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A Short Tour of Community Gardens

Our garden at home has finally started yielding its bounty, which means we have more tomatoes than we know what to do with and are engaged in constant battle with rabbits to preserve our harvest. Now is the season when we get to enjoy the fruits of our time spent planting and preparing the soil, with fresh bites from the garden in every meal. It’s a reminder of the growing season and of nature’s wonders.

The fresh veggies making their way from my yard to my plate has had me thinking more about community gardens recently, especially with the rising costs of food making harvests more important for many of us. Interestingly, though, it was not my own garden or food prices that made me look into the history of gardens in the United States. It was, of all things, a comic book.

Most people who know me know that I am obsessed with comics, especially propaganda comics from World War II and early 1950s horror comics that drew the ire of parents and the federal government alike. I recently picked up a copy of this little gem from 1943:

World's Finest Comics #11 cover, with superheroes working in garden

World’s Finest Comics is pretty unremarkable, except for its run of war-themed covers in the early 1940s. Issue #11 here features Superman, Batman and Robin working away in a “victory garden.” (Oh, how nice it would be to have the super-speed of Superman or the ingenuity of Batman to take care of weeding and tilling, right?) Victory gardens, as they were called, were home gardens that the US government encouraged people to start during the war, ostensibly to increase food production at home when so much produce had to be sent to troops overseas, though their significance went far deeper, as we will learn below.

Many people trace community gardens today back to these victory gardens. But the community gardening movement actually started much further back, and the government was not as “super”-supportive of victory gardens as Superman and Batman were – at least early on.

The 1890s – Community Gardens Begin

According to Smithsonian Gardens, part of the Smithsonian Institution, community gardens trace their roots back to Detroit, Michigan, in the 1890s. The economic depression of 1893 hit the city hard, particularly affecting its largely immigrant population. Worried about food shortages and high unemployment, Detroit’s progressive Mayor Hazen Pingree started a public works program for jobs and then encouraged the city to use vacant lots to grow vegetables for the coming winter. “Pingree’s Potato Patches,” as they were called were called, were effective and popular.

Mayor Pingree had another motive besides providing food. The depression had increased economic inequality in the city, and the response of Detroit’s wealthy citizens was to provide charity to address the deep challenges faced by the workers most impacted. Rather than addressing the problems, charity drives fostered a system of patronage, leaving low-income Detroiters dependent on small amounts of help from rich benefactors. Pingree’s gardens were steps toward a more equitable solution, providing spaces for Detroiters facing hunger and poverty to exercise agency. It was a movement for both food security and economic justice. As the Detroit Free Press wrote in 1935, “Pingree’s potato patches broke the back of hunger. They were nationally acclaimed and copied. They revealed a city of boundless energy and industry unwilling to live on doles (the meager charity of the wealthy).”

family tends garden in Detroit 1890s

A family tends a Pingree Potato Patch in Detroit. Image courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

 

Turn of the Century and World War I

Pingree’s model was copied in many major cities. As the depression eased, schools turned to gardens both to supplement nutrition and to help an increasingly urban population of children connect back to nature and learn responsibility and the value of work. Perhaps the most famous advocate for the school garden movement was Fannie Griscom Parsons, a tireless leader whose work led to the creation of gardens and farms for children throughout New York City in the first two decades of the 20th Century. Parsons famously wrote,

I did not start a garden simply to grow a few vegetables and flowers. The garden was used as a means to teach [children] in their work some necessary civic virtues; private care of public property, economy, honesty, application, concentration, self-government, civic pride, justice, the dignity of labor, and the love of nature by opening to their minds the little we know of her mysteries, more wonderful than any fairy tale.

With World War I, the gardening movement gained a lot of ground and new support, this time from the US War Gardening Commission. With this fervor, the Commission reported that by 1917, there were more than 3.5 million war gardens across the country, helping supply needed fruits and vegetables during the lean years of the war.

As should be clear by now, though, the gardens were about more than just food. The war gardens of World War I became a symbol of community agency and renewal, especially for African American residents, whose urban neighborhoods were neglected by governments after the war. Drawing on their horticultural skills and passion for beautifying their communities, African American gardeners in Detroit, Philadelphia and other cities scaled up their post-war efforts, even holding contests for residents with the best gardens. These gardens became an important lifeline during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

World War II – Victory Gardens

The World War I gardens planted the seed (ahem) for the victory gardens of World War II. By this point in agricultural history in the US, the government was more reluctant to support gardens. As the Smithsonian notes, most officials thought that large-scale agriculture was more effective. What ultimately convinced the government to promote victory gardens, though, wasn’t a compelling argument about production. Rather, it was the awareness after decades of use that gardens play a powerful role in bringing communities together, improving relationships between neighbors and strengthening morale.

The gardens ended up proving effective in both areas, though. They strengthened communities and they provided an abundance of food – as much as 40 percent of vegetables grown in the US by 1944.

Hidden Depths

The brightly-colored produce, however, hid some gnarled roots, and Superman, Batman and Robin’s smiling faces on the cover of World’s Finest Comics #11 belied deep injustices when it came to gardens and farms in the United States in the 1940s.

As World War II began, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the removal and internment of Japanese Americans. While in public press, the order was motivated by fear of spies (a belief that had no basis in reality), the internment campaign had more sinister roots. Japanese Americans, especially in California, had drawn on their deep agricultural knowledge to build successful farming businesses upon their arrival in the US. It was these farms, and the valuable land that Japanese Americans owned, that drove some to call for internment.

Indeed, one of the first documented lobbying efforts to remove Japanese Americans from the West Coast came from none other than the Salinas Valley Vegetable Grower-Shipper Association, which sent a lobbyist to Washington, DC, to argue for forced removal of Japanese American farmers.

By 1942, with Japanese Americans interned and their land under government supervision, white farmers began seizing control of their farms, and the managing secretary of the Western Growers Protective Association reported “considerable profits were realized” by member growers “because of the Japanese removal.”

While incarcerated at the internment camps, many Japanese Americans continued using their skills, however, and developed camp gardens. Despite the desolate landscape of many of the camps, internees used their wisdom, creativity and tenacity to start thousands of thriving gardens. These gardens helped to supplement their diet, but perhaps more importantly, the gardens served as a symbol of resistance against internment, an attempt to hold on to community and traditions and to refuse the dehumanization of internment.

Gardens that had once been indicators of successful business and wealth for immigrant families now, through acts of protest against the injustice of internment, were revealed as symbols of courage, strength and resilience.

Sowing and Reaping

Still today, community gardens carry these multiple layers of meaning. On the one hand, they provide fresh, healthy food. But on a much deeper level, as researchers Rina Ghose and Margaret Pettygrove report, community gardens are spaces where community is formed and citizenship is fostered. They are a protest against powers that control food, land and jobs. And they can be spaces that bear witness to new kinds of communities, new kinds of relationships and new understandings of the economy.

Martin Luther once wrote that farming is an act that imitates God’s creation of the world. By digging into the soil, planting and nurturing crops, we are imitating God’s hands-on approach to making the world. But the long history of gardens in the United States – from immigrants tending “Pingree’s Potato Patches” to investments in gardens for under-served urban children to beautification of segregated neighborhoods and the witness of camp gardens – points to an expanded understanding of how this work imitates God’s creative endeavors.

Yes, we are gifted with the opportunity to witness the Creator God in action as crops take root, but on a deeper level, the community that is nurtured and grown at the garden testifies to the ongoing work of God as the redeemer of the world, reconciling us to one another and building a just world where all are fed.

We aren’t superheroes, but we don’t need to be. The world does not need superheroes as much as it needs neighbors willing to work together, to participate in the restoration of just relationships and communities, asserting together that our neighborhoods are worth investing in and that each and every one of us can play a part. As we’ve learned time and again, gardens can be sacred spaces where neighbors build relationships with one another, assert their pride and dignity, and create a bountiful harvest for the community to enjoy. The hard work of tilling, planting, weeding and watering yields far more than vegetables. It can nourish the growth of communities in profound, life-giving ways.

As we harvest from gardens this season and get ready for planting next spring, this history begs the questions: what are we really sowing? And what new wonders might neighbors working together for the transformation of the landscape and the community reap?

 

If you are interested in starting your own community garden, or finding new ways to expand the garden your community has, check out ELCA World Hunger’s Community Gardens How-To Guide, available in English and Spanish! You can order hard copies from the ELCA World Hunger resources page too!

 

Ryan P. Cumming, Ph.D., is the program director of hunger education for ELCA World Hunger.

Global Farm Challenge Podcast

Welcome to “More than Food,” the podcast of ELCA World Hunger’s Global Farm Challenge!

Find out more information below about the Global Farm Challenge and how you and your group can become involved. Links to the podcast episodes are also below.

What is the Global Farm Challenge?

The Global Farm Challenge is a youth-centered, whole-church effort to raise awareness and gifts to support the work of ELCA World Hunger with farming communities around the world. ELCA World Hunger works through congregations, companion churches and partners to accompany smallholder farmers around the world. This work includes adapting to climate change and sustainable farming practices. But it also includes helping farmers learn new techniques for increasing yields and decreasing costs, build collectives for shared power and gain access to land, seeds and tools. By joining the Global Farm Challenge, you can be an important part of supporting this work!

Why the Global Farm Challenge?

We know that the world produces more than enough food to feed everyone person. But hunger is on the rise, and the very people who produce the world’s food – farmers and farmworkers – face higher levels of hunger and poverty. They are vulnerable to climate change-related disasters, health risks and laws and policies that lock them out of access to land or financing they need to expand their farms.

With the war in Ukraine causing global food shortages and rising prices making it harder for vulnerable families to feed themselves, meeting immediate needs now and building resilience for the future are critical steps. The Global Farm Challenge, by empowering ELCA World Hunger to accompany farmers around the world, is a key way we can all be part of God’s work toward a just world where all are fed.

What is “More than Food”?

“More than Food” is a podcast designed to go along with the “Global Farm Challenge To-Go Card Game,” a game your group can play anywhere – even on the road! In the game, players follow stories of smallholder farmers and farmworkers and learn about the challenges and opportunities farmers face. Each of the stories in the game is based on real stories of neighbors involved in the projects supported by ELCA World Hunger and the Global Farm Challenge. In the podcast, we will dive into these stories and learn more about the projects and the communities involved.

You can share this podcast on your congregation’s website or social media, listen to episodes as part of a group study or play episodes in the car while you travel to a service site this summer.

Play the game, talk about your experiences and hear about our neighbors’ experiences as you consider supporting ELCA World Hunger’s Global Farm Challenge!

Join us in learning more about the many ways God is at work through us and our neighbors!

 

Episode 1 – In this episode, learn more about the Global Farm Challenge and how to get involved.

Transcript: Ep 1 Introducing More than Food Transcript

Episode 2 – In this episode, Brooke and Ryan talk about why justice is at the very foundation of faith and why it is so important to think about ending hunger as “more than food.”
Episode 3 – In this episode, Ryan talks with Franklin Ishida, the director for the Asia and Pacific regions for the ELCA, about growing pumpkins – and a whole lot more – through a project in Cambodia. This project is one of the stories featured in the Global Farm Challenge To-Go Card Game.

Transcript: Episode 3 – Pumpkins and Cambodia Transcript

Episode 4 – In this episode, we hear from Giovana Oaxaca, the ELCA’s program director for migration policy, who shares some of the ways ELCA World Hunger supports farm workers in the US. This work part of the story of citrus fruit in the Global Farm Challenge To-Go Card Game.

Transcript: More than Food Episode 4 – US Farmworkers Transcript

Conflict and Hunger Part I: How Will the War in Ukraine Affect Food Security?

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, the immediate, deadly consequences are starkly visible in Western media – an as-yet uncounted number of dead soldiers and civilians, millions forced to flee from their homes and seek safety in other countries or regions, and the devastation of homes, hospitals and critical infrastructure. Less vivid but no less significant, are the long-term consequences the war will have for food security in Ukraine and around the globe.

While other causes of hunger, such as climate change, migration or economic poverty, may seem to receive more attention, the single biggest driver of food crises around the world is conflict. As António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, wrote in 2021, “Conflict and hunger are mutually reinforcing. We need to tackle hunger and conflict together to solve either.” As the World Food Programme (WFP) notes nearly every year in its annual Global Report on Food Crises, conflict often leads to food crises[1] (especially when it occurs at the same time as climate events or economic downturns) and food crises can exacerbate conflict.

Food security depends on the adequacy of four things: food production, food access, food utilization and stability. In simpler terms:

  • Is enough food being produced or supplied?
  • Is the food available to consumers in safe, reliable ways?
  • Are people able to meet their nutritional needs with the food?
  • Is access to food reliable, even during crises?

Over a series of posts, we’ll take a brief dive into each of these. Follow the links to read more:

 

Reading through each of these posts will give a picture of some of the ways violent conflict impacts hunger, as well as some of the long-term effects that may come from the war in Ukraine. Even as we pray for and take action to support neighbors in Ukraine, we need to remember that this conflict could have devastating and far-reaching consequences that may not go away the moment a ceasefire agreement is signed. Our globalized food system, while so efficient and effective when operating well, also leaves each of us vulnerable to destabilizing shocks around the world.

This is one of the reasons why the complementary responses of Lutheran Disaster Response and ELCA World Hunger through partners and companion churches are so important. Lutheran Disaster Response, working through companions in Eastern Europe, is helping to meet the most immediate needs created by the crisis, while also drawing on years of experience to plan long-term support for refugees, internally displaced persons, and other victims of the war.

Together with Lutheran Disaster Response, ELCA World Hunger accompanies communities around the world as they build resilience against these kinds of shocks. Supporting work in agriculture helps local farmers take steps to improve the productivity of their labors, which provides some security against interruptions in exports or rising prices. Working together with partners and companions in advocacy helps to ensure that social safety net programs are robust and effective in the event of a crisis. Support for healthcare workers, counselors, clinics and hospitals helps reduce vulnerability to disease and illness, care for neighbors dealing with trauma and build capacity to respond to future health crises. And by accompanying refugees and migrants around the world, we can be part of the work God is doing to foster the stability that’s needed to ensure long-term health and well-being wherever they are.

The ripple effects of the war in Ukraine could echo throughout the food system for a long time. But we find courage and hope in God who “calls us to hope, even when hope is shrouded by the pall of war” and who, even now, is at work in, among and through peacemakers, supporting neighbors in need and “striving for justice and peace in all the earth.”

For more information on Lutheran Disaster Response’s ongoing efforts to provide support in Eastern Europe, visit https://blogs.elca.org/disasterresponse/situation-report-eastern-europe-crisis/.

 

Ryan P. Cumming, Ph.D., is the program director of hunger education for ELCA World Hunger and the author of The African American Challenge to Just War Theory (Palgrave, 2013).

 

[1] A food crisis occurs when there is a sharp rise in hunger or malnutrition within a geographic region. The World Food Programme uses the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification and the Cadre Harmonise (IPC/CH) to describe levels of acute food insecurity. The classification phases range from Phase 1 (none or minimal) to Phase 5 (Catastrophe/Famine.) More information on the phases can be found in WFP’s Global Report on Food Crises. Phase 3 represents a “crisis,” during which immediate action is needed to protect livelihoods and prevent worsening hunger.

Conflict and Hunger Part II: Food Production

This post is Part II of a five-part series discussing the many ways that violent conflict impacts hunger. The first key aspect of food security is food production, or put another way, is enough food being produced or supplied to meet human needs? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine. Read Part I and find links to the other posts here.

Violent conflict puts the entire food supply chain at risk. The immediate destruction or occupation of land and storage facilities can reduce the amount of land that is farmed and the amount of food crops harvested. The effects, though, are complex, as research into the recent conflicts in Syria and Iraq has found, since militaries can and do turn some of their energy to cultivating occupied land while local farmers also increase their production (or try to) to meet growing need.

Far more significant than control or destruction of land are the impacts on labor and inputs. Are there enough people to work a farm, and does the farm have enough supplies to keep operating? As people flee their homes in search of safety, farms are often left fallow, crops are left unharvested and livestock are left untended and vulnerable to death or theft, as has been the case in Nigeria, for example, amid the violence of the Fulani militia. Conflict can also make it hard for farmers to get shipments in or out, so obtaining seeds, new animals, machinery and other necessary supplies gets difficult and expensive, if not impossible.

This is a huge problem when it comes to the conflict in Ukraine. It’s no exaggeration to call Ukraine “the breadbasket of Europe.” Agriculture is about 9% of the country’s total gross domestic product (GDP), and Ukraine is a leading producer of wheat, corn, barley, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil and soybeans. Together, Russia and Ukraine provide more than 30% of the world’s cereal[1] supplies. These cereals are essential staples for many countries around the world that rely on Ukraine’s exports – exports that are now at severe risk. As Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has pointed out, some cereal crops in Ukraine will be ready for harvest in June. The longer the conflict lasts, the greater risk that these crops won’t be harvested or shipped later this year.

That extends the crisis far beyond the borders of either Ukraine or Russia. Many of the countries dependent on importing Ukrainian grains do so because their own production can’t meet their needs. Some of these counties, such as Yemen (which imports about 700,000 tons of Ukrainian wheat each year), are already facing their own food crises. A shock like this could make famine more likely. On the other hand, because of our interconnected global food system and the widespread concern about the situation in Ukraine, we may see other producers step up to help fill the gaps through increased exports and reduced trade barriers. This, of course, doesn’t avoid other problems, as we’ll see in the next post on food access.

 

[1] “Cereals” includes a wide variety of grains used for foods, such as rye, barley, wheat, sorghum, maize or rice.

Conflict and Hunger Part III: Food Access

This post is Part III of a five-part series discussing the many ways that violent conflict impacts hunger. The next key aspect of food security is food access, or put another way, is food available to consumers in safe, reliable ways? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine. Read Part I and find links to the other posts here.

The next key aspect of food security is food access, or put another way, is food available to consumers in safe, reliable ways? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine.

Even if food is produced, conflict interrupts the transportation and infrastructure needed to get it in people’s hands. As the World Food Programme (WFP) notes, an estimated 13.5 million tons of wheat and 16 million tons of maize ready to ship from Ukraine and Russia have been “frozen” out of the food supply chain, so they won’t get to the people who need them.

Even if food does get out to stores, food prices are rising rapidly, so consumers may not be able to afford them. The COVID-19 pandemic has already driven up the prices of staple foods, and these prices are likely to continue climbing. Because of the balance between demand and supply, these costs will rise even in countries that aren’t dependent on exports. The FAO estimates that food and feed prices could soar by up to 22%, depending on the movement of prices.

But couldn’t other countries simply ramp up production to fill the gap? Perhaps, but it’s not quite that simple. There are many benefits of a global food system. We have access to a wider variety of foods, often for lower prices, which is incredibly helpful for countries that are export-dependent. But this also means that a shock anywhere can lead to cascading shocks everywhere. In the case of the war in Ukraine, this means that the countries that could step up to fill the gap in food exports are also dependent on imported fuel. Because of the role Russia and Ukraine play in producing fuel, costs to run production facilities and transportation in other countries are also rising.

On top of all of this, within the countries directly affected by violence, conflict causes stores and markets to close and the loss of jobs. Also, because roads and bridges are overrun or destroyed, trucking and rail shipments can come to a halt in conflict areas, so, food can’t get to or from processing plants or stores for consumers within the country, and it can’t get to or out of ports for export, as we have already seen with some ports on the Black Sea closed. The loss of jobs, of course, reduces consumers’ ability to pay for the scarce supplies of food that may be available.

Ukrainians and Russians are both feeling this pinch, in part because of the invasion of Ukraine and in part because of the global response to the invasion. Obviously, within Ukraine, the disruption to daily lives, transportation, jobs and stores means that those who have stayed or been internally displaced within the country may have difficulty accessing basic goods, even if they do have the money to afford them. With many routes into city centers closed, too, this compounds the challenge of getting necessities to people who need them.

For Ukrainians forced to flee to other countries, humanitarian agencies and churches have stepped in alongside governments to meet some of the need, but in terms of access, it may be irregular for quite some time.

Russians, too, may experience obstacles to food access in the near future and long-term. Some have already. Sanctions are a middle road for international governments between, on the one hand, doing nothing and, on the other hand, engaging militarily in what would likely become a global war. Sanctions allow for pressure to be applied on Russia with minimal risk of escalating armed conflict. However, sanctions are also an indiscriminate tool, meaning their effects aren’t limited to just the people engaged in the war.

Research into the effects of US sanctions have found that “it is those living in poverty who are harshly affected” by sanctions. The effects are more pronounced when the sanctions are implemented by multiple countries, as we are seeing now with Russia. Unfortunately, while the seizure of yachts from oligarchs and the freezing of wealthy individuals’ bank accounts receive the most media attention, the impact of sanctions is most likely to be felt more sharply and for a longer time by average Russians, especially those who are already at or near poverty, as they lose jobs with foreign companies or domestic companies impacted by supply shortages.

Because of the lack of reliable information, it is difficult to say what the effect of sanctions has been on unemployment in Russia, but history suggests that average Russians will be significantly impacted. Likewise, as gas and fuel costs rise in the rest of the world, the people living paycheck-to-paycheck are most impacted, including here in the United States, as a higher percentage of their income goes to heat their homes, purchase goods or fill their tanks to drive to work.

This doesn’t mean that sanctions aren’t necessary or justified; but even necessary and justified actions have a cost.

Violent conflict causes immediate obstacles to food access for many people that go far beyond food production. It isn’t enough to have enough food being produced if people cannot afford it or if there aren’t outlets to get it from producers to consumers. These obstacles to access, including the collateral damage to food access within a sanctioned country such as Russia, ultimately impact the way people utilize the food that is available, as we will see in the next post on food utilization.

Conflict and Hunger Part IV: Food Utilization

This post is Part IV of a five-part series discussing the many ways that violent conflict impacts hunger. The next key aspect of food security is food utilization, or put another way, are people able to meet their nutritional needs? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine. Read Part I and find links to the other posts here.

When it comes to food security, there is a difference between having enough calories and meeting your nutritional needs. An overabundance of calorie-dense food – especially processed and packaged foods that also contain high amounts of salt or sugar – does not necessarily contribute to food security, because part of food security means having the right kinds of food: nutritious, clean and safe. The availability of this food, the ability to safely store and prepare it, and our own confidence as consumers all play a role in food utilization.

Unfortunately, in a violent conflict, when much of the food system and society is unstable, these are the kinds of foods that tend to be less available. During a crisis, people often turn toward shelf-stable,  processed foods that are quick to prepare, easy to carry, readily available and inexpensive. We saw this in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia in 2020, where as much as half of the population turned to eating less overall or eating more highly processed foods to get through the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the main concerns in the Ukraine conflict is the nutritional well-being of people displaced by violence within Ukraine and those who have fled the country as refugees. As people are displaced from their homes and local communities, their ability to procure safe, nutritious food is often hampered. In some cases, humanitarian aid can help make up the difference, but not everyone has access to this. We can surmise from recent reports that humanitarian agencies are facing significant obstacles in reaching people who are internally displaced within Ukraine.

The other aspect of food utilization to consider in a conflict is safe handling and storage of food. With attacks impacting both personal security of civilians as well as critical infrastructure that provides power for cooking and sanitation for clean water, conflict increases the risk of illnesses that come from contaminated food. Conflict also makes it harder for people to get treatment for diseases that can impact their nutrition and overall health, such as diarrhea, fevers, diabetes and, of course, COVID-19.

Here, too, the effects cascade to other populations. Host countries welcoming refugees can encounter obstacles in ensuring that everyone – including native residents – has enough food and that there is capacity in the healthcare system to meet the growing need. In addition, countries relying on exports from Ukraine and Russia may turn to less nutritious or less safe food available locally or in alternative markets.

With all of these interconnected systems, one of the most important aspects of food security is how stable and reliable the food system is. We turn to that in the next post on stability.

Conflict and Hunger Part V: Stability

This post is Part V of a five-part series discussing the many ways that violent conflict impacts hunger. The next key aspect of food security is stability. Is access to food reliable, even during a crisis? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine. Read Part I and find links to the other posts here.

Stability, in short, means that food production, access, and utilization are reliable and resilient. Put another way, if we can eat today, how sure are we that we will be able to eat tomorrow?

There are two reasons this is important. First, instability and unpredictability change the way people behave. Farmers, for example, become more hesitant to trade, invest or diversify their work. For example, after the civil war in Mozambique in the 1980s and 1990s, farmers tended to focus on subsistence farming and reduced their participation in the market, meaning there was less food produced for other people to purchase and consume. Similarly, farmers may shift away from livestock or away from crop diversification, since doing so seems to pose less risk in the short-term, even if it may have longer-term negative effects.

In Ukraine, one of the current concerns is that farmers may not fertilize their grain crops because of high prices and instability. That would lead to a drastic reduction in the wheat crop for 2022, which could cause further shortages and higher prices globally into 2023. Moreover, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) notes that fertilizer costs are expected to rise globally, adding to the strain of farmers dependent on them. Russia and Belarus provide a large share of the world’s fertilizer, and their shipments have been significantly interrupted. (Of course, because causes and effects are complex, this situation might actually spawn the positive benefit of focusing attention on increased efficiency of chemical fertilizers and investment in alternative fertilizers that are less destructive to health and the environment, as IFPRI notes.)

The second reason stability is important is because conflict doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine didn’t bring an end to the ongoing threat of COVID-19 or other diseases. Nor does conflict make climate-related disasters take a hiatus. The most significant risk to food security in a region occurs when multiple shocks coincide.

This is, in part, what makes the food security situation for export-dependent countries so dire right now. In places like Yemen, which depend on grain exports from Russia and Ukraine, the war comes on the heels of a locust swarm that devastated crops and continues to pose a threat to farmland. Moreover, some of the people dependent on exports from Ukraine are in areas facing their own conflict-related crises, such as Afghanistan.

When combined with existing poverty, rising prices, climate events and other conflicts, the shock to the global food system that the war in Ukraine represents could be severe. In the short- to medium-term, the FAO estimates that the conflict could lead to nearly 8 million more people around the world becoming hungry. This is in addition to the refugees and internally displaced people of Ukraine whose lives and livelihoods have been immediately impacted. That increase in hunger would come on the heels of significant growth in undernourishment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To sum it up, conflict destabilizes nearly every aspect of our global food system, which is partly why it is often named as the most significant driver of hunger around the world. For most of history, humans could assuage feelings of responsibility or even fear if a conflict emerged halfway around the globe. But our world today is far too connected to believe that borders, oceans or miles can insulate us. The globalized, interconnected food system that each of us is a part of demonstrates politically and economically what we have always known theologically, namely that the safety and well-being of all God’s creation matters, no matter how distant the people involved might seem to be.

The stability of the food system depends on many factors: farmers, workers, bakers, herders and processors who produce food; truck drivers, rail workers, loaders and grocers who make food available; health care workers who tend to nutritional well-being; employers who provide wages to workers so that they can be consumers; utility workers who keep infrastructure running to ensure the safety of food; construction and road workers who ensure there can be adequate transportation of food; and even policymakers who negotiate trade agreements and aid to ensure that the food system is inclusive.

To paraphrase the philosopher Jacques Derrida, when we eat, we never eat alone. We are eating the fruits of God’s creation made possible because of neighbors around the world. And as we eat, we are mindful that the stability of this system on which all of us depend to some extent, depends itself on the truths we are called to pursue: peace and justice.

So, to return to the first post in this series:

The ripple effects of the war in Ukraine could echo throughout the food system for a long time. But we find courage and hope in God who “calls us to hope, even when hope is shrouded by the pall of war” and who, even now, is at work in, among and through peacemakers, supporting neighbors in need and “striving for justice and peace in all the earth.”

What can be done? Providing support to the work that has already begun by giving a gift to Lutheran Disaster Response is one way to help meet the growing need of Ukrainians, especially those who have been displaced by the conflict.

A next step after that is to consider ongoing support of Lutheran Disaster Response and ELCA World Hunger. Some of the long-term consequences described in these posts may be reduced by working with local communities around the world to reduce vulnerability, increase capacity and build resilience against future shocks. This won’t be the last violent conflict; but by working together toward a just world where all are fed – and safe – we can take steps to help prevent the many destructive ripple effects that we may see this year. Supporting food producers; investing in stable, sufficient livelihoods for all people; increasing the capacity of communities to respond to crises; and building a just, sustainable and stable food system will go a long way to ending both hunger and conflict. As António Guterres wrote last year,

We need to tackle hunger and conflict together to solve either.

ELCA World Hunger Education and Networking Grants

 

The application period for 2022 Cycle 2 of ELCA World Hunger Education and Networking Grants is open until December 1, 2022!

Hunger Education and Networking Grants are one of the ways ELCA World Hunger accompanies congregations, synods, organizations, partners and local teams throughout the US and the Caribbean. We know that learning about the root causes of hunger and effective responses is key to ending hunger locally and globally. That’s why we are excited to share that our application for ELCA World Hunger Education and Networking Grants is now open!

ELCA World Hunger Education and Networking Grants support work that:

  • educates and engages ELCA congregations, groups, and/or synods;
  • provides leadership development for people passionate about ending hunger;
  • builds relationships locally, regionally and nationally; and
  • equips ELCA members and neighbors to work toward a just world where all are fed.

Previous grantees have included:

  • synod-wide bike rides to promote hunger awareness;
  • service learning events for youth and young adults;
  • online and in-person workshops;
  • community organizing training;
  • creation of new resources to help participants learn about hunger; and
  • local research projects to help others learn more about hunger, health, and housing in their community.

The work of grantees in the past has focused on a wide variety of areas, including climate change and sustainability, housing security, racial justice, worker justice, reducing food waste and economic justice.

Eligibility

To be eligible for an ELCA World Hunger Education and Networking Grant, proposals must be:

  • received through the ELCA’s online Grantmaker portal from August 1st to December 1st
  • submitted by a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization;
  • focused on education, engagement, and networking toward a just world where all are fed; and
  • consistent with ELCA World Hunger’s values and priorities (https://elca.org/domestichungergrants).

Interested in funding to host an ELCA World Hunger Vacation Bible School? Subscribe to the ELCA World Hunger blog on the left side of the screen or join the community-led ELCA World Hunger VBS Facebook group to get updates when the application opens!

How to Apply

Applicants must pre-register on ELCA GrantMaker in order to access the grant application. Approval of registration may take up to ten business days, so register now at ELCA.org/grants, and submit your application by December 1st.

For more information see the full request for proposal here: 2022 Cycle 2 Education and Networking Grants Announcement_Full

If you have any questions, please email Ryan Cumming, program director for hunger education, at Ryan.Cumming@elca.org or hunger@elca.org

Hunger, Health and…Honoring Saints? Remembering Martin de Porres and Elizabeth of Hungary

 

It’s no exaggeration to say that observing the festivals and commemorations of saints is an uncommon practice in Lutheran churches. Indeed, a simple Google search for “Lutheran AND saints” returns a wide spread of opinions, ranging from blog posts honoring particular exemplars of faith to lengthy diatribes railing against “the cult of saints.” Commemorations are sometimes controversial in Lutheranism, though, really, they ought not to be. Lutherans believe that we can honor saints by giving thanks for them and by imitating the example they have set in both faith and life.[1] Lutherans may not pray to saints or ask saints to intercede for us, but we still lift them up as examples of what it means to be a person of faith in the world.

I mention this because this month, we commemorate two particularly inspirational Catholic saints, Martin de Porres on November 3, and Elizabeth of Hungary[2] on November 17, who each exemplified “faith active in love” in important ways. What might we learn from these important leaders?

Martin de Porres

Martin and Elizabeth lived 300 years – and a world – apart. Martin was born in Lima, Peru, in 1579. His parents, a Spanish nobleman and a freed slave from Panama, were never married, and Martin’s father abandoned the family when Martin and his sister were still young. Some accounts claim that his father’s decision was due to the fact that their mother was black, and he feared the stigmatization that he and his mixed-race children would face.

Potrait of Martin de Porres from the 17th century.

The children were raised by their mother, who worked to support her children by taking in laundry. The work did not pay well, and the family grew up in poverty. At some point when he was young, Martin had to leave school and worked with a surgeon-barber in Lima, where he learned to cut hair and provide medical treatment to customers.

Martin was deeply religious and committed to helping others. Even amid his own poverty as a child, he would often give what little he had to people begging in the streets of Lima. When he was a young teenager (some sources say at the age of 15), Martin was taken in as a servant by the Dominican religious order. During his early years there, he earned a good amount of money begging, using the money to support the charitable work of the Dominicans among people who were poor or sick.

Despite his diligent work as a servant and supporter of the religious order’s charitable endeavors, many accounts state that Martin faced ridicule and discrimination because of his racial heritage. In fact, he was initially prevented from fully joining the Dominicans because, being black, he was not allowed to do so.

Eventually, this was changed, and Martin took his vows. He was assigned to the order’s infirmary, and he became widely known for the care and concern he showed for everyone in the community, regardless of their economic situation or race. In one story of Martin, there was an epidemic in Lima that sickened several of the friars in his monastery. To prevent the spread of disease, the friars were locked away in a separate part of the building. Martin violated the rules of his order by breaking into the quarantined area to minister to the ill men. When he was caught, he asked for forgiveness , saying that he did not know that obedience took precedence over charity. After that, he was allowed to continue ministering to them.

Martin continued his work in service of people facing poverty and poor health throughout his life, including by establishing an orphanage and school in Lima. He died in 1639.

Elizabeth of Hungary

Elsheimer, Adam; Saint Elizabeth of Hungary Bringing Food for the Inmates of a Hospital

While Martin’s experiences growing up poor may have motivated his charity, this wasn’t the case for Elizabeth of Hungary. Elizabeth was born in wealth, to the king and queen of Hungary, in 1207. Like Martin, Elizabeth showed deep concern for neighbors in need and an authentic spirit of generosity from an early age. She married Louis, the landgrave of Thuringia, when she was 14, and together, the couple was known for sharing their royal wealth with people facing poverty throughout the region.

Louis died in 1227, leaving Elizabeth a widow. Inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, Elizabeth became a lay associate of the Franciscans and continued her charitable work, against the protests of her husband’s surviving family. She refused to remarry, despite the political benefits that might be gained, and used her dowry to continue supporting people in need. Her charitable actions were driven by her faith in God and in memory of her late husband, who was her partner in this work prior to his death.

Like Martin, Elizabeth devoted herself to caring for people who were sick. During a famine and epidemic in 1226, she sold her jewels and opened the royal storehouses of grain to provide for people in need. Toward the end of her life, she established the Franciscan hospital in Marburg, Germany, in 1228, and she could often be found tending to the patients at the hospital alongside the other nurses and caregivers. Elizabeth died in 1231 at the age of 24.

We don’t need to venerate Martin or Elizabeth to recognize them as exemplars of the kind of faith that moves the people of God to act in the world. Their work in caring for neighbors, particularly neighbors facing health crises, has deep roots in the work of the church, from Jesus’ loving care of people suffering from hemorrhages, injuries or leprosy, to the church’s continued support of hospitals, maternal and child health care, and clinics today.

The commemorations of Martin de Porres (November 3) and Elizabeth of Hungary (November 17) are opportunities to lift up the important role the church plays in providing health care in communities. Recognizing this aspect of who we are as people of God can help us see the work of ELCA World Hunger as part of this rich heritage.

So, this month, as we mark the memory of Martin de Porres and Elizabeth of Hungary, we pray for the many ways this work continues. Whether it is through the support of hospitals, ministries among people living with HIV and AIDS, malaria prevention projects, maternal and child health care clinics, vaccination programs or advocacy for health care support in the US and internationally, the church lives out its faith in God’s promise of health and healing for body and soul.

We may not need saints like Martin and Elizabeth to intercede for us in prayer. We may not even canonize them as “saints.” But we can still learn from their memory – from a Peruvian man who refused to let racial discrimination or poverty prevent him from caring for others, and a Hungarian widow who refused to let the comfort of wealth dampen her concern for people who were sick – about what it means to be the kind of people today who can share in the transformation God is enacting in the world.

During this month, particularly on Sundays following November 3 and 17, consider honoring the memory of Martin de Porres, Elizabeth of Hungary and all those who continue the important work of providing health care by praying together:

Gracious God, we give you thanks for the many ways you sustain your creation – for the richness of healthy food, the wisdom to treat and heal, and the workers through whose hands you care for those who are sick. We give you thanks for nurses, doctors, emergency personnel, clinic workers, community educators, therapists and all those whom you have called to the healing arts. Guide them and protect them, Lord, that they may be blessed in their work. We give you thanks for those who have devoted their lives throughout the history of your church to be examples of loving care and concern for their neighbors, especially for Martin de Porres and Elizabeth of Hungary. Let us be guided by their example, that our faith in you may move us to acts of love for others. In your holy name, we pray, Amen.

 

Ryan P. Cumming, Ph.D., is the program director of hunger education with ELCA World Hunger.

 

 

 

[1] Augsburg Confession, Article XXI. See also “Apology of the Augsburg Confession,” Article XXI.

[2] Some writers have suggested that Elizabeth might more accurately be referred to as Elizabeth of Thuringia, but here, we use her more common name.

2021 Hunger Education and Networking Grants

 

The application period for 2021 ELCA World Hunger Education and Networking Grants is now closed.

Hunger Education and Networking Grants are one of the ways ELCA World Hunger accompanies congregations, synods, organizations, partners and local teams throughout the US and the Caribbean. We know that learning about the root causes of hunger and effective responses is key to ending hunger locally and globally. That’s why we are excited to share that our application for ELCA World Hunger Education and Networking Grants is now open!

ELCA World Hunger Education and Networking Grants support work that

  • educates and engages ELCA congregations, groups, and/or synods;
  • provides leadership development for people passionate about ending hunger;
  • builds relationships locally, regionally and nationally; and
  • equips ELCA members and neighbors to work toward a just world where all are fed.

Previous grantees have included:

  • synod-wide bike rides to promote hunger awareness;
  • service learning events for youth and young adults;
  • online and in-person workshops;
  • community organizing training;
  • creation of new resources to help participants learn about hunger; and
  • local research projects to help others learn more about hunger, health and housing in their community.

The work of grantees in the past has focused on a wide variety of areas, including climate change and sustainability, housing security, racial justice, worker justice, reducing food waste and economic justice.

To be eligible for an ELCA World Hunger Education and Networking Grant, proposals must be:

  • received through the ELCA’s online Grantmaker portal;
  • submitted by a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization;
  • focused on education, engagement and networking toward a just world where all are fed; and
  • consistent with ELCA World Hunger’s values and priorities (https://elca.org/domestichungergrants).

If you are interested in applying, you can pre-register on ELCA GrantMaker to access the grant application. Approval of registration may take up to ten business days, so register now at ELCA.org/grants, and submit your application by December 1, 2021.

If you have any questions, please email Ryan Cumming, program director for hunger education, at Ryan.Cumming@elca.org.