Planet Earth — megastore or garden?

Posted on June 16, 2011 by Erin Cummisford

I have been thinking a lot about the food production and distribution systems in the United States, and was so happy to read Anne’s recent post on our national food culture here.  It’s always comforting to know that others are wrestling with similar issues and ideas — after all, isn’t that one of the reasons we have this blog?

One of the aspects of food production I reflect on is how disconnected we are from the “roots” of our food, and how we can best rebuilt that connection and help those suffering from hunger and poverty.  Both my husband and I come from a long line of small town/suburban backyard gardeners (and some farmers), and I honestly never thought too much about this as being “different”.  When we settled down and bought our first house in a Chicago neighborhood, we were on auto-pilot as we planted a garden and started a compost bin.  We had a tiny yard, but enough room for a few tomato and pepper plants.  Many of our neighbors did too.

As more of our friends also bought first homes and settled in, I began to notice that not everyone planted a garden.  Call me non-observant or naive, but I hadn’t really noticed this before.  Hmmmm.  One of my suburban-raised friends confessed that although she does feed her kids fresh vegetables, she hadn’t grown up eating them and certainly not growing them.  The affordability of purchasing fresh vegetables is a topic for another blog post, but this was not the issue for my friend.

Growing vegetables can be very cost-effective, and doesn’t require vast parcels of land.  One way that domestic hunger can be relieved is through more home gardening — both through donations of fresh produce to food pantries, and through knowledge transfer from experienced gardeners to others — some of whom may be suffering from hunger and poverty.

I recently found this fascinating article “For God So Loved the Dirt . . . by Norman Wirzba in the April 2011 issue of Sojourners Magazine that I wanted to share (you’ll first need to complete the Sojourners online registration process, but it will be worth it).  The author discusses the theology of “God’s garden” as described in various passages in the Bible and how it contrasts with a resource utilization/consumer view of the Earth.  I love the imagery of God as a farmer in overalls, digging in the dirt — does God have dirty fingernails like I sometimes do?

Wirzba’s assertion that local economies enable us to see how our actions may help or harm others is really interesting.  I don’t believe that most people intend to hurt other people, but it’s hard to gauge your impact on someone you never see.  In our global economy, I don’t have to look my farmer in the eye — even if my purchasing decisions might be harming his/her family.  I’m not suggesting that local food is the only “answer”, just that it forces us to really see the other person.

The author concludes with a vision of religious institutions moving away from seeing the Earth as a megastore where you might find a good deal, and instead building the connections between God’s garden and his/her people by transforming parking lots and lawns into gardens.  Although he doesn’t explicitly discuss it, I imagine the author may agree that donating some of that produce to a local food pantry might be nice too.

Looking through the archives, I found that I blogged about this last year here, and that some congregations are already started to dig up their lawns and grow food.  I really like the concept of faith congregations building community around gardening — sharing food, building bridges, and teaching each other.  Are there more congregations doing this since last year?  I hope so.  Could this idea work in your congregation?  Does this article challenge some of your assumptions?  I look forward to your thoughts.

Erin Cummisford

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