I started to write this post. Pictures from our Eco-farm journeys!: